Sunday, December 19, 2010

Economics @ Home © Volume 2 Issue 26

Time to Celebrate?!

2010 is the first full year that Economics @ Home has been successfully published pretty much consistently. Except for one minor bump along the way, which I made up for with a special edition double post (Issue 14 and 15), I think the year went pretty well.

For those of you who missed some of the more serious stuff that I talked about, there was a two-part analysis on taxes and expenditure which details how it affects the country at the macro-level as well as how it affects us, as individuals and how we should perceive taxes.

Also there have been countless issues on human behavior and communication. Some of the topics discussed have borderline dwelled on relationship issues but the goal was to explore alternate ways of looking at a particular situation so that we can broaden our perspective (see Issues 4, 7, 8, 11, 13). Sometimes, we forget about the bigger picture and are too focussed on our wants and needs. I even ventured into discussing about why men (or women) have affairs. That is why communication matters in every relationship, whether it is in your career, among friends, or with your loved ones.

Apart from that, I gave some basic analyses on the Malaysian economy and its dire state. There are problems at the macro-level that sometimes we don't see or experience personally, but then this will then trickle down to affect everyone of us as individuals (see Issues 17, 22). Particularly, this story which relates a girl's experience with the Malaysian education system. I have also shared a video about why Singapore is a world leader in mathematics. 

For the most part, Economics @ Home is about applying the right mindset. A lot of times, in our overeagerness to preserve our self-interests, we forget the greater good. There are times when we forget that the world is bigger than ourselves. In our crazy world today, common sense is becoming less and less common. It helps to take some time to stop and stare at what the issues really are before we act. This is what Economics @ Home is about. Sometimes, it really helps to just have the right mindset and attitude (see Issues 6. 19, 20, 21, 23, 24, 25)

There you go, the briefest of recaps of the year in Economics @ Home for you. That said, I have a special announcement. In view of this special achievement of consistently publishing Economics @ Home for one year, I would like to increase the frequency of the newsletter back to once per week. Furthermore, I would also like to improve the content by adding an investment section to the newsletter. The new investment section may deal with simple or intermediate investment concepts and from time and again, include stock analysis of public listed companies that are possibly worth investing in.

Because of this, I may have to change the name of the newsletter, but continue with Volume 3 starting from the first week of 2011. I am also working on a new layout and labels to facilitate easier search. Until then, Merry Christmas to all readers and Happy New Year!

Sunday, December 05, 2010

Economics @ Home © Volume 2 Issue 25

First World Thinking

Whenever we talk about trying to transform Malaysia from a third world country to a high income nation, we often equate this to becoming what is normally termed as a "first world country". However, being a first world country is much much more than just being a high income economy.

What do I mean? Just read the letter below written by a Singaporean woman to the Straits Times newspaper in Singapore about the great service provided by the staff of a cinema in Singapore.
Wrong cinema, right service

MY TWO sons, aged 12 and nine, are big Harry Potter fans and have been waiting for the latest instalment of the movie to screen.

When it was finally released, my husband bought tickets online, and my family made its way to the Golden Village cinema at VivoCity shopping mall last Thursday evening.

However, when we reached the place, we were told that he had booked tickets for the cinema at Great World City shopping mall instead. We would not be in time for the movie, even if we rushed down to the correct location.

A Golden Village staff member called Faizul saved the day. After checking if there were available seats, he got back to us with four tickets.

Also, as my husband was late - he was coming directly from work - Faizul volunteered to hold on to his ticket, so that my sons and I could go in and watch the movie first.

I am impressed by the service attitude of Faizul, and urge Golden Village to commend and recognise his efforts.

Raihan Ismail (Ms)

The point I am trying to make here is that being a first world economy is not just about high income. It involves the right attitude. What then, is the right attitude? While this is broad and very subjective, the above example sheds some light on what this could be. It is highly likely that Faizul, the TGV staff, is not a high income earner. At least, not by Singapore's standards. Yet, he went out of his way to help four complete strangers get tickets to watch Harry Potter. It was simply a mistake by Ms Raihan's husband and TGV had no obligation to help these people. But in doing so, Faizul had probably gained TGV some valuable loyalty from these people.

To briefly surmise what first world thinking is, one should ask this question: "To what extent are its people willing to go out of their way to help others?"

If this kind of attitude is prevalent among all Malaysians, there is no doubt that Malaysia will have no trouble in becoming a first world country. In contrast, let us look at some of the ugly side of Malaysians. When we talk about MAS (the airline), we often complain about their unreliability and lack of punctuality. We often complain when another party's lack of punctuality affects us. Now, think about how often we are late for appointments with our friends? Many of us would arrive late at an appointment without a care in the world despite agreeing on a specific time. When our friends complain to us about our late arrival, we just brush it off and forget about it. When we have this kind of attitude, do we have the right to blame MAS for not being punctual? Can MAS just brush it off and laugh about it?

So, in essence, to think like a first world citizen, one must not only expect first world service from others, but impose the exact same standards on oneself. If we demand MAS to be punctual with their flights, then we ourselves must not slack off in our appointments with other people.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Economics @ Home © Volume 2 Issue 24

Be Long Term Greedy

Many value investors or people who are interested in value investing would have heard of this term many times. What does it mean? In simple terms, it would mean to focus on getting what you want in the long term. To address this issue, there are two questions that you should be asking.

Why should we be greedy? Is greed good? Morally speaking, and conventionally speaking, it is difficult to view greed as a good thing. How can greed be a good thing? To know that, we must first understand what greed is. It is simply always wanting more than what we have. To never be content. More is simply better. Well, it is indeed greatly unfortunate that human nature drives us to want what we can't have. For those who are able to practice self-restraint, then the act speaks for itself. Self-restraint, which is to deny oneself of one's true nature.

That settled, it is safe to generalize that most of us are greedy. We have a tendency to always want more than what we can chew. Now, there is no way of twisting this to make it sound like a good thing. However, the discussion today is not just about being greedy, but about being long term greedy.

This brings us to the second question. What does the phrase long term add to the issue? For those of you well-read economists, you might quote the great Keynes, who said "In the long run, we are all dead". However, my boss would be very quick to add, "We would rather be dead in the long run, than dead in the short run". Now, back to the question, what does long term greedy really mean?

The quick definition was given to you at the start of this issue. It simply means to focus on obtaining what you want in the long term. Well, the point I am trying to bring up is that, since we are going to be greedy any way, it is better to be greedy in the long term than be greedy in the short term. But why is this better?

As we have all experienced, in our daily lives, new events, new inventions, new fashion and what not keeps cropping up and we always want the next newest thing. Seeing the new arrivals, we tend to set a goal towards obtaining those new goodies and soon before we are able to achieve our goals, new and better goodies are going to pop right out and now, you will have to change your goal to achieve that instead.

If you were to set a long term goal, something which is to be achieved in 20-30 years time, and work towards that, you will be less likely to be distracted from the short-run fluctuations. Set the goal way high up, be very greedy about it. Work towards the long-term goal. That way, we always have our eye on the ball. We would not be distracted by the short run hiccups on and off the road.

As always, these kind of things are easier said than done. It is very difficult to work on, and you will only truly realize the benefits once you have tried it. That is why it is so difficult to grasp the concept. But listen to those who have succeeded. Read about the success stories of those who chose to delay their gratification. Make the short term sacrifices. Focus on your long term wants. It is OK to be greedy. But be long term greedy. Achieving long-term goals is not a sprint event. It is a marathon.

Sunday, November 07, 2010

Economics @ Home © Volume 2 Issue 23

Who Wants to be a Millionaire?

Below is an article from the Star on 9 Aug 2010 about a man who won RM1 million in a lottery.

Monday August 9, 2010
Man torches self after ‘burning’ lottery win
A VEGETABLE farmer who lived a life of luxury after winning almost RM1mil in a lottery five years ago torched himself when his “pot of gold” became empty.
The 63-year-old from Serian, Sarawak, known only as Khoo, was reported to have dug a “grave” at the back of his house before splashing petrol on his body and lighting it, reported Berita Minggu.
The man had won more than RM750,000 five years ago and then reportedly spent up to RM1,800 on a single bet over the years, hoping to strike it big again, the weekly said.
Serian OCPD Deputy Supt Jamali Umi said the police have classified the case as sudden death.
He said the victim’s nephew had found the man dead in the hole.
A relative, who declined to be named, said Khoo, who never married, had stopped cultivating his farm upon winning the lottery and had spent the money on a new house and several vacations.
But with no new winnings, the barrel soon became empty.
Many of us dream of making it big, earning bucketloads of money so that we can buy this or that. Many of us work hard day in and day out, and complain about the stress and what not, in search of the pot of gold that can provide us for the rest of our lives. Do we really want that to be handed to us? Or do we really want to have to work for it.

