OF GOOD NEWS AND BAD

We have good news and bad news.

OK, it’s mostly bad news but there is a solitary ray of very good news that might ultimately prove our salvation.

It is this: Malaysia now can boast one of the highest vaccination rates in the world, second only to Canada on a similar-size basis and double that of Australia.

If so, we might just jab our way out of our current predicament given enough luck, nerve and a continued lockdown.

The initial signs are there. Out of Thursday’s tally of over 13,000 cases, fully 96% were asymptomatic or mild. That seems to indicate that the vaccinations are blunting the severity of the disease.

Even so, it does not get us off the hook. So long as the numbers keep climbing sharply, even a 5% rate of severity will continue to choke our health services.

That’s where luck and the lockdown come in.

We all know what the bad news is, but outside the reeling economy and the rising unemployment, other concerns are surfacing including a resurging Dr Mahathir.

OK, let me rephrase that with a question: What are the odds that Pejuang will throw its supports behind the Prime Minister, currently embattled by Umno’s withdrawal of support?

The only reason I ask is that the Home Ministry has suddenly been gracious enough to allow Pejuang’s registration as a “legitimate” political party while resolutely continuing to ignore Muda, a party of young, political aspirants, that has similarly sought registration.

Given that we are talking about Malaysia where there is always a political quid against someone else’s quo, there is ample reason to believe something is afoot.

Add to that Dr Mahathir‘s airy, and apropos of nothing, comment that he would quit Pejuang if offered the headship of the National Recovery Council, and we are left to ponder, once again, the Machiavellian machinations of Malaysia’s Mahathir.

In short, the man wants back.

You’d think he’s old enough to know better, having just turned 96. I mean, this is a guy who baby-sat Maharaja Lela, for God’s sake, and he still thinks he’s indispensable.

He once accused the Malays of being “easily forgetful.” In truth, most Malaysians aren’t. We remember all too well his odious assault on the judiciary and his dumbing down of the civil service. Then there were his deeply flawed ideas that cost the nation dear: the national car, the push for heavy industrialisation. None of these “Think Big” projects were successful but you wouldn’t know that, listening to him.

According to the late Barry Wain, who authored a critical book on the man, he once told Dr Mahathir that he’d estimated that the former physician had engineered over RM50 billion in wealth destruction during his tenure. Barry said that Dr Mahathir simply retorted that he’d “created more wealth than he destroyed.”

That might very well be true but it also speaks volumes about the country’s inherent wealth generating capacity, its industrious population and its resource-rich nature.

Immediately after the 2018 general election, a group of us were celebrating PH’s improbable victory when we were joined by another, an elderly arbitrator, a man who not only remembered British colonial rule but started his career during the period. Surveying our good cheer, he asked one question, clearly directed at the incoming Prime Minister: “Can a leopard change his spots?”

Apparently not.

ENDS

WE ARE IN GOOD HANDS, AREN’T WE?

I remember an interview we had with Dr Mahathir Mohamad. It was during the height of the Asian financial crisis in early 1998 and he was premier at the time.

That he was distracted was obvious. Every so often, an aide would come up and show him a slip of paper. He would glance at it and then turn back to us. After 40 minutes of this, I couldn’t contain my curiosity and asked him what it was all about.

He explained that the aide was bringing him the latest greenback-ringgit quotes. The exchange rate had been frenziedly volatile, and the premier wanted to keep his eye on the ball.

The Lord knows I’ve frequently been critical of Dr M but during the Asian financial crisis, he kept his eye firmly on the ball.

These are the times that try men’s souls, wrote Thomas Paine over two centuries ago. We have entered such a time now and what a horror it is! The crisis we face now makes the 1998 one appear frivolous, almost Winnie the Pooh-like in both its scale and its scope. Like it or not, we are looking down the barrel of a gun.

And can we confidently say our leaders have their eye on the ball?

If that ball is power, then yes. That’s all that seems to interest Umno or Bersatu these days and people are sick of their shenanigans.

Consider the following.

The Prime Minister is admitted to hospital over a week ago. The poor man seems very sick right up to Wednesday night, when Umno threatens to pull support from his fragile coalition.

Lo and behold, he makes a miraculous recovery and dashes to his residence where the first “crisis” meeting of the pandemic is held: TV footage shows limousines coming and going amid an air of urgency. Reporters assert that Weighty Matters of State are Unfolding.

