A CONFEDERACY OF DUNCES

Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution is so widely accepted that today’s Darwin Awards honour those who have improved humankind’s gene pool by leaving it. These are the blokes who think the Gaza Strip is the adhesive side of a band aid. 

OK, let’s be blunt: these guys perished in ways that forced a reasonable man to conclude that they were several popadoms short of a curry.  

2019 saw an over-achiever’s share of US awardees. Do you, dear reader, still need proof that the Trump Effect is contagious? Consider the overall winner, a Maine man who exemplified the maxim: “he who digs a pit for his brother will himself fall into it.”

To make his home theft-proof, the rocket scientist remembered the Old Loose-Tooth Trick, to wit: “When someone slams that door, this line will tighten, and that tooth will shoot out of your mouth like a bullet!”

Thus, said RS duly rigged his front door with a line to a handgun designed to fire when the door opened, presumably to slay rapacious robber. These traps, however, are only successful if the idiot-savant remembers them in the first place.

Alas, he didn’t and the rest, as they say, is herstory: his wife inherited the property.

Two morals can be gleaned from our next story also set in these United States. One, there is only one Eval Knievel. And, two, there can be one stupid person but for sheer, bona fide idiocy, there isn’t anything like teamwork.

The Black Bayou Bridge in Louisiana was closed to traffic to allow a boat underneath to pass through in the wee hours of the morning of May 26.  But two Texas men sitting in a Chevy Cruise thought they might do a Blues Brothers and “shoot the gap.”

But they forgot that the Blues Brothers were on a “Mission from God” in a Hollywood movie and they weren’t. The driver reversed a fair bit and then accelerated for all his worth only to find out that while evolution was a theory, gravity was a law and so they plunged over the bridge, into the waves and into immortality as Double Darwin winners.

The US is a sizable chunk of country and there are enough wealthy people who qualify as pilots and purchase planes because flying home is easier than driving. We, and the air-traffic controllers in question, assume that said pilots are sharper than your average bowling ball.

Patrick, 52, was up to the task of hopping his new plane home. Licensed to fly commercial aircraft, Patrick had 10,000 hours of flight time and an instructor certificate. But during the first two take-off climbs, aviation fuel – basically, kerosene – had entered the cockpit and sloshed around his feet.

At this point, any sane pilot would have fled screaming into the night.

Not the intrepid Pat. At his third stop in Missoula, he called a mechanic familiar with his plane and casually mentioned that he’d had the plane checked out and it was fine. The mechanic reacted sensibly enough. “Are you crazy?” he screamed and immediately recommended grounding the plane until the issue was resolved.

But Pilot Patrick was made of sterner, if less intelligent, stuff and overruled the mechanic, saying he would fly the plane but, as a concession, would do so with its electrical systems offline. This is referred to as flying ‘in the dark’ with no instruments. It’s especially baffling because the aircraft was newly purchased, and its trustworthiness had yet to be established.

It is at this point when Catholic priests generally administer the last rites and make the sign of the Cross.

Plucky Patrick subsequently took off from Missoula International Airport only to crash in a flaming fireball. The crash report stated: “The pilot was [likely] distracted by fuel entering the cockpit and failed to maintain adequate airspeed as he returned to the airport to rectify the problem resulting in an aerodynamic stall.”

Here Lies Pilot Pat

Of sense he made a hash

Didn’t see where it was at

And flew into a crash.

HISTORY IS WRITTEN BY THE VICTORS

You might say Fearless Leader was back. 

Or maybe he never left. For a former leader with a 12-year prison sentence hanging like the kris of Hang Lekiu over his greying head, Fearless seemed remarkably cheerful as he tramped the hills and dales of Sabah campaigning for the Barisan Nasional (BN). 

Indefatigable was the word to describe Fearless and, watching from his safe haven not in China, Felonious aka Jho the Low, an erstwhile aide-de-camp and not-so-trusty sidekick, whistled admiringly. 