This is precisely what happened to this man. He was a farmer who won RM1 million in the lottery. He got exactly what he wished for. But it is sad for him because he did not work for his money. Because of that, he did not know how to appreciate the fragility of it. Because of the sudden windfall, he let himself go, lost his discipline.

So, after reading what I said, I am sure that many of you would show a snigger of some sort and think to yourself, "I would never do that". But really? Do we really want to be bestowed upon more money than we can truly imagine and let ourselves go, and then gorge down the luxuries of life like there was no tomorrow?

The sad reality of life is, there will always be tomorrow. As it was aptly described in the article, "...the barrel soon became empty". What would we do if we were given RM1 million? Many of us will say, spend part of it, save the rest. That would then keep you in the state of still having to work and earn a living. So what if you now own a Mercedes instead of a Myvi? You would now have to work twice as hard to maintain your Mercedes. So what if you live in a RM500,000 condominium. You now have to pay the RM1,200 maintenance fee every month, instead of your RM500 rent for your current dwelling.

The moral of the story is, there really is no such thing as a free lunch. In fact, we should try to enjoy the fact that we do have to earn our living. In that process, let us all hope to find some meaning to what we do, because there is just no fun in being given something that we all try to work so hard for. And in some cases, that might just kill you.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Economics @ Home © Volume 2 Issue 22

Troubled times - 100-storey style

These are troubled times indeed. With the launch of the 2011 Budget, how can a self-respecting newsletter proclaiming to discuss economics not talk about it?

By now, most of us would have read and heard and discussed and bitched about how the government is wasting the people's money in trying to build a new 100-storey mega tower. The government has subsequently rebutted by saying that the money used will not be the people's money, but belongs to PNB. So, this week's issue will avoid repeating the gory and now already boring details about the 100-storey building.

Econ @ Home will take a look at what the 2011 Budget means for regular Malaysians at home. After all, that is what the newsletter is for. Bringing down economics at the macro level to the micro folk at home. Making common sense, common.

For starters, bear with me for elaborating a little bit more about the Warisan Merdeka mega tower. Most people who bitch about this issue claim that the money is being wasted on a useless mega-tower and have recommended using the money in places like health, education, security and what not. Everyone wants a little piece of this hot pie. But what the country needs is not spending in these areas. haven't you all learnt your lessons? The government can spend money in these areas. We have seen the likes of RM48,000 laptops, and the like. The trouble with the Malaysian economy is in its policies. Where the money is spent is just secondary.

Now that that part is settled, what does the 2011 Budget mean for folks at home like us, the common folk that try to earn an honest living to spend on the needs and wants of our lives?

First of all, the lack of any initiative to reform the policies bodes huge ills for the nation. The ETP is a huge disaster compared to the NEM that was launched in March this year. Econ @ Home is not anti-government. But Econ @ Home is anti-stupidity. With such a well-written plan like the NEM available, it requires almost no intelligence to go along such plans. How can improving productivity and competitiveness be so bad?

How can Malaysia and Malaysians keep denying to themselves that nothing is wrong with our policies? The government's current stance is, "Don't worry, this time, business is not as usual. That's because the private sector will be the one spending the money." Why have they not realized that it does not matter who is the one spending the money. My favorite simile for such a situation is, "Be it the government or the private sector that adopts the white elephants, they will still be white elephants". The joke of the whole situation is, the government is telling the private sector where to spend their money. This is made worse when our infamous bankruptcy prophet, Idris Jala says that, "If the projects fail, it will be the private sector's fault". I do not need to elaborate further the irony of the issue.

Second, what do minimum wages mean for us? Sadly, on the surface, to most of us, it means nothing. This is because Malaysia as a whole, is being squeezed in the middle income trap. But is it true that it does not affect us? Let me just touch on why minimum wages are bad in an unproductive and uncompetitive country like Malaysia. Mind you, this is just simple economic theory that anyone who studied Economics at the pre-university level can tell you (Hmmm... I think I need to qualify what pre-university means because Matriculation is a lazy student's excuse of a pre-university education). You may ask, "How can minimum wages be bad?" It raises the wages of the poor, and subsequently, their standard of living.

Ordinarily, this would be a good idea if the country was a productive one like Germany or China. But mentioning Malaysia along the names of those industrious countries is like blasphemy. When you impose minimum wages, you will immediately raise the costs of hiring for companies. While local companies have no choice by to absorb these costs, MNCs do not have to deal with this. All they have to do is set up a new factory in Vietnam and voila, they would have cut their wage expenditure by 75%. Can we afford to lose the few meager FDI that still remain within the country?

What does this mean for local companies? Since they can't really move out of the country at their whim, they have 2 options. First, cut expenditure elsewhere. They may have to cut expenditure on advertising, research and development, and even training budgets. Cutting advertising will ultimately lower sales, and reducing expenditure on research and training simply means the firms have no hope of moving up the value chain. Lower resources also mean that firms are unable to bid for the talent that they seek. How are we going to achieve competitiveness? Their second option is to pass the cost of hiring to the consumers. Now, guess who the biggest group of consumers are? If you guessed the middle class, then you are most likely to be correct. It is us, the hardworking people who struggle to make an honest living who have to bear the burden of higher prices because of increased costs. Since the middle class does not fall into the levels of minimum wages, it does not help them at all. So how can the middle class cope with increased costs of living? Simple, by demanding higher wages. Now, I hope you can see where this is going. In economic theory, this is called the wage-price spiral. Higher prices drive wages higher. Then higher wages will drive prices higher.

Now, the issue on services tax. What does the increase of 5% to 6% mean for us and for the government? Well, needless to say, the majority of our expenditure will be consuming services. Let's say that 70% of our expenditure is on paying for services. That would entail a raise of 0.7% in our typical expenditure pattern. That is by all means palatable. What does this mean for the government? If you look at the economic report downloadable from the Ministry of Finance's website, you will notice that revenue from services tax will increase ONLY from 2.4% to 2.5% of revenue. That is a 0.1 percentage point increase in revenue. One can only wonder, what is the rationale for this? If the government wishes to raise funds to fund their mega projects, why not just rationalize the subsidies or trim down the bulging civil service. Can you imagine that 28% of the government's money is spent on paying civil servants in emoluments? Of the total labour force, only about 10% are from the civil service. What this means is that, 28% of the government's money is spent ONLY on paying 10% of the hardworking people of Malaysia. This is not even counting the pensions and gratuities and whatever other benefits the civil servants have.

I hope that these 3 issues will open your eyes further on how the 2011 Budget affects the typical Malaysian at home. I tried not to dwell too much on the 100-storey tower simply because all of you have already over-discussed it. By the way, as a trivia, as at time of completion of this article, there are 144,004 supporters on the "1M Malaysians Reject 100-storey Mega Tower" page.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Economics @ Home © Volume 2 Issue 21

No Child's Play

I wrote this article in my blog when I was still studying at Bucknell University and was volunteering as a chess coach for a group of 8 year-olds. I still find this experience very interesting and thought-provoking, and so I would like to re-share it in Econ @ Home in case you missed it the first time.
Who ever thought teaching chess to 8 year-old kids can involve difficult decision-making and carefully chosen words? There are two issues that I would like to address today.

I think we should all understand that kids like to win. I have in my life only encountered one exception, but I will talk about this later. But let's just accept the generalization that kids like to win. So one of the kids that I have been "teaching" to (out of 8 other kids), is what seems like a beginner among beginners. Just to note, I don't like to use the word "teach" because it's more like sharing to me. It is obvious that he is trying hard and is willing to try hard, but just can't seem to beat the rest of the kids. So on this fine day, his father pulled me aside and told me that he is really trying and asked if I could give him some encouragement. So that troubled me. Firstly, now the parents have expectations on me. I hate it when people tell me how to do my job, at least when I am supposed to be good at it. I don't claim to be something like a Grandmaster or anywhere close to that, but I can say without boasting that I am pretty knowledgeable when it comes to chess. Now to say that I hate this situation would be an exaggeration because he didn't tell me what to do, he just asked politely. So I am just mildly troubled/irritated. Irritated because of the above-mentioned preference, but troubled because I don't know what to do. You see, even years of practice in encouraging girlfriends who needed to be encouraged did not train me to encourage an 8 year-old. How do you tell an 8 year-old who hates to lose, loves to win, that it's OK to lose, and our goal here is to get him to improve so that he can win in the future. For an 8 year-old, the end of the one hour chess session IS the future. Anything else that happens two hours from his arrival at the chess session is a new day altogether. I am not belittling a child's mindset, but merely stating their thought process. Because to him, being better 6 months from now is simply not worth the effort. He wants to start kicking butts now. I mean, if the we invented instant noodles and other magical thingamabobs, who can blame them for expecting instant results?