The Attorney General is summoned and pronounces, with all the grave impartiality of a Lord Denning, that because there “are no clear” facts showing that the PM has lost the support of a majority of MPs, he can continue governing. Carry on, McMoo, he advises and the PM duly declares victory.

Hallelujah!

Over at the Putra World Trade Centre, Umno President Zahid Hamidi also declares victory, satisfied that Umno had fired a shot across the Prime Ministerial bow.

Two cheers for democracy!

Meanwhile, Ismail Sabri is promoted to deputy premier. It isn’t clear why, but it might have to do with his sadly lugubrious delivery of bad news.

Similarly, foreign minister Hishamuddin Hussain is promoted to senior minister for equally vague reasons. Insiders in the know, however, insist that it’s due to his masterful handling of foreign policy, noting that he kept Malaysia out of war for 16 months.

But hark, what of Master Azmin, a Master of the Universe and the Schemer behind the Sheraton Strategy?

But there is no joy in the Ministry of International Trade. Mr Azmin himself is spotted in contemplative prayer in a mosque in the Middle East, from where he will, doubtless, return, bearing much foreign investment and good cheer.

But before that, he will take a well-deserved holiday in Austria to unwind from the stresses and strains of holding high office.

Meanwhile, the rocket scientists in government continue to rock. On a day that Covid infections hit a new peak of 8,868 – a number that sent punter hearts aflutter – the Minister of Religion said that all mosques and suraus would be opened forthwith.

The future so bright, we’ll have to wear shades.

ENDS

IT’S A CRY FOR HELP, STUPID

Occasionally, this country comes up with something that sparkles, that provokes an involuntary smile, that cheers you up no end.

I refer to the geniuses who came up with the white flag campaign.

Now here’s an idea whose time has come. To avoid the humiliation of “begging” or pleading for government aid, distressed families have been asked to raise a white flag outside their homes and aid would, like the mail, arrive.

The idea was born out of the minds of creative Netizens on social media, and it’s taken off big time. Businesses have also pitched in with pledges to help.

What’s tactfully unsaid in all the commentary is the fact that the government has been found wanting. Because it failed to step up to the plate, Malaysians took matters into their own hands. There would have been no need for this campaign if the government had done what it’s supposed to.

The prolonged lockdown has seriously damaged the economy and pushed thousands into poverty.

These are very troubled times and nowhere is it more starkly demonstrated than the statistics for suicide which listed 336 deaths over the first three months of the year.

More than anything else, it was those appalling figures that prompted the “white flag” movement, that tugged at enough heartstrings to compel action.

Our politicians love to dwell on our differences, the better to create perceived or imagined threats that promise to forever keep some segments of society insecure, so that these politicians can continue to justify their existence, their grip on power.

The white flag initiative promises to transcend these petty notions. And the people behind this campaign instinctively grasp what the government seems incapable of: you cannot do kindness too soon because you never know how soon will be too late.

Meanwhile, if you’re not part of the solution, then don’t be part of the problem. Or at the very least get out of the way. Better still, shut up.

Take the MP from Bachok, Nik Abduh Nik Aziz. As a child, he fancied a career in counter-intelligence. Looks like he made it, too.

The MP chided people for hoisting the white flag as those who admit defeat to challenges “from God.” He then brightly added that they would be better served “by praying.”

Unsurprisingly, this rocket scientist hails from Pas, an obscure party of obscure people with obscurantist views that have, apparently, never heard of the phrase “God helps those who help themselves.”

The same God also gave people a brain so that they might use reason and act with kindness aforethought.

But Mr Nik could be the exception that proves the rule, being proof himself that God does, indeed, have a sense of humour.

And then there is the Chief Minister of Kedah who seems to have a worldview shaped by the Cro-Magnon period. He’s threatened to deny state aid to anyone who hoists the white flag. Reason: it’s “propaganda” against the government.

Well, if the shoe fits…

As a former journalist who’s covered enough Pas ceramah to know, it might be instructive to share this.

When any Pas event is unfolding, the organisers literally pass a bag around. That’s how the party raises its money. You might say it’s its white flag.

This bag-passing should cease and desist. That would be conceding defeat, wouldn’t it?

No, these God-fearing people would be better served by prayer.

