Saturday, January 31, 2009

Article from YaleGlobal Online

This article from YaleGlobal Online has been sent to you by TWC.

Some customs, from security procedures at airports to requirements for suits and ties at restaurants, divide people in unnecessary ways. But the election of US President Barack Obama – "a Chicago man, born in Hawaii, with an African father, an Indonesian stepfather and a mother from English-Irish stock with Native American elements" – stands as a reminder that a mixture of people and cultures carries broad appeal, inspiring cooperation and good reason. Columnist Nury Vittachi writes a tongue-in-cheek column that points to the mix of countries that combine forces in what he calls the "miracle of globalization," creating innovative technology, diverse media, favorite foods, iconic events and even a US president. – YaleGlobal

Obama Is the Key Example of Globalization

Security guards at the airport just made me take off my belt. Huh? How could my belt be a threat? Did I really look like I could subdue 300 people on a jumbo jet using only a 30-inch strap designed to stop my trousers falling down?

Instead of being irritated, I decided to interpret this as a compliment, which made me feel much better. (Yes, men are sad creatures.)

It's been an odd week. I had lunch the other day in a restaurant that had previously always banned me. My earlier crime? Refusing to wear a tie.

I've disliked ties ever since someone told me ties were a type of noose: same knot, same level of tension, same ability to kill. (Why are ties not banned on aircraft?)

The opening up of fancy restaurants to the tie-less is due to globalization. It is no longer possible to exclude people like me on the grounds of our not wearing Western clothes.

The world's ultimate example of globalization was surely an incident which took place a few days ago: the ascent of Barack Obama to the most powerful seat in the world.

Get this. He is a Chicago man, born in Hawaii, with an African father, an Indonesian stepfather and a mother from English-Irish stock with Native American elements. His first name is Swahili for "blessed one", his second is Arabic for "good-looking" and his third is a town in Japan. His family members speak French, Cantonese, Bahasa Indonesia and German.

His favorite possession is a BlackBerry, a Canada-assembled phone made from Chinese and Indian components. His favorite dishes are Italian (shrimp linguini) and Mexican (chilli) and the foods he misses from his childhood are bakso (Indonesian meatball soup) and rambutan (a Malaysian fruit).

He and his family dress in clothes from J Crew, a firm which buys Italian cashmere, Czech glass buttons and British wool and ships them to Asia for assembly into American clothes.

His not-very-secret vice is Marlboro, a British cigarette made with American tobacco and sold in boxes bearing a Latin motto. His favorite reading matter is Harry Potter (Scottish), Spi-der-Man (American) and The Bible (Middle Eastern).

His inauguration takes the title of The World's Most Globalized Event from the death of Princess Diana, defined thus: An English princess with an Egyptian boyfriend crashes in a French tunnel in a German car with a Dutch engine driven by a Belgian drunk on Scottish whisky. She was followed by Italian Paparazzi on Japanese motorcycles and was treated by an American doctor using Brazilian medicines.

In the meantime, you may be reading this syndicated article in a newspaper: a British publishing format using German movable type printed on paper, a Chinese invention. Or you may be reading this on a computer, a machine designed in the west and assembled in the east, using Taiwanese chips, Korean monitors and Chinese casings, assembled by Bangladeshi and Sri Lankan workers in Singaporean plants, and transported to you on ships manned by Filipino and Indian sailors, hijacked en route by Somali pirates and rescued by US gunships.

The miracle of globalization means this column will be read by people from the Caribbean to Colombo to China. Even though it is written by a man in an airport whose trousers just fell down.

The writer is a columnist and journalist.

The Jakarta Post

Copyright © 2008 The Jakarta Post - PT Bina Media Tenggara. All Rights Reserved.

Iceland Picks the World's First Openly Gay PM  
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When Barack Obama was sworn in as the new U.S. President last week, Americans made much of the fact that he was the country's first black Commander in Chief. On Saturday, when Jóhanna Sigurðardóttir takes over as Prime Minister of the small (pop. 320,000) nation of Iceland, she will become the world's first openly gay female head of government — and Icelanders are hardly batting an eye.