I tried to think hard about the time when I started chess. What was it like and how did I overcome losing? Maybe overcome is not the right word, because obviously, the way to overcome losing is to win. Hahaha... So how did I accept losing? Why did I get better? How did I get better? This ties back to the earlier point I made about what Kasparov and Abraham Lincoln were trying to say. It is very important to understand ourselves and where we are. I don't mean to preach but some messages just cannot be said enough. I remembered my first tournament. It was the PFS Open 1992. Back then, I could only watch in the sidelines the games played out by Chuah Heng Meng, Eric Cheah and many other "untouchables" who were always playing in the top five boards. To be honest, I didn't even bother watching because there was no way I could have understood the games. But I remember this one game. I was playing against a girl's MSSM U-20 champion. At that time, I was definitely no match for her. I was down a lot of material. With only a queen, bishop and a few pawns left, I set up a mating cheapo on White's g2 square. While barely staying alive, I managed to finally place my queen and bishop in that holy diagonal and got the checkmate that I was pining for 5 moves before that. A cheapo indeed! But of course, before the game, I had no idea she was an MSSM champion and my dad was very surprised that I won. Everything might have changed if I had known. My whole life would have taken a completely different path. I might have played the game knowing that I would lose, and would eventually lose. I would then go on to be an average player not knowing that I have a tricky mind, even as a kid. Or maybe my chess development was fated... Who knows? I'd like to think that it's little moments like these in our lives that are significant, and that we won't realize it unless we think about them.

I was 8 years-old when that happened. Why is it that I can remember only that game from 16 years ago. I don't remember any other game from when I was eight. That game was by no means brilliant. Upon hindsight, the only thing that can explain this phenomena, other than my powerful memory, is that for some reason, I was encouraged by that game. I can safely say that before I came to university, I have received no encouragement or a "well done" from either of my parents. I remember in National Age-Group 1999 where I squandered a half-point lead going into the final round. I drew a game after losing my queen because of the "touch-move" rule. I got over-excited over the idea of winning the tournament with a 10 move combination and in style. What was more devastating was that I could have won after losing my queen but I took a cheeky draw offer. I was so excited about winning that I played the wrong first move of the combination. A perfect lesson on "counting your chickens before they are hatched". Nevertheless, the point of this story was to say that despite this devastating loss, I did not even get "It's OK, you can try again next year". Did I wish I got a word of encouragement or two? I don't know. Would I have been weaker? Because it definitely wasn't OK to lose in a tournament of such importance. By the way, I tied for first place and lost in the blitz playoffs. No "Congratulations" for second place, no "It's OK" for not being first. How did that affect me? Did that make me stronger? Wiser? Most probably so. But I was already 15 then. Half of that lifetime ago, did I think that winning was everything? I loved to win. No doubt about that. But what I am trying drive home is that my experience has not taught me about giving words of encouragement. You lose, time after time, you think about why you lose, and you fix it. That's the kind of education that I got and was expected of me.

So back to the point of this issue, which is, if you can remember, how do you encourage an 8 year-old kid who is trying hard but not getting the fruits of his labor? As I write this article and think about it, the only words of comfort that I can come up with are "The other kids have been playing much longer than you have, and if you keep working hard the way you do, you may well become better than them in no time". Does that even sound honest? Because I hate telling lies, especially to kids. I hate being lied to as a kid. Maybe that's where I get my lying abilities from. Because I get lied to all the time. But that's another story for another day. So if any of you people have any ideas on how to deal with this kid, let me know.

As for the second issue, which is kind of similar to the first, and has the same underlying problem. Another kid in the group who also loves to win, repeatedly asked for my permission to play against the aforementioned kid. Now the reason is obvious because he will get to win all the time. He went so far as to lie to me about not having played against the other kid yet. So this kid is by no means close to being the weakest player in the group. If anything, he is one of the better players. The key difference here is that he does not need encouragement. But the trouble is, how do I explain to him that winning is not everything? To him, winning IS everything. Can I, dare I, should I dash his dreams and desires at a tender age of eight? We all want kids to dream big, be all they can be and all that good stuff. I can't just send the roof crashing down on him and tell him that in life, we cannot beat everyone at everything.

So I did not allow this kid, Brad, to play against the previous kid, Aaron. See the problem when parents try to interfere with my job? Now I don't want Aaron to keep losing, so I told Brad that you can't and shouldn't keep playing Aaron if you want to improve. I tried to explain to him the concept of "It's OK to lose" and the main purpose of our chess sessions is to help them improve so that they can win more in the future. I think that even though he understood the message deep down inside, he kept it inside him that he didn't like my decision to not let him play Aaron. I can deal with a kid not liking me or whatever. But how could I have avoided the situation? What could I have said to appease a kid who loves to win, and yet help him to improve? That answer was the best I could come up with, so if you have better ideas, let me know.

That marks the end of the two issues that I had, and now, as promised I will return to the exception of the generalization that I had asserted, which was all kids love to win. So a third kid in this group, Chuck, who in the previous week, intentionally lost to Brad to make him happy. He said to me that well, he would rather someone else be happy since it's not a "real" tournament. By the way, the background story is that I organized a tournament for them and put a prize up for grabs. So Chuck doesn't feel like this is a real tournament because it's not officially organized by some recognized group or whatever. So he decides to let Brad win and I saw him intentionally throw a won game. It wasn't an excuse he gave for losing. I knew he saw how he could have won. I have the ability to see what moves other people are thinking about. When you have played chess for as long as I have, these things just come naturally. I just couldn't understand why a kid would do that because as we know it, "Winning is not everything, it is the ONLY thing!"

Anyway, it's just something to leave you people with. Dealing with children is most definitely no child's play. Man, I can't wait to get a kid a torture him with all kinds of psychological tricks. But that's just me. I am not saying I am ready to raise a kid. I just wanna see how messed up they will become. Hahaha...

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Economics @ Home © Volume 2 Issue 20

Maximum Utility

This is going into the second year after my graduation from Bucknell University, which also marks the second year of my ownership of my Nikon D40. Purchasing my very first DSLR was a long and arduous process because of how much it costs and more importantly, because of how miserly I am (according to my mother). Against all odds, I decided to invest in a real man’s camera, supposedly the most practical of its kind.

Now, two years down the road, with the surge in social network activity, photo sharing becomes increasingly taken for granted. In fact, some of the photos are completely unnecessary and probably better left unshared. Nonetheless, this issue is not a whine-fest about Facebook and other similar sites. After two years of experiencing the barrage of photos from friends and even strangers in Facebook, there are two lessons that I can draw. First, there is a trend of improving photography skills among the common folk. Second, my Nikon D40 is utterly underutilized.

Seeing people take blurry pictures and having the courage to share it online made me realize that I need to make full use of my D40 a bit more. One of the main reasons I have not dragged it along everywhere I go is that I cannot afford an indoor lens (yet). With the 18-55 mm f/3.5-5.6 kit lens, the D40 is only good for outdoor purposes. My next target acquisition would be to either get an 18-200 mm f/3.5-5.6 lens (can’t afford the f/2.8 lens, which costs around RM7,000 last I checked, plus, using that on a D40 would be a laughing stock) or a fixed 50 mm f/1.4 AF-S. I think that acquisition process will be another long and arduous one as well.

But I digress. The point of today’s issue is, how often do we purchase items that we hardly use? The easiest example would be, girls and their clothes and shoes. Although my sample size is somewhat limited, the proportion of girls who own clothes and shoes that they have not used for more then 3 times is sufficient for me to conclude that this problem of buying things we don’t use is fairly common. I have recently made an acquisition where its utility is somewhat controversial.