ENDS

MAYBE NAPOLEON’S RIGHT: HISTORY’S JUST A SET OF AGREED UPON LIES

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!

ENDS

TRYING TO MAKE SENSE OUT OF NONSENSE

God is silent; if only man would shut up – Woody Allen

Jho Low would have appreciated the irony. Here was Dr Mahathir Mohamad, putting his foot into it as is his wont and there was Najib Razak, his nemesis, actually attempting to “rescue” him. 

Even so, the convicted former premier got in a gleeful jab of his own. “In the meantime, someone should take away all his (Dr Mahathir’s) social media accounts before he does any more damage.” 

Maybe someone should.   

What else would you make of a tweet like this? “Muslims have a right to be angry and to kill millions of French people for the massacres of the past.”

Does this sound like the ramblings  of a former Prime Minister of Malaysia or something else? Twitter was so disturbed it deleted Dr M’s post for “glorifying violence,”  immediately ranking the old man right up there with losers, fools and Donald Trump. 

Some terrible things had happened in France. Any sensible person would just decry the violence and the rhetoric, offer tea and sympathy, instead of leaping in with gratuitously offensive comments. We have enough problems of our own to worry about before  weighing in on the pain of others. 

Exhibiting the delicacy of an enraged bull in a China shop and offending millions of people should always be weighed against the virtues of tact. Sometimes there is an art to saying nothing when there is nothing to say. 

You would think that a former leader of more than 22 years, and 94 at that, would know better. I believe it’s called Diplomacy 101.

But Dr M has never really grasped a simple notion: if people really wanted your unsolicited advice, they’d ask for it. He still hasn’t got it. Even as premier, he believed that everyone had a right to an opinion – his. 

Maybe we should look on the bright side because it could be a lot worse: he might still be premier. 

But it was worse in the United States where Trump was still the President and he relished every moment of it because, as Art Buchwald might have said, 40 per cent of Americans worshipped the quicksand he walked on. 

President Trump felt good about himself and his chances next week as he had CoVid not only beaten, but on the run. “We’ve turned the corner on the virus,” he crowed to his supporters, many of whom had never led facts get in the way of their reality. “We’ve beaten the sucker!” 

Mr Trump believed that the US had turned the corner better than any other country on earth and it proved that he was the greatest leader since Mussolini, to whom he bore more than an unnerving  resemblance.

“You won’t find another leader who’s turned the corner more than me,” boasted the President who also knew that he was the most widely read person since Gutenberg invented the printing press. 

That was why he knew he would win. One, he had God on his side – he had that on good authority – and two, Biden’s arguments were  absurdity itself. It had to be because they directly contradicted his beliefs which his supporters knew were fact.    

We live and learn. Or as the President would have it…

…we live.

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. 

Is there honour among thieves? Nah!!

Here we go again! 

According to a report in the New York Times, Goldman Sachs, the US investment banker that helped birth a gigantic fraud at the 1Malaysia Development Fund (1MDB), is attempting to get US federal prosecutors to ease up on the bank’s role in the scandal. 

The report stated that lawyers for Goldman Sachs had asked US Deputy Attorney-General Jeffery Rosen to review demands by certain federal prosecutors that Goldman Sachs pay more than US$2bil (RM8.5bil) in fines and plead guilty to a charge.

The report said that the bank was also seeking to pay lower fines and to avoid a guilty plea altogether. It quoted sources as speaking on the condition of anonymity as the talks were currently ongoing.

“The request, which was made several weeks ago, is not unusual for a high-profile corporate investigation and often comes in the final stage of settlement talks,” said the paper. 

“But it has been a point of pride for Goldman that it has never had to admit guilt in a federal investigation, and the scandal has already been a black eye for the bank,” the report said.

That could be understating it considerably. For its part, Malaysia got a lot more than a black eye. 1MDB’s protagonists earned the dubious distinction of perpetrating the world’s biggest-ever fraud.

But “point of pride” and “never had to admit guilt”? Surely you jest, Goldman?

It’s not as if the investment bank had an unblemished reputation.

In 2009, for example, a Rolling Stone article by Matt Tiabbi unforgettably described Goldman Sachs as a “great vampire squid wrapped around the face of humanity, relentlessly jamming its blood funnel into anything that smells like money”. 

So much for “point of principle.’ 