While not safely ensconced in China, Felonious was also rich beyond the dreams of avarice. The fact that Fearless wasn’t safe at all was what elicited the whistle of admiration in the first place but Felonious was nothing if not philosophical. One out of two was still good, shrugged the ample artist. 

“You can’t have everything,” concluded the round robber before turning his attention to more weightier matters of state like how much he had to pay the authorities for another year of not staying in China. It brought a proud smile to Papa Low’s face: that’s my boy, he thought affectionately, always a stickler for detail. 

And it was true too. Detail had been one of the comely girls Felonious had dated in Hollywood but that, grumbled Fearless, was neither “here nor there”. 

“What about me?” grumbled Fearless Leader and it was a good, if loaded, question. 

It was good because its right answer was invariably bad where Fearless was concerned and it was loaded because it looked like he might soon be shot into that place where, without collecting $200, one goes directly to.

How had it come to this? 

The kindly kleptocrat had followed all the right measures, listened to the right people, even read Lloyd George: “To be a successful politician, you have to learn to bury your conscience.” 

Felonious didn’t know about the former but he knew quite a bit about consciences. A pleasantly piquant 1976 Dom Ruinart Blanc would bury it pretty deep, agreed the beefy bandit cheerfully. 

And yet, Fearless remained cool under pressure. This was unlike Mrs Fearless who no longer had anything to say and was saying it so loudly that her silence was deafening. 

It was seriously out of character and it put to the lie the so-called wisdom that she had been the real power behind the throne. 

Nope, it had been Fearless all along. He remained calm, however, by dint of blame: he blamed everyone from Felonious and the bankers to Goldman Sachs and the lawyers. 

In between, he blamed the takers as well, arguing that “if they did not take, he would not have had to give.” It was a compelling argument   which, unfortunately, had no takers. 

Fearless even contemplated blaming it on the bossa-nova and had to be talked out of it by his lawyer, the eminent Scruffy A who took time off his tax-dodging troubles to remonstrate with his client. 

Blame was all right but what Fearless really needed was a good, old-fashioned miracle. He was optimistic and was nothing, if not religious, which was unlike his not-so-trusty sidekick, Felonious, whose faith was such that the church he did not attend was Christian on its off-days. 

You could not say the same about Fearless. Historians will attest that he whispered a mumbled prayer immediately after being sworn in in 2009. 

It was soft but it was clear. “Let us prey,” was the humble entreaty. And the rest, as they say, is history.  

DESPERATELY SEEKING SOMEONE TO BLAME

It appears that no one in power in Malaysia has ever heard of being accountable for their actions. 

It does not seem that way across the Causeway. 

On Thursday, the chairman of Changi Airport Group, Liew Mun Leong, resigned days after Singapore’s High Court not only acquitted his former maid of stealing from him but criticised the allegations brought against her.

Liew, 74, had been the group’s founding chairman since 2009. 

In a separate statement, Liew said he had also resigned as an advisor to Temasek International and several other board positions he had been holding. He had decided to retire. 

The maid, Indonesia’s Parti Liyani was acquitted of stealing more than S$34,000 worth of items from Liew and his family. She’d worked for the family for a decade. 

In his judgment, Justice Chan Seng Onn said there was an “improper motive” for mounting the allegations against Parti. This drew the notice of the Attorney-General whose chambers then said the judge’s comments “do raise questions which warrant further investigations.”

It could be that Liew was told, even ordered, to quit but the fact remains that he did. And that might still not be sufficient to get him off the hook. 

Compare and contrast this to Malaysia where the truth varies but which is still a land of promise, especially before a general election. Here, the politicians like to make all the decisions without any of the responsibility. 

But the best proof that light travels faster than sound is the Malaysian minister or deputy minister: they all appear to be intelligent until they open their mouths. 

And no one, not a solitary soul, ever contemplates resignation as a consequence of stupidity or wrongdoing.  

The examples, to say the least, are legion. 