While many of you are getting excited about the iPhone 4, I must say that I have managed to stay behind the curve by buying an iPhone 3GS. The motive of that purchase is not the topic of discussion today, but I want to address the question, what can I do with my iPhone to make it worth the money? So far, I have not jail broken it. I have used it to surf the net, used the maps (pretty awesome stuff, I have been to the jungle and back), emailed, blogged, played games, read books, updated my calendar and maybe a few more insignificant things on it. Has the value of the iPhone paid off its price? Quite likely.

As for the D40, I am not too sure. Nonetheless, I can rest assured that its value cannot decrease. Even the newer D40x has not replaced its uberness. So I can take my sweet time in adding a new lens to it.

What about you? Planning to buy something you will likely not fully utilize?

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Economics @ Home © Volume 2 Issue 19

Nothing Short of World Class

It is difficult to imagine what these girls have to go through to have to come up with an 8-minute performance like that. The blood, sweat, and tears must have flooded the gym several times over. The synchronized routine that was almost flawless should be made an epitome of the 1Malaysia culture that we so badly try to explain.

Why? First, to be able to come up with a performance like that requires more than just hard work. Even that, many Malaysians cannot even say that they are willing to work that hard in anything they do. Bear in mind that these girls were not forced to do it. They are in it for themselves. They are in it because they enjoy doing it. How often do Malaysians find themselves waking up on Monday morning grumbling about why they have to go to work and how long they have to work? Why can't Malaysians enjoy what they do and therefore work hard at it?

Second, the passion and commitment in what they do is unbelievable. It is safe to say that every girl in that performance loved what they were doing. Otherwise, they would not have been able to do it that well. Their only reward for all the effort that they invest, is simply the small sense of accomplishment that they did something amazing. Why do Malaysians work and complain about why they are not being paid enough, and why they have to work long hours? Why can't they find something worth doing, and do it well, and thus be satisfied with the sense of accomplishment of having done an honest day's work? The girls knew right from the beginning that their weeks and months of hard work would boil down to those 8 minutes of make or break. If they can be satisfied with working non-stop for weeks and months for an 8-minute performance, what is stopping us from working hard at something we enjoy doing to achieve something far beyond the greater good?

Third, every member in that team knew their role. While it is not hard to imagine that not everyone put in the same amount of effort for the whole performance, every single member in that team knew that they could not afford to slack off. There was no room to sit back and let the "better" members carry the team. Every member knew that if she was out of sync with the rest of the group, she would have to work extra hard the next day to make sure she was at the same pace as the rest. The moment she slacks off and decides to give up, she will be off the team. The analogy for 1Malaysia is clear. There should be no room for rent-seeking. Every member of the Malaysian society should know their role in making Malaysia a better place. There is simply no room to sit back and let the "smarter" ones lead the economy, while you sit back and hope to reap the fruits of their labour. Now, if only we can kick the non-contributing members of Malaysia off the country... that would be an interesting idea.

What better way to exemplify how Malaysia can become a world class nation? What better way to show how 1Malaysia can work?

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Economics @ Home © Volume 2 Issue 18

Inspire me, inspire me not

Below is a story published by the Star on 16 Aug 2010, about a Malaysian girl who overcame one of the greatest adversities to achieve a success many of us can only dream of. I am certain that June is not the only person in Malaysia who has faced the same kind of obstacle that exists because of the poor culture of “un-meritocracy” in Malaysia. Please read through the interview below carefully and I will share my thoughts below.

Tiong gets it right in Harvard
Story and photo by YU JI

AT just 23 years old, June Tiong - straight As student, ex national squash player and Harvard University undergraduate - has a heck of a CV.

Few young adults have accomplished more, but her success has not been without setbacks.

As a squash player, Tiong had always played one age-category above her own. By 17, she was ranked fourth in Malaysia’s junior category.

But her first heartache did not arrive on court, it came when she was rejected by a government scholarship. Perhaps rebelling, Tiong quit playing squash for the country, and proceeded quietly to Form Six.

On solid ground: Tiong had a second chance at higher education when Harvard University granted her a scholarship.

Such stories are not unheard of, but zooming in on Tiong, what was apparently not good enough by local standards was good enough for Harvard University.

About three years ago at 2am, Tiong, fast asleep, received a phone call informing her that the world’s most prestigious university had granted her a scholarship.

In an interview with StarMetro on her summer break, the Chemistry undergraduate talked candidly about the importance of speaking up, her “awesome” roommate who cooks for her, and whether she wants to return home for work.

Question: Can we begin with your family background?

Answer: Sure. I’m the youngest and I have two other siblings. One is working in Kuala Lumpur, and the other, a student at a private college here. I was a student at St Teresa Kuching, before doing my Form Six at St Joseph’s.

Q: What were your SPM and STPM results?

A: Nine A1s and one A2. In STPM, I got three As and one A minor.

Q: Did you apply for government scholarship and what did you apply for?

A: Yes, I did. I applied for the Public Service Department scholarship, but they rejected me. I applied to do pharmacy.

Q: Did you find out why you were rejected?

A: I was rejected because they told me my results weren’t good enough.

Q: Were you offered a place at a local public university after Form Six?

A: Yes, I was offered a place at Universiti Malaya.

Q: How did you feel when you found out you were rejected for the scholarship after Form Five?

A: Well, honestly I thought it was sort of unfair, especially given my sports achievements. I also felt that, even with just my academic results, they were pretty good.

After that, I told myself, well, fine. I can’t dwell on this. Behind every cloud there is a silver lining, I kept telling myself; and furthermore, I got to stay home for another two years for Form Six.

Q: Was there a particular area of study you enjoyed?

A: Not really. Not in primary school, and at secondary school, as you know, everyone goes through the same drill. I was in the science stream. I don’t recall having a particular favourite subject.

Q: But every young kid has an ambition. What was yours?

A: I went through a lot of phases. [Laughs]. First I wanted to be a doctor, then I wanted to be an architect, and at some point later, I wanted to be a veterinarian. I’ve been through many kinds of ambitions.

Q: So why chemistry at Harvard now?

A: Well, besides chemistry, I’m also trying to get a second major in archeology.

Q: How did you get into Harvard?

A: After STPM I was applying for several things along with several friends. My coach also chipped in to help. At that time, he was promoting squash to other young kids. I was helping out a little bit. One day, he told me, “Oh June you should be applying to universities in the US too. Your squash achievements will help.”

He had contacts. He had advise from sports coaches he knew at Yale and Princeton.

Q: Was there an interview? I can’t imagine Harvard accepting undergraduates without interviews.

A: Yes, there was one. But even before that, there was a lot of paper work to do. Only short-listed candidates will then be given interviews. I was granted just one interview. That was in Kuala Lumpur by a Singaporean interviewer.

Q: Were you the only Sarawakian at that interview?

A: No, another girl from my school, Jacintha Tagal, the daughter of the late Dr Judson Tagal (Ba’ Kalalan assemblyman who perished in a helicopter crash at Bario in 2004) got into Harvard the same year with me. So, it was like, awesome.

Q: Okay, so why chemistry? That’s about as far away from architecture as you can get.

A: I guess coming from a Malaysian education, being in the science stream, made me think about a career in science.

Q: What year are you in now?

A: I’m in my third year. It’s a four-year course.

Q: Any more Malaysians in your year?

A: There’s three of us, another is a boy from Kuala Lumpur. Next year, there will be a total of seven of us.

Q: How is it like to study in Harvard?

A: It’s pretty stressful but it is also a lot of fun. The style of learning is also very different from Malaysian education. They really want you to ask questions in class. They encourage you to think out of the box. We have assignments every week that goes towards your final grade. Basically, it’s a continuous grading system. Classes are very diverse too, in the sense that, even though I’m a chemistry undergraduate, I’m taking up archeology, photography, history and even classes on Confucius.

Q: Do you feel pressured being at Harvard? I mean just living up to expectations?

A: No no, I’ve never felt that way. I have the coolest parents ever. They’re always telling me to go have fun. They’re like, “Go watch a movie. Stop stressing out,” and I’m like, “Mum, I don’t have time”. [Laugh].

Q: That’s what I mean, you must feel like you’ve got a lot to accomplish. No?

A: I don’t feel that way. My parents have always told me to enjoy life, and that’s what I’m doing now.

Q: Growing up, did you ever attend tuition?

A: Not really, except for Additional Mathematics.