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Friday, January 30, 2009

Mahjong Art

Les Du-Guis at Marymount View

Tonight, I became host to the guys playing mahjong, while I work on powerpoint slides on my lecture next week. Looking at the way they screamed and shouted while playing, I realised that there is no equivalent English word to describe these guys. Only that distinctive Chinese term that seem to express all the meaning...(so what exactly is it?).

The mahjong game is on-going even as I make this blog posting.

Niu @ SG: Welcome the Niu Year!

Lakeview & Yio Chu Kang MRT.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

US to Implement Chinese-Style Toxic Asset Buy

A few years ago, the West were criticising the Chinese on this but they are now learning from what the Chinese did then...

US to Implement Chinese-Style Toxic Asset Buy

American lawmakers appear to have shelved the frightful idea of "nationalizing" failing banks. However, they've now settled down to discuss -- from media commentary, frantically -- a plan that mimics the experience of modern Chinese banking regulators: the creation of a "bad bank" to remove toxic assets from the system.

You may remember that the Chinese banking system was (and remains) functionally bankrupt. [This article from 2005 is worthwhile reading.]


Through deft financial sleight-of-hand, a satisfactory percentage of non-performing loans (NPLs) were removed to a state-controlled holding companies (AMCs), thus allowing, among other benefits, quasi-state-owned financial institutions to list on foreign stock exchanges, sporting "acceptable" NPL ratios. But NPLs continue to rise, despite Chinese statistics (read "notorious.") to the contrary. (Whom to believe?)


Read more:

Chinese Archways Paifang

Chinese Archways Paifang: "Chinese Archways, Paifang, 牌坊
Chinese Archways or Paifang are closely associated with Chinatowns. They usually have two or more pillars supporting a roof like structure. More elaborate paifangs can even look like a city gate."

My friend, Chan, who wrote this article has a funny way of putting it: "There is a archway in Singapore Chinatown but it is located inside the Chinatown. The borders of Singapore Chinatown do not have any archways but instead it has the Electronic Road Pricing (ERP) gantries that collect tolls electronically from entering vehicles. We wonder if these ERP gantries might be considered as modern day high tech archways."

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

The status of Netherlands Antilles: Was the Federation dissolved on 15 December 2008?

You may recall our discussions on and off last year about the official dissolution of the Netherlands Antilles into 2 new seperate political entities, namely the states of Curacao and Sint Maarten, and the annexation of the remaining 3 islands, Bonaire, Saba and St Eustatius, into the Kingdom of the Netherlands proper, specifically as municipalities of the Dutch Province of North Holland.  The dissolution was supposed to have taken place on 15 December 2008.  (Aruba already broke away from the Netherlands Antilles Federation in 1986 and has since been a seperate entity with its own Aruba Guilders currency and postage stamps.)
Of course, no newspaper ever bothers to report about tiny islands like these.  I suddenly remembered them and the havoc the dissolution would have caused to my country-count efforts, for I might be obliged to visit each of the 5 islands if the federation is dissolved - I had already visited Curacao and Sint Maarten in 2007 but had previously omitted the other three smaller ones. It would have been an expensive venture to attempt to return to the vicinity just to do the three tiny isles.
I wikipediaed "Netherlands Antilles" and guess what I discovered?  According to that entry (and ), the dissolution of the Federation has been postponed to a future, indefinite date, due to disagreements between various parties involved in the talks. 
So, for the time being, those country-collectors among you can sleep a little more soundly as the total number of political entities has stayed constant for the time being!

Monday, January 26, 2009

Robert McCrum: So, what's this Globish revolution? | From the Observer | The Observer

Robert McCrum: So, what's this Globish revolution? From the Observer The Observer: "So, what's this Globish revolution?I say tomato ... you say red, round fruit. Increasingly, people across the world use some sort of English, but it is not the Queen's. Robert McCrum, Observer Literary Editor, reports on why Globish - English-lite - is becoming the universal language of boardroom, the net and politics"

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Chinese New Year Celebrations at Jack's Place

Happy New Year!
Let's hope for a better year and swift recovery from recession!

Art: The Eagleman

Experimental photography
Model aka Victim: Wei

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Nominated for World Heritage

Nominated for World Heritage: "Nominated for World Heritage
Decision on Mount Vernon Estate to be announced in summer of 2010.

By By Chuck Hagee/Gazette
Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Mount Vernon Estate & Gardens was officially nominated Monday, Jan. 12, for the World Heritage List by U.S. Secretary of Interior Dirk Kempthorne during a ceremony on the Estate's Bowling Green with George Washington home in the background."