According to the US Justice Department, Goldman Sachs earned USD$600mil (RM2.56bil) in fees for raising US$6bil (RM25.6bil) for 1MDB.

Tim Leissner, the Goldman employee in Asia, had admitted that he and others at the investment firm  had conspired to circumvent the bank’s internal control to work with fugitive businessman Low Taek Jho – known as Felonious to friends and the police alike – to bribe Malaysian officials in order to secure the lucrative bond work for the bank.

A lot of water has flowed under the bridge since. 

A government has collapsed under the weight of 1MDB and its leader – Fearless to all and sundry – has been tried and is awaiting a verdict in July 

Felonious is still at large and he corpulently continues to cast a sizeable shadow over the Malaysian body politic. As is his wont, he prefers to cast that shadow as far away from Malaysia as possible. 

Fearless hasn’t changed much though. He continues to try and assert himself although it’s doubtful if he will ever be taken seriously again.  

He, however, does admit 1MDB might have been a mistake. 

He has since come to the revelation that Malaysia “had been cheated.” By Felonious! Peerless also claimed that “it was clear” that Goldman had also failed.

He had clearly been thinking the matter over the last two years and seemed to have all the answers. 

And like the Oracle of Delphi of bygone days, Fearless pronounced his Truth. It was actually everyone – “the investment bank, the lawyers and the auditors” – who had all let us, all of us, the whole country, down. 

Everyone but him. 

YOU CAN EASILY MEET EXPENSES, THEY’RE EVERYWHERE

The private hospital is a servant of humanity and it has done brilliant work in isolating new and increasingly innovative fees. 

That sounds cynical but I’m beginning to wonder if it rings true in the private halls of Medical Malaysia.

Recently, it was reported that a 39-year-old man, who takes his 64-year-old mother to a private hospital in Penang for dialysis treatment thrice weekly, cried foul after being charged an extra RM5 in each bill since April.

When he inquired what the charges were for, he was blandly informed that it was for ‘sanitiser use and a body temperature check.’

Now if that’s not profiteering, I don’t know what is.

At the Accident and Emergency Department, such charges are routinely parked under a general cover-all phrase as “Outpatient Precautionary Measures”, according to that plague of porcine-pandemic-profiteers, the Consumer Association of Penang or Cap.    

“During this Covid-19 emergency period, taking temperature readings of people walking into hospitals, offices and stores is a requirement of the Ministry of Health,’ huffed Mohideen Kader, the consumer body’s head. 

It is a mandatory requirement during the current Covid-19 outbreak and can probably be expensed off taxes. In other words, Mr Mohideen is right. 

In a pandemic such as this, you can see how charges like that might add up especially if everyone – from stores and government departments to hotels and diners – decides to adopt similar charges along the grounds that “precautionary measures” don’t come cheap. 

Hospital administrators should be careful what they wish for. 

We all know that private medical care in Malaysia is one of the fastest growing sectors of the economy because it encapsulates a rather unsavoury principle of capitalism: it is what the market can bear and in the case of private healthcare, it’s a lot. 

Standout example: there is an elderly Malaysian billionaire, for example, who’s been living 24/7 in a leading Kuala Lumpur private hospital for almost four years now. He occupies a suite of rooms there where he chairs meetings without stress as medical treatment is just a click away. 

To the hospital, he is an important, and recurrent if not ever-increasing, revenue stream and is probably listed in its annual report as such. And to him, the expense is probably just a droplet in his dividend stream. 

But imagine his peace of mind if he is the kind of hypochondriac that checks into a hospital if only for everyday reassurance. 

He is truly living the hypochondriac’s dream: to be surrounded by doctors of all specialties, waiting alertly to spring into action at his first ache, twinge, cramp, spasm or grimace of pain that all but screams out to the assembled throng: “I told you I was sick!”  

But he is a billionaire who probably would not deign to examine his monthly bills nor carp over extra charges designed to squeeze blood from stones. 

But the ordinary Malaysian does, because his or her money usually has to go a long way. 

And rapaciousness of the sort exhibited by the Penang hospital is revolting and gives credence to the belief that pawn brokers and private hospitals are cut from the same cloth – fleece. 

FLIGHTLESS ON THE FEDERAL FREEWAY

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Meanwhile, back at the farm in Semenyih……

This first appeared in June 2016

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.