Q: So you’ve always self-studied?

A: Kind of. I used to have a friend who studied all the time. She kept inviting me but I was always ‘too tired’. [Laughs]

I’m someone who derives a lot of energy from my friends and family.

Q: From a Malaysian education background to Harvard, were you well prepared?

A: Honestly…not at all; at least not for the first few months. I had difficulties speaking my mind. We had to participate in all kinds of discussions, and for the most part, I just didn’t know what to say. Malaysian education doesn’t really prepare you for that.

It would be good to have more group discussions within Malaysian classrooms. I suppose it’s really about encouraging young kids to talk. I feel a lot of Malaysians are not ready to have discussions. I mean, once you go into the working world, all of us have to deal with meetings, presentations, or just to come up with good ideas.

Q: Let’s move onto sports. Are you still playing squash?

A: I started playing at the age of 10. My mum felt I was too meek. After playing, I started to open up. I played in the junior circuit competitions once a month. I had the opportunity to go to many places, but by 17, I had quit. At that time, I was ranked fourth in the country in the junior category.

Anyway, so now, I’ve started playing for my school again. It’s an inter-varsity league kind of thing.

Q: Having excelled in sport, growing up did you ever want to make it your career?

A: No, never. I just don’t think I have that much passion in it. It’s something I’ve always enjoyed doing. As a career? No, I don’t think I can be that good at it.

Q: It’s often said that the Malaysian education system neglects sports. What are your opinions?

A: For sure the government needs to emphasise more on sports. In the US, sports is really big. It’s part of their education. As for me, I know very well that it was a stepping stone into college.

Q: Are you the only Malaysian on Harvard’s squash team?

A: Yes, I am. But it’s really a team thing. We train three hours every day, and absolutely do not drink alcohol during the squash season.

On the weekends we have matches. I think there are two other Malaysians playing squash for other Ivy League schools.

But to go back to your question about sports in schools, a lot of people assume that the reason I’m still playing squash at Harvard is because I have to; because I got in under a sports scholarship. But that’s not the case. I don’t have to play the game. I continue to play because it is fun. And making learning fun is really important.

Q: To cap off the interview, will you come back to Malaysia to work eventually?

A: Yes I would love to. But I would like to work overseas for a couple of years first. Maybe the US, maybe Europe, maybe Australia. I think that kind of experience and exposure is very important. Ultimately though, Malaysia is home. It’s about friends and family really. Food is a plus too.

Q: Is it possible to get Malaysian food in Harvard?

A: Yes there is one actually but it’s a bit far away in Boston and I don’t have that much time to travel. Anyway, Jacinda is my room-mate and she loves cooking. [Laugh]. She’s always like, “Hey dude, here’s Malaysian food,” and I’m like, “Woah, okay. Awesome”.

Even talking about food, I’ve come back to friends and family again. My parents, my friends, my coach has always told me to do well in school, do well in squash, and the world is your oyster.

This seemingly amazing story is made even more amazing simply because she is Malaysian. Sadly, this is not a success story of Malaysia Boleh. If anything at all, this story exemplifies why Malaysia Tidak Boleh. How do you explain that one of the best universities in the world can recognize the talents and abilities of this young girl, yet our government, with its vast resources and “foresight” did not see any “potential” in her. Or was something else at play?

After serving the country by representing Malaysia in squash, June’s services were repaid with a cold shoulder when she needed it most. She was one of the more fortunate ones to land a scholarship to Harvard after Form Six. Many of us (I was one of the more fortunate ones), had to face this obstacle yet AGAIN after Form Six, when we apply for university. Many students with excellent results could not enter the universities that they desired and worse, were only given their 8th or 9th choices for the desired course. Imagine, a student so passionate about Astronomy being sent to a university in the outskirts beside the jungles of Malaysia to study Biology. Do we know the detriments of such an action? Instead of having a world class astronomer in the making, we have a mediocre biologist at best instead.

When I read June’s story, part of me wants to feel inspired by her achievements, but a greater part of me feels so discouraged by the fact that my children may not be as fortunate as June when they finish Form Six. What if my children get sent to the jungles of Malaysia to study advanced pottery, simply because our system chooses not to recognize the talents and abilities of Malaysians? Yet, the 10th Malaysia Plan talks about attracting and maintaining talents.

I want to feel inspired but I simply can’t.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Economics @ Home © Volume 2 Issue 17

Doing it without FDI?? Are you kidding?

When I saw such a huge heading in the online version of the Star, I was extremely shocked. After reading through the whole article, I was totally appalled because at the start, I was thinking, “Who is this Gunasegaram to say that Malaysia can do it without FDI?” Then at the end, I found out that he is actually the Managing Editor of the Star. Why is a journalist pretending to be an economist? What will happen when the ignorant public start listening to people like Mr Gunasegaram here? Let’s have a read about what he said. I have included his whole article here:

I have included comments where I deemed it necessary.

Saturday July 31, 2010
10 ways of doing without FDI
A Question of Business
A STIR of sorts has been caused by the story that foreign direct investment (FDI) into the country for 2009 fell 81% to US$1.4bil (about RM4.5bil) from US$7.3bil (RM24bil).
But really it should not. If we want higher value-added, then labour-intensive industries are not our target. This is the area which many foreign investors like because they can get tremendous cost savings by using cheap labour in places like China, Vietnam etc.
If greater value-added is what we are after, then increasingly more investments have to be made in the services area – think tourism or education for instance. That does not necessarily need foreign investment – we can use local money.
We have plenty of money in Malaysia – as much as RM250bil at last count. That’s roughly the excess of deposits over loans sitting with the banks throughout the country.
All that money and nowhere to go within the country, is our problem. The money is not chasing investments in the country. And that can mean only one thing – there is a lack of opportunity here. (This is just a nice way of saying, the investments around are too poor, especially the investment climate that is totally not conducive and transparent)
The question then is what is it that is reducing business opportunities in Malaysia? Is there too much red tape? Are approvals not forthcoming? Are there too many equity strictures? Do we have sufficient workers?
FDI flows in any particular year into Malaysia pales in comparison to the amount of idle money in the system. What we have to do is to find ways to use that and we will more than mitigate the effects of reduced FDI. Here are 10 ways we can do that.
1) Shift from manufacturing to services. This is inevitable if you want to move towards higher income. Our manufacturing is low value-added. Much of it is low-end assembly. Things like tourism and education offer so much more opportunities and are already large contributors to foreign exchange savings; (This is utter rubbish. The way up is not a change in sectors. Just liberalize the economy and let the private sector and the market determine what are the goods that have demand, then those are the goods that will be produced. Furthermore, we can never do without manufacturing. The value-addedness per worker in the manufacturing sector is simply too large. Even in the advanced countries such as Germany still have a huge manufacturing sector)
2) Reduce export dependence. Old habits die hard and we must realise that we cannot continue to export ourselves out of trouble all the time. What we must do is create a market for ourselves right here. Get our consumers, who seem to have a lot of money, to spend – think restaurants, entertainment, lifestyle etc; (AGAIN, total rubbish. It is precisely this inward looking attitude that was “introduced” by our 4th Prime Minister that has caused so much destruction in our economy. Once again, the market should decide what to produce, what to export, and what to import. To produce domestically is not as simple as Mr Guna suggests. Take Proton for example. Without the subsidies that the government pays them, they would have gone bankrupt a long time ago. This protectionist measure has cost the Malaysian public billions of RM. Once again, just let the invisible hand decide where our money should go)
3) Identify and target the high growth areas. Old-style low-cost manufacturing is out. We need to identify some areas for good growth in the future and focus on this. We could easily become a quality education hub for the region for instance and benefit ourselves in the process. We could set aside areas for international universities to be set up; (Need I say it again? Liberalize the economy. Let the private sector decide where their money should be most efficiently spent. Mr Guna is simply a product of the Mahathir mentality. You think the people are too stupid to decide how to spend their money?)
4) Make incentives the same for both domestic and foreign investors. The days of giving more incentives, latitude and preference to foreign investors must end once and for all and the playing field levelled. In fact, greater encouragement and incentives must be given for the development of local enterprises based on the simple premise that we must help ourselves more; (Totally contradictory. In the first sentence, he says that we should make incentivest eh same for both domestic and foreign investors. Then in the third sentence, he asks for greater incentive for local enterprises. I think he has no idea what he is talking about anymore. Equal opportunity is best. There is no need to give “crutches” to Malaysians. We must inculcate this culture of competitiveness as soon as possible. Or else we will be sending our children to Indonesia to become their maids very soon)
5) Cut tariffs and taxes. Tariffs are non-competitive and cutting them increases competitiveness of all industries as they are able to source supplies and services which are the cheapest and of the best quality. Cutting taxes provides incentives for making money. Our taxes are still relatively high; (Then where is the government going to get money from? Hasn’t anyone told you that our budget deficit looks just a bit too much like Greece? Does blood really have to spill on the streets before someone realizes that Malaysia needs to wake up and wake up now?)
6) Do away with equity targets altogether. With bumiputra equity targets probably already met if we measure using the right techniques, there is no need to force non-bumiputra industries to continue to enter Ali Baba-style partnerships to do this, a highly inefficient process that benefits very few bumiputras in any case; (First smart thing he said so far. But who doesn’t know this already?)
7) Cut red tape. For all the lip service made to cutting red tape over the years, this is still very much with us. As long as officialdom puts all kinds of barriers in the way of genuine enterprise, expect enterprise to be hobbled; (This is number 7?? I already said this right at the start. Liberalize, liberalize, liberalize!!)
8) Do away with yearly renewal of licences. If you already have a licence, why renew it yearly? Why can’t it be given to you indefinitely unless you flout licence requirements? Doing away with licence approvals on a yearly basis helps cut bureaucracy; (Please see comments from number 7)
9) Improve educational standards. We can’t emphasise this enough and the steady decline in educational standards both at schools and universities has not, so far, elicited a strong enough response from the Government which will stop the slide; (All talk but no substance. Mr Guna, if you are so smart, perhaps you might give a concrete suggestion as to how to do this? If you can pretend to be an economist, maybe you can pretend to be a politician too? Simply promote a culture of meritocracy. Let people appreciate the value of competitiveness. Almost everything else will follow) and
10) Cut corruption. This insidious, widespread problem is eventually the cause for much bottleneck, inefficiency, higher costs and a downright hindrance to improving productivity at all levels. It’s incredible how little we have done to stop this scourge. (It’s incredible that Mr Guna has not said anything that we don’t know in such a long article. Maybe we need to give more voice to people who actually know what they are talking about)
Yes, FDI has dropped and it may continue to drop. But really, that’s not the end of the world. Anyway, it’s high time we reduced dependence on FDI and did something to pump up domestic investment instead. And there are many more imaginative ways to do that. (No FDI will be the end of Malaysia! Does Mr Guna realize that the benefits of FDI is not just limited to  investment? Does Mr Guna even relize what investment is?)
Managing editor P. Gunasegaram is amazed that some foreign companies are taxed by their home countries for the taxes they don’t pay here; in other words, the tax incentives given to them here goes to a foreign country instead. (I am amazed that people who have a "voice" do not take their privilege seriously)