A full minister, with his family in tow, goes to Turkey and comes back without the mandatory two-week quarantine. When the news was leaked, he was fined RN1,000 after the fact. And this after a woman was jailed and fined RM8,000 for a similar offence. 

Neither has the minister ever apologised. 

A university student in rural Sabah climbs a tree for better Internet connectivity to take an online examination. When she posts this on her Facebook page, two deputy ministers castigate her decrying her post as fake. 

When they get lambasted online, they retreat in a hurry and another minister flies to Sabah to apologise to the family. One of the two deputies has since apologised while the other quietly deleted his offending post without apologising,  

Then there was the MP from the Islamic Party of Malaysia. During the debate on new drink driving laws, the not-very-informed lawmaker suggested that the Bible had been perverted presumably because it did not condemn the consumption of wine. 

When this prompted an uproar, the unrepentant MP advised Christians that they “had no right” to be offended as his statement had been “a fact.” 

The wannabe Bible scholar has been remarkably blasé about his thesis since. 

But why should we be surprised? 

A former premier has been found guilty of corruption, tax-dodging and gross abuse of power involving billions of dollars. Yet, as his judge noted, he has shown “no remorse” and has swaggered about since, appearing to all the world as the soul of probity. 

YOU CAN’T HAVE YOUR CAKE AND EAT IT TOO

It must have been on an evening sometime in 2005 when I received a call from a businessman. 

I was surprised. The man was a very rich, very reclusive entrepreneur with interests ranging from telecommunications to oil and gas, and our last conversation had not been particularly cordial.

I’d written an article for the Far Eastern Economic Review mentioning him and he wasn’t happy. Actually, he’d been far more inventive in his language, but I think you get the point. 

Much had changed since. The Asian financial crisis had come and gone, the Review had disappeared, and I was now working for a Singapore-based daily as its KL bureau chief. 

And said businessman was still very rich and very reclusive to the extent that some reporters didn’t even know what he looked like. 

So, you can imagine my surprise. He said he knew about my shift and suggested I drop by on Monday afternoon for a “chat.” 

“I think it would be nice,” quoth he. 

It must be some new purchase, a deal, maybe even a market-moving scoop and I was excited. I called my paper and the editors were thrilled and promised to hold the front page for my story for all its Woodwardian promise. 

The meeting was to be in his new building in the KLCC. I entered its lobby and a guard pointed ne to a reception area where visitors were queuing to get a digital pass to the floor they wanted to go to. 

I reached the front desk and produced my press card. Two men appeared instantly and indicated I was to follow. Of course, a lift was waiting.

It was somewhere near the top, a whole floor actually; very cool and pin-drop silent. There was artwork everywhere with paintings stashed along the walls of the thickly carpeted floor. 

I was led along to a waiting room where a television was playing and there were magazines about. 

Coffee? 

Yes, indeed. 

They brought it and very good stuff it was too. None of your Nescafe’s or what-have-yous!

I didn’t see a soul but could hear telephones going so there was life on the planet. I looked at the framed pictures on the wall which seemed to be all of his children.

He came in quietly and I didn’t know it until he spoke. He was dressed very casually in an open necked shirt and jeans and his smile was broad and seemed genuine. 

After some desultory conversation, he declared he was famished and hadn’t lunched – it was 3.30 pm – and declared we would have tea. 

A lady brought in the tea things and a large cake. I accepted the tea and declined the cake. He cut himself a generous slice and pronounced it satisfactory. 

Then he held forth on healthy living and revealed that the cake had been made without butter or anything which bore malicious intent towards his cardiovascular system. 

At the time, he must have been in his sixties but looked younger and, what with a fat-free diet amid rigorous exercise, seemed bent on outliving Kirk Douglas. 

His summons still remains a mystery. We talked about a great deal –  his art, his family, mine, education – but there were no revelations and no market-moving scoop. 

It was, indeed, a “nice chat.”

Just before I left, he declared he had a gift for me and, with a flourish, handed me one of those cakes in a gift-wrapped box. 

He said I should live healthier. 