Just some additional comments. Let me just list down A FEW of the benefits from FDI that CANNOT be obtained from just domestic investment. FDI allows transfer of technology. It allows foreign companies to bring in new technology that can provide value add to our local industries and workers. FDI allows foreign companies to bring in new training methods and foreign experts which can help train and improve productivity of our workers. FDI also creates a competitive business environment that forces local businesses to stay on their toes and not rest on their “laurels”, if any at all.

This article from Mr Guna is a simple example to show that we cannot simple believe every person who has a voice. What he wrote only appears intelligent on the surface. Any real economist will know that a developing country CANNOT survive without FDI. Only Mahathir will agree to something like what Mr Guna said.

If you think I have contributed nothing but a harsh criticism of Mr Guna, then the least that you can do is to note that Malaysia needs FDI and I have given you enough reasons why.

Sunday, August 01, 2010

Economics @ Home © Volume 2 Issue 16

Why Singapore Leads the World in Mathematics

I always wondered why we label the Singaporeans "kiasu" (afraid of losing). Despite studying there for two years, what I discovered was a culture that amazed me. What is referred to as the culture of competitiveness in Singapore, is gravely misrepresented by Malaysians as kiasu-ism. For whatever reasons we deem Singaporeans to be kiasu, be it jealousy, or what we call the "truth", the fact remains that the GDP per capita of Singapore is at USD35 000 and the GDP per capita of Malaysia is struggling to breach USD7 000.

I can present you with all kinds of facts and statistics to show you why Singapore is so much better than Malaysia, but that would probably be in conflict with my day job. Instead, I will let the video below speak for itself.

The first thing that struck me after watching this video was how much thought the Singaporean government has put into educating their pre-school children. The Malaysian government has always preached about accessibility this and that, but the fact is, the quality of our education is not there. The amount of thought put into it is clearly exemplified by the amount of flip-flopping that has to happen even before we can decide on what language to use as a medium of education, notwithstanding the fact that they most probably made the wrong choice.

And here we have Lee Kuan Yew, one of the more visionary people in this age, calling for China to embrace English in their bid to become a global superpower. It seems to me that we are moving in the opposite direction. What a sad case we are...

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Economics @ Home © Volume 2 Issue 15

This week, there is a double issue because I had skipped a week without posting Economics @ Home and being the man of integrity that I am, I have chosen to redeem myself by repaying your loyalty with the number of issues that you deserve. 

Football Genius

If there was a God of football, this is it. Although I took this video off someone else, I am sure he wouldn't mind simply because he created it to share to begin with. In fact, in all likelihood, this video was created to exhibit the prowess and masterclass that Lionel Messi is. By sharing this, I am merely reinforcing the creator's objective. While you may think that these are not exactly 30 of the greatest goals you have ever seen, they most certainly are worthy contenders. People who know me know that I am not a fan of long shots. Messi is the reminder to us all that we don't need to drive the ball into the net from over 20 yards out to score a goal. The delicateness and deftness of Messi's touch is like the sweet melody from the flapping of an angel's wings. In fact, he is so good, this is how tight they have to mark him.

On a lighter note, the tale below is probably based on a true story. Enjoy the goals and the story.

Messi, Kaka and the pope are at a lake to find out who can walk on water. Messi runs on the water, across the lake to the other side and runs right back. Then, during Kaka's turn, he did the same thing. Now the pope, he takes two steps on the water and falls. Kaka looks at Messi and says, "That's harsh, didn't you tell him about the stepping stones?" and Messi repliess, "What stepping stones?"

Probably a true story...

Economics @ Home © Volume 2 Issue 14

A Tribute to Paul

Any self-respecting blogger should at least say a word about the World Cup and as we all know, I am full of self-respect. It must be put on record that I am exhilarated that Spain are the new world champions, just like I had hoped. Their superb fluid passing and sheer skillfulness are a sight to behold. All the sore losers can whine about how Spain is stacked with all its superstars but the fact is, the superstars are from Spain for a reason. They were not born superstars. They are products of a culture of beautiful football. And for those of you who still think that the EPL is the best league in the world, you need to be reminded that England was annihilated by the Germans with a lowly scoreline of 4-1. The English have to go home with the consolation that they “scored” a goal that should have been but never was.

If there is one thing that we can learn about the Western culture and from the World Cup, it is the fact that they love placing the blame on everything else but themselves. It is either the referee’s fault, FIFA’s fault, the Jabulani’s fault, and more ridiculously, Paul the octopus’ fault!! Not one person has thought about how the team can improve themselves.

A word of advice to all English players. You may think that you play in the best league in the world, but the fact is, you are only playing in the most popular league in the world. Your standard of football has long been surpassed by the likes of Spain, who, before 2010, has never even been to the World Cup Final! Now, all the best players are either playing for Barcelona or Real Madrid, while you EPL-ers can only bitch about how Real Madrid is “cheating”, forgetting that the EPL was the one who started overpaying for the players in the first place. Now, the big names like Messi, Xavi, Iniesta, Villa, Kaka, Alonso, Benzema (No, I refuse to acknowledge Christina Ronaldo as a real football player) et al. are playing in the man’s league. Christina, please return to your little girl’s league.

As a final word, and on a much lighter note, there is a rumor going around that Goldman Sachs is offering a USD4 million package to acquire Paul’s services in its proprietary trading team. The benefits are said to exceed the meagre morsels that were offered to Paul for the World Cup. Merrill Lynch has also indicated their interest with intentions to replace their whole trading desk with Paul. 8 out of 8 calls is most certainly something to shout about. My professor once told me that in forecasting, if you ever get it right, never let them forget it.