Like most of the evening, it was a “nice” moment.  

I obtained more information from the bodyguards accompanying me down. They seemed friendly now that I’d met the “boss” and informed me that he was a workaholic who was frequently the last to leave the building. 

I noticed Hassan, my then driver, eyeing the cake covetously and offered it to him. As was his wont, he agreed. He was never a man to look a gift horse in the mouth. 

I remembered the cake the next day and asked Hassan how it had been received. 

“Terrible,” he said. “Even the children refused to eat it”.

So, he tried it on his chickens.

Ditto, it seems. 

(It’s a damn sight funnier in Malay). 

IN VINO VERITAS (IN WINE, THERE IS TRUTH)

Stay drunk all the time

But on what? On wine, or poetry, or virtue, whatever.

But stay drunk 

(Charles Baudelaire, 19th Century French poet)

According to the Bible, Jesus Christ turned water into wine during a wedding ceremony at the urging of his mother, Mary, after the host’s supply ran dry.

Apparently, the assembled guests thought it was a very fine vintage too. They assumed the host had left the best for last. 30 AD had been a very good year after all. 

Now there’s a power some of us might love to have. Actually, it’s a distinct possibility and just waiting at a Cold Storage outlet nearest you. You no lomger have to gaze mournfully at your empty glass and wish for more. 

What’s more, it’s easy-peasy. No grapes. No fermentation. Nor do you need to sterilise equipment for the sake of hygiene. 

The brains over at Victor’s Drinks have created a MySecco kit which comes with all the ingredients you need to make what they describe as a “beautifully fresh and crisp sparkling wine with delicate citrus notes”.

Citrus notes?

Making prosecco (Italian sparkling wine) from the comfort of your own home. Imagine that! As Stephen Stills might have said: if you can’t be with the one you love, “love the wine you’re with.”

All you need to do, according to its creators, is to pour warm water and the included yeast and syrup sachets into the bottle provided, and give it a swirl. Fourteen days later, you have sparkling wine with fruity flavours; a do-it-yourself vintage, a sort of champagne-meets-the-21st-Century, Rube Goldberg trick.  

What will they think of next?

Each kit is priced at £19.90. And the firm has this tagline – “A man has got to believe in something, and I believe I’ll have another glass of wine.”

In these days of Covid-19, that’s not hard. 

But before you dash out to purchase said kit, you’d have to think long and hard. When it comes to wine, you have to take things on a case by case basis.

This is generally good news all around. Penicillin may cure, but wine makes you happy. Listen to Baudelaire.

It could also trim costs.  Imagine what it might do to government budgets the world over. Embassy booze bills would shrink dramatically while the United Nations might actually go into surplus.

And where would that put traditional winemakers? Economics dictate that they would have to cut prices but who’s complaining?

Of course, one should be careful about drinking excessively. I once heard of a fellow who, after a night of carousing, drove into a ditch. No big deal? Well, this fellow stopped at the ditch, looked right, then left, and then drove into it.

On the other hand, there’s the late, lamented W.C. Fields, who once famously quipped “I don’t trust camels or anyone else who can go for a week without a drink.”

Let’s face it. Wine is here to stay. It’s even crept into literature. There’s this new book out called The Wine Hangover: The Grape Depression. Or that classic the Wrath of Grapes.

And did you know there’s a new Mexican translation of that great Harper Lee classic, you know, the one about Atticus, Jem and Scout Finch.

It’s called Tequila Mockingbird.

A FOOL AND HIS MONEY ARE SOON PRESIDENT

You have to hand it to the United States. Everything is larger than life there. 

When they want to lay it out, they can lay it on as thick as molasses. Its movies can be as crappy as they can be superb. Their smart people can be as Nobel-sharp as their dimwits can give dumb a bad name. 

I mean, the average village idiot in Malaysia generally rants about the tightfitting attire of Malaysia Airlinesstewardesses, while simultaneously fantasising about the bounty it conceals. 