Paul, this is my little contribution with hope that your contribution will never be forgotten.

Sunday, July 04, 2010

Economics @ Home © Volume 2 Issue 13

When In Need

It is funny how we take so many things that we have for granted, only to realize their importance after we have lost them. But that is not what I am trying to discuss today. We go through stages of our lives meeting all sorts of different people and we make their acquaintance and before we know it, we become great friends.

However, when we prepare to move to our next stage in life, we are sometimes forced to leave these people behind. That is probably still acceptable but sometimes, we burn the bridge after we cross it. Just because we are moving on to the next stage of our lives, it does not mean that we can mistreat the people in our past. Of course, mistreating does not have to be in the form of abuse or ill-treatment. It could be something as simple as not expressing the gratitude towards that person's friendship and the things that he (or she) did for you.

I will give two examples of what burning the bridge means. In the first case, consider a couple who has recently broken up because the girl has lost her feelings for him. During the course of their relationship, the guy has helped her in every crisis one can imagine. But now that the period of her crisis is almost over, she decides to find a better guy instead. In spite of the hurt that the guy has to go through, he acquiesced to her request that they remain as friends. For starters, how the guy pretends not to hurt every time he sees her is a mystery to me.

However, months later, he realizes that the girl is only keeping him at his side because she knows how helpful he can be when she is in great need of help. Other than contacting him when she was in need of help, she has absolutely no care about his well-being and how he was moving on with his life. She still behaved like everything in the world revolves around her. She even had the nerve to tell him that they can't be friends if he can't let her go, not remembering that in the first place, it was upon her request that they remained as friends.

I strongly believe in the good of everyone. Given the opportunity, every person has good intentions. One can remember similar proposals from Jean Jacques Rousseau, the French philosopher during the Enlightenment period. But when that guy realized how someone he loved so much had taken the things he did for granted in such an insulting way, he almost swore off helping anyone ever again. I suppose the key word here is "almost". After coming to his senses, he decided only to swear off helping people who do not deserve it, especially the likes of his ex-girlfriend.

The second scenario is less dramatic, but no less important. At some point in our lives, we may or may not contemplate a change of occupation. One of the most common reasons is job dissatisfaction. Some people find the job too stressful, the benefits too little, and the management too stupid. For some reason or other, it all begins with a simple misunderstanding. I explained the issue of the kind of snowballing that begins with a small problem. Nonetheless, the story was in another context, but the same principles apply (see Econ @ Home Volume 2 Issue 11: Of Mountains and Molehills). That's why the same solution applies. The key to prevent making mountains out of molehills is simply communication.

Nonetheless, for whatever reason, when some people leave the company that they were working for, they feel the need to be as destructive as they can. Not only do they stop caring about their jobs, they do not meet their deadlines and do not feel the need to maintain the quality that was required in the first place, simply because they are leaving the company. Of course, you may ask, "Why should I do this?". While it may appear like there is nothing to gain from your efforts, you are forgetting that the company is still paying for your services and it is only your responsibility to facilitate the transition process as much as possible. So because of the stubbornness of some people, they refuse to complete their task and act high and mighty simply because they think they will be compensated if they were to be fired. This is the kind of attitude that Malaysians have developed because of its rigid labor laws, but that is a story for another day.

So, their insolence would be considered as burning the bridge and little do they know that when they start applying for their next job, as they are about to fill up the application form, there is a section called "References". Since you burned the bridge when you crossed it, who are you going to list as your references now?

While some companies may not need any references, especially when the applicant is a young fresh graduate with little experience, as they progress through their career, references become more and more important, as your transcript becomes less so.

There are simply no benefits to burn the bridge when you cross it, unless something really really bad is chasing after you. Is something chasing after you?

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Economics @ Home © Volume 2 Issue 12

Fills My Void

This week, to make up for the non-post 2 weeks ago, I choose to share a special article written my a special friend. She chose to title it "Fills My Void", which I also choose to use as the title for this week's newsletter. Enjoy.
Going out past midnight in the morning and coming home at close to two – this is the closest thing to what was the bliss of December holidays in 2009. It fills my heart with so much warmth that I cannot comprehend but could only stay and let the feeling dwell in my heart and make itself comfortable, like letting something settle and hope that it never leaves. Yet this feeling brings colour to my face and makes my heart happy, and at that moment I just let my senses roam – to collect all that I would soon leave behind, to gather the essence of what is the Penang life, to refresh the past that I hold so dear... but in the end I still cannot put a finger on why these are all so precious to me, also having no clue why being engulfed by these emotions. I still do not know the name of this, which has the ability to make me so mellow.
And today at the coffeeshop, I looked around and everyone looks so familiar yet I know that I have never seen them in my life – but I know in my heart that these people carry Penang along with them, and wherever they go or gather they carry the ren qing wei with them, something no one can rob from them. I don’t know why I say them and not us, because essentially I consider myself a Penangite but then again it feels as though I have lost the essence of what I call Penang, somewhere diluted along the lines of stress and education in the other island down south. Yet, when I was there, the voice in my heart cried out – this is where I belong, this is where I am supposed to be. And I know that – and now thinking back a few hours ago and playing over what I saw this morning, this odd melancholic sadness crept in, and reminded me that I am leaving the day after tomorrow and perhaps it would be best to not dwell and let these feelings linger on.
Ah, penang. I love you so, so much. Coming from the airport I would always come with the same “I want to write a letter of complaint to xxx authority to report xyz” and my mum would always laugh and sigh at what we call the "Singaporean" that has gotten into me for the time that I am away from home. And yet maybe a day after, I would forget, and I would again be mesmerized by the beauty of the oil-ridden air that sticks to your face, the hugs and handshakes and laughter shared even with strangers that happen to be friends of your uncle’s friends or something of that sort, how we exchange stupid jokes and old family stories in the hokkien dialect which everyone regardless of race adopts in the marketplace... and so many things that is so uniquely penang that no one can steal from us.
Yet maybe all I want is to marry the boy from the coffeeshop. And we know sometimes heartbreakers are not the most charming ones, but the ones which has the ability to fill our hearts with warmth that we cannot comprehend, the ones that catch us off-guard and make us feel unusually comfortable and out of place, all at the same time. 
Although you may feel like it's a bunch of ramblings, but I think that behind the facade of what you may feel is an incomprehensible joining of words, there is such a rich build up of emotion that I hope you continue to express in the future. Thank you for your contribution, Nicole (my favorite 16 year-old, before she grows up :) )

Monday, May 24, 2010

Economics @ Home © Volume 2 Issue 11

Of Mountains and Molehills

Halfway through typing an article for this week, I realized that I wanted to refer to an article that I had previously written, but then I realized that it was not published on Economics @ Home. Then I found it in my personal blog, which I have not been updating of late, I must admit. So, I have decided to officially welcome that special entry into Economics @ Home, and continue with my intended article in the next issue. Some of the information is outdated, but I decided to keep the full article for completeness.

Here it goes:

After hunting high and low to find a decently interesting topic to talk about, I have decided to settle on the juicy topic of women. Believe me, I tried to look for something else. Ideas that crossed my mind were:

1. Cars

I wanted to do a comparison between a BMW 7-series vs a Mercedes S-class but then I realized that my knowledge was not only very limited, but I haven't even been in any one of those cars. All I can tell you is that the BMW looks cooler than an S-class. The S-class has a more mature feel to it. Basically, it's meant for old men in their midlife crises. One good analogy that comes to mind is the Mac advertisement. It is obvious that the Mac guy is the BMW while the geeky, serious looking dude who dresses smartly is the S-class. I shall leave this discussion at that, and perhaps continue it another day.

2. Politics

What can I say that hasn't already been said? In today's newspaper, an MP passed away while another quit his position. The past few weeks have seen frogging like nobody's business and everyone has said their piece. Those people who have not kept quiet about are still telling the same stories about things that other people pretend they want to hear. The first step to solving all problems is to admit there is a problem. Everyone knows that. Everyone wants to blame someone. Once again, this discussion is simply overheated and probably a no-brainer for me. By talking about it, one can pretend to feel good about being superior to the party that he/she is blaming but we all know nothing can come out of it, not just by bitching.

3. Economics

Doom and gloom is around every corner. Keep badgering the US banks. It's all their fault. The Americans. They want to pump in another what? How many zeroes is that? Yeah, yeah, once again, everyone has had their chance to speak. We should feel a sense of relief that the new president has first world thinking. He acknowledges the problem. Step 1 complete! So now you buggers out there who are still pointing fingers and bitching about how the money should be spent and how it should not be spent, or how silly the financial allocation is, or how they are wasting it to banks that no one in the world can trust, well, please give your solutions. I would like to hear something that no one can refute. In bad times, every step you take is going to look bad. Every one wants a piece of the blaming finger.

On that note, I proudly say that I have no viable perfect solution. Reform is necessary, but I don't think I know enough to claim in what areas should the reform be in. So, maybe on another day, we can continue this discussion upon hindsight and you can hope that you were right and you can say "I told you so" in my face. But for now, let's just hope for the sake of the citizens of the world that you are wrong.

4. Sports

So I've pretty much gone through all the current issues that most people can talk about. Among other things such as the sacking of Scolari and the Steelers winning the Superbowl and the Spurs pwning the Celtics, sports will always be sports. Somebody always beats somebody else and the winner is remembered, the loser is forgotten.

5. Women

Well, women are number 5 on my list of important things to talk about? I remember when I was much younger (half my age!!), my classmates and I used to productively utilize our schooling time (in between classes, of course!) to chatter about what was deemed the most important things of our lives at that time, girls!

Fortunately for you and for me, this will not be idle chatter. Let us hope that at the end of the day, one of us leaves this site with at least some sense of awareness of what I am about to share with you.

Please be advised that I do not write this as a closet pervert, not that you should have any reason to believe I am one, but I write this with the intention of banding the men with similar experiences against the evil clutches of women-kind!

What is so evil about women? This question reminds me of a mathematical proof once showed to me by a classmate. At that point, I thought it was clever but it has been completely overused and underappreciated since then. That said, let us be clear about one thing, it is impossible to understand women (as men).

I have never attempted (never is a strong word, but I say it WLOG (Yeah, yeah, bet you can't use WLOG in a regular sentence like I can)) to understand women. Things women do that drive most men nuts:

OK, I had actually prepared a long list of silly things women do, like taking long showers, spending ridiculous amounts of cash on vanity products etc. but I decided to discard it for the simple reason that who hasn't heard it already?

I'd like to share a fictional story about Adam and Eve (forgive the biblical reference)

Eve texts Adam at 11.03 am one Saturday morning,

"Hey Adam, how are you doing? Just wanted to wish you good morning! I love you!"

2 hours and a few minutes later, at 1.08 pm, Adam finally struggles to get out of bed, no thanks to his Dota buddies who insisted on "One more last game" for the 6th time at 4 am. Adam drags himself to the bathroom, brushes his teeth, shaves (and do all the hygienic things that most men do :P) and then jacks off while he takes a shower, steps out, puts on a pair of shorts and a t-shirt, grabs his cell phone, parks his butt on that magical sofa, flips the TV on with his well-trained clicking finger or thumb, looks down on his phone and then finally sees the message that Eve sent him about 3 hours ago (It's 1.59 pm now). So Adam opens the message and thinks to himself, "Aww, that's sweet..." (Adam is a nice guy by the way, he is just nocturnal).

"Hey baby, I just woke up not long ago. I'm starving. You've had your lunch, right? I think I'll just stop by the cafe outside to pick up some food", Adam unsuspectingly replies.

Adam heads out the door, gets a call from his good friend, Chuck, who invites him to go for a movie. Having no prior plans, Adam accepts, grabs a quick lunch, heads out with Chuck and the guys to catch Saw V. Little did Adam know that 30 seconds after he replied and slid his cell into his pocket, Eve had replied:

"Hey you! I was thinking maybe we could catch a movie later. Maybe some dinner afterwards. What do you think?"

If only Adam's cell was not in "Silent" mode. He had classes on Friday and forgot to switch the modes. One knows too well how the vibration doesn't really feel like anything when you are walking with the cell in your pocket. Girls, if the cell is in your handbag, you wouldn't notice a vibrate right? Especially with that arsenal of "goodies" in your bag.

Unknowingly, Adam sits through the 2 hour movie that started at 3 pm, and ended at 5,36 pm because of advertising. Guys being guys, went on to get a few good rounds of Dota going at the nearest LAN shop and before they know it, it's 7 pm, and time for dinner. Now, hold your horses, you bet that Adam didn't check his cell and went to dinner with his buddies, right? Wrong! Every guy checks his cell phone after walking out of a LAN shop. After all, they have to check if their girlfriend texted them. To his surprise and panic, Adam sees 2 unreplied messages and 1 miss call and replies immediately:

"Hey, I am so sorry. I didn't see your message earlier. I was out with my friends. We went to watch Saw V. I know you're not really a big fan of horror movies. It's kinda late to pick you up for dinner now, but I will make it up to you another time. I'm really sorry".

Perfectly honest mistake by a perfectly honest guy who really cares about his girlfriend. While some girls may understand that and accept his apology, but it is all too common that some girls may start giving a guy like Adam a cold shoulder. Reason?

Well, at 11.03 am after Eve texted Adam, Eve goes to freshen up, gets all dressed up (which by then is already 12.30 pm), hoping that Adam would have replied by then and he could swing by, pick her up for lunch and catch a movie (She was planning to watch Saw V with him because she knew how he loves horror). Thinking that she might appear too desperate or being too clingy towards Adam, Eve decides not to call Adam and bug him. "He's probably taking a shower". At 1.30 pm, Eve begins to think, "He's taking an awfully long time to reply. I wonder what he is up to." Another 29 minutes of see-sawing goes by, not knowing if she should or should not call Adam, thankfully Adam replies. "Phew". Eve jumps in shock of her ringtone, opens the message immediately and smiles. "Finally, he replied". She quickly replies his message, hoping to at least catch a movie with him later.

The rest as we deem to be history happened. Now, in between the hours of 2.00 pm to 5.30 pm, she texted Adam:

"Hey, are you back from lunch yet? I haven't heard from you. What are you doing? Did you get my message?"

Another 40 minutes goes by. Eve calls Adam. But his cell was on silent mode. Apparently the vibration wasn't that great either. Perhaps it was off because he was in the cinema. Who knows...

Now Eve is beginning to get really frustrated. "What is Adam really doing? Why hasn't he replied my message? Why didn't he pick up my call? He must be playing computer games with his friends again. Is he out with another girl? I guess that's quite unlikely. He's not the cheating type. If only I could see him. I made sure I left my schedule open this weekend just to see him. I even decided not to go to Jenny's birthday party because it was the premier weekend for Saw V. What is he doing? Where could he be? Maybe he is watching the movie with his friends. Why didn't he invite me along? Is he embarassed about me? Does he think I am too clingy? Am I too clingy? Should I give him more space? Why am I so frustrated? He probably just didn't see my message. But why would someone own a cellphone and not be reachable? Might as well not own a cellphone".

As you can see, this thought process can go on and on and on. This is called "dwelling". To the unsuspecting guy (I guess he may or may not be innocent, but he would in no way suspect he was doing something very wrong), he will wonder what he really did wrong. All he did was just being late in replying an sms. Besides, his girlfriend has been late in replying his messages before too.

On the other end of things, Eve is all worked up, decides to give Adam a cold shoulder and demands to herself that she deserves to be treated better. So now, what is seemingly a small situation had been blown out of proportions because of an innocent mistake. Eve continues to give Adam the cold shoulder for a few days. Adam still wonders why can't Eve forgive him for replying an sms late. Eve has replied more texts late than he has, as far as he remembers. But of course Eve's reasons were "completely valid".

Now, boys and girls, at some point in our relationships with our significant other, we would have encountered a situation similar to this. So it is my hope that we ponder about this story with an open mind and stay aware that some mistakes can be innocent. The best way to avoid a cold war like this one would be to communicate. Talk to your partners. Be clear and honest.

All this could have been avoided if Eve had said in the first message that she wanted to watch Saw V with Adam. She wanted to "act cool" by not being the clingy girlfriend, or so she thinks and thus played a small role in building this mountain out of a molehill. Adam on the other hand, piled on the dirt by not checking his cellphone every 15 minutes, but can he really be blamed? Maybe... If he was the kind of guy who puts his girlfriend ahead of everything he does, he might have checked his phone sooner.

So, once again, communication is key. I guess I take back my point about women being evil. Nonetheless, the mathematical proof is concrete. Hope you liked the story.