In the United Kingdom, they routinely rave about the imminent demise of Planet Earth from their soap boxes in Hyde Park. 

But only in the United States do they become President. 

When he was young, he thought he was so sharp he should become a surgeon. His father hastily talked him out of that after he noticed that young Donald could never tell the difference between “antidote” and “anecdote.” 

It still remains one of the enduring mysteries of the 21stCentury – how on earth did the US elect such a person to the highest office in the land, a man who, apparently, thinks that Covid19 is tweetable? 

Anyone who saw the village-idiot-in-chief’s interview with Chris Wallace last week would have been stunned. 

Mr Wallace might work for Fox News but he is a highly respected journalist who used to be a regular on 60 Minutes, the investigative news programme on CBS. 

Wallace politely corrected the President twice, fact-checking him so decisively that Trump felt compelled to call for back-up to prove his point. 

The back-up didn’t bolster his case but the President, never one to let facts get in the way of a spin, just talked over Wallace while repeating his false claims. 

But his idea of proving that he was smarter than Joe Biden, the Democratic Party nominee for President, made Wallace’s jaw drop. 

The President bragged that he’d “recently” aced a “test” whose last five questions were so hard that he doubted that either Wallace or Biden could have done as well. 

Here, the American people should be afraid, they should be very afraid. The so-called test the President was talking about is called the Montreal Cognitive Assessment Test. It is not only easy – a fifth grader could ace it – but is chiefly used to spot the signs of early dementia. 

The question to ask therefore: why was the President of the United States having to take such a test? 

That he’s evidently proud of his feat is clear: he’s boasted about it several times including something to this effect to another Fox News reporter: that the doctors administering the test were so impressed with his last few answers they said that “few people could do as well.” 

The person interviewing him seemed impressed as all hell. Then again, he’s the same guy who was overjoyed the other day after he heard that he’d won the Nigerian national lottery. 

Between prescribing bleach for Covid-19 sufferers and railing against Obama for All America’s Ills, the President has begun shocking people in other ways. 

He’s actually beginning to sound intelligent. He’s advised people to wear masks and he’s cancelled the Republican Convention in Florida.

If you believe he’s changed, you’d also believe that there is no such word as “gullible.”

EVERY BREATH YOU TAKE

Did you know that Listerine shares guarantee a royalty so long as people worry about bad breath? 

According to Bloomberg, bids were being taken last week on a share of royalties backed by Listerine mouthwash sales. These stem from contracts signed 140 years ago by its inventor and still cited in business law classes that require the maker to pay shareholders in perpetuity. No wonder over 100 bids for a single share reached over US$340,000!

While the share up for sale only paid $32,000 last year, it’s a payment that will keep coming as long as Listerine “kills germs that cause bad breath.” In modern terms, that’s like pressing the F5 key – it’s refreshing. 

And Listerine is by far the most popular mouthwash — it had a 37% share of a growing $5.2 billion global market for mouthwashes and dental rinses last year. 

The formula for Listerine was invented by Joseph Lawrence, a St. Louis doctor who originally marketed it as a cure for dandruff and/or a treatment for gonorrhoea. Those original objectives were not met: the unfortunate scalp sufferer’s hair fell out entirely. As for the other affliction – don’t ask!

But the good doctor’s invention proved to be a boon for his daughter Beatrice. While an apple a day kept the doctor away, the same could not be said for her preference of an onion a day which kept everyone away. 

The comely Beatrice discovered, however, that her father’s elixir proved to be the perfect counterbalance to the pungency of an onion diet and, lo and behold, not only was mouthwash created, suitors began arriving in droves. 

But Dr Lawrence’s true genius may have been his inspired choice of his product’s name. He named it after British doctor Joseph Lister, who discovered that disinfectants could reduce post-surgical infections.

Thus, Listerine became forever associated with antiseptic – synonymous with anything astringent, clean or fresh smelling. 

It’s become a word indelibly associated with freshness, almost an involuntary reflex like drooling over a roasting steak or vegetarians salivating over the smell of freshly mowed grass. 

Whether the dour Dr. Lister, who was as humourless as Donald Trump in a pandemic, approved of the use of his name on a soon-to-be-famous mouthwash is less clear. 

Dr Lister was a grim soul who disapproved of mouthwash almost as much as he did meat which was why he was resolutely vegetarian. 

But such was the nature of his unflinching soul that he was vegan not because he liked animals but because he loathed plants. So, most people appreciated the irony of his epitaph when it read Rest in Peas. 

It wasn’t all smooth sailing though. Dr Lawrence had to work at it, tinkering around with his Listerine formula until he got it just so. That was generally affected by the judicious use of a canary: if it keeled over dead, the dose was generally considered too strong.

This story has a decidedly happy ending. The innumerable descendants of the once-comely Beatrice have gone on have had wealth thrust on them thanks to Dr Lawrence and many heroic canaries.  

And, yes, it’s been good news for modern man and the transformation, willy-nilly, of too-many-to-count groomsmen into grooms. 

And it’s been for you as well. Picture for an instant, the lack of a good mouthwash in a crowded lift. 

I mean, it would smell bad on so many levels. 

DURIAN SENDS BAVARIA INTO LOCKDOWN

A foul-smelling package forced the evacuation of a building and sent six individuals to hospital in Germany recently.

Police were alerted to a suspicious odour coming from one of the packages in a post office in Bavaria, which led to the evacuation of some 60 people in the building. An elite team was then sent in to inspect the package.

Such was the paranoia that CNN reported that six ambulances, five first responder cars, and two emergency vehicles were deployed to the scene.

Terrorism was suspected. 

The terrorists were later identified to be three durians from Thailand.  Even so, Larry, Curly and Moe, sent six people to hospital for nausea. 

OK, it’s bad. But is it that bad? 

The writer Anthony Burgess – who taught English at the Malay College, Kuala Kangsar in the 1950s – in his The Malayan Trilogy compared eating a durian to “having sweet raspberry blancmange in a lavatory”.

And he meant “Malayan lavatory in the 1950s” too.

Privately, he told friends that it was like “rotten, mushy onions”. 

The travel writer Chitra Divakumari once described a morning thus “Each new day,” she observed, “has a colour, a smell.” 

Unfortunately, what wafted to the nostrils of the good citizenry of Bavaria that day were malodorous sulphur compounds associated with skunk spray, rotten eggs and dirty socks. 

Actually, the durian is mild compared to some Western foods that are off the smell-scale, as it were. 

Surstromming, a Swedish delicacy, is herring that’s fermented in barrels for six months and then canned for a year. The fermentation is so extreme that the cans actually bulge from the pressure. 

When opened its contents can stun canaries a mile away. 

Or Vieux-Boulogna cheese from the district of that name in France which has the dubious distinction of being the “smelliest” cheese in the world.  

It is a great delicacy in France though.

Kiviak is probably the most revolting though. It’s a Greenland delicacy and is made by wrapping whole small sea birds, feathers and all, in sealskin and burying it for several months to decompose. When it is dug up, the insides are decayed to the point of near-liquification and are reportedly sucked out. 

As Conrad might observe, the horror of it! 

The humble durian is the only food that isn’t fermented yet smells that way. It’s not so humble actually. Its prices have sky-rocketed, no thanks to the Chinese who seem bent on littering durian rind on the Road on which the Belt is located.

It has become a test of sorts for Western chefs hitherto given to assuming that blue cheese had been the only skunk stunner.  

Even the great Bobby Flay broke down and ran off screaming into the night when confronted by durians.

When told that some Malaysians considered it the King of Fruits, he began laughing hysterically and couldn’t cook for a week. 

But the durian could have new uses. Bottled and concentrated, its essence is said to have been found to strip bark from trees.

Alas, scientists are yet to figure out how that might conceivably be useful. 

THE AUDACITY OF DOPES

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.

ONE MAN’S JOB IS ANOTHER MAN’S DIVERSION

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.”