Why Singapore deserves a future UNESCO World Heritage listing

My response to someone who wrote online that he thinks any Singapore application for UNESCO World Heritage Site is silly because there is nothing of significance here:



Thank you for your long note.  I am not surprised by your comments.  Yours are typical of many Singaporeans.  It also highlights the fact that a lot of work remains to convince Singaporeans that we do have a heritage that is unique and that we have to be proud of what we have.


I would suggest that you have a look at the full list of UNESCO WHS:


There are over 800 sites worldwide.  Ask yourself how many are you familiar with, and how many of them are as grand and monumental either in visual terms or possesses equal significance as the top tier monuments you mentioned, such as Taj Mahal, Angkor Wat and the Great Wall. 


I suspect, other than perhaps 50 or so, all of the rest are hardly well known beyond the political boundaries of the countries they are situated in.  So, why are they listed there at all?


The reason is that, the UNESCO WH Convention is primarily concerned with the conservation of sites that have universal value.  Universal value does not necessarily imply grand physical appearance.  Neither does it imply intricate artistic design per se.  It implies having significance that is meaningful to human civilization.  Human civilization does not just mean major cultures and countries but would encompass even small nations and indigenous peoples and tribes.  Nobody now denies the contributions, wisdom and significance of even small peoples to the exuberant diversity of the world we live in today.


It is for that reason that we have sites such as the following:


Madriu-Perafita-Claror Valley in the tiny European nation of Andorra, which according to the UNESCO, is "a microcosm of the way its inhabitants have harvested the scarce resources of the high Pyrenees over the past millennia to create a sustainable living environment in harmony with the mountain landscape. The Valley is a reflection of an ancient communal system of land management that has survived for over 700 years."  You might call it a pile of stones in a remote godforsaken place, but experts will tell you about what the site can teach us about utilization of resources and maintenance of eco-balance in fragile environments.


The Struve Arc – "a chain of survey triangulations stretching from Hammerfest in Norway to the Black Sea, through 10 countries and over 2,820 km. These are points of a survey, carried out between 1816 and 1855 by the astronomer Friedrich Georg Wilhelm Struve, which represented the first accurate measuring of a long segment of a meridian. This helped to establish the exact size and shape of the planet and marked an important step in the development of earth sciences and topographic mapping. It is an extraordinary example of scientific collaboration among scientists from different countries, and of collaboration between monarchs for a scientific cause. The original arc consisted of 258 main triangles with 265 main station points. The listed site includes 34 of the original station points, with different markings, i.e. a drilled hole in rock, iron cross, cairns, or built obelisks." 

Each of the Struve Arc site is just a simple stone sculpture – hardly monumental, but they commemorated a series of important international scientific collaboration that is worthy of conservation and remembrance.


SGang Gwaay in Western Canada: "Remains of houses, together with carved mortuary and memorial poles, illustrate the Haida people's art and way of life. The site commemorates the living culture of the Haida people and their relationship to the land and sea, and offers a visual key to their oral traditions."


How about our sites?  I have already explained about the significance of our historic centre and its significance as an example of British imperial and colonial urban planning, and how the emergence of a major global trading port here gave rise to the unique mix of cultures and architectural style.  Tiong Bahru is an outstanding example of post-modern urban planning and public housing project.  Bukit Timah and Sungai Buloh are the best example of a well-preserved tropical rain forest next to a metropolis – this hardly exists anywhere else in the world – and Bukit Timah had been acclaimed by renowned naturalist Alfred Wallace as a site with unrivalled biodiversity. 


I would like to raise the example of Kaiping Dialou and Villages of Guangdong Province in China:  From the UNESCO WHS site: "Kaiping Diaolou and Villages feature the Diaolou, multi-storeyed defensive village houses in Kaiping, which display a complex and flamboyant fusion of Chinese and Western structural and decorative forms. They reflect the significant role of émigré Kaiping people in the development of several countries in South Asia, Australasia and North America, during the late 19th and early 20th centuries."


The Kaiping Dailou were built only in the 20th century – between 1920s and 1950, by Overseas Chinese. Few people even in Guangdong have heard of them 10 years ago.  But it was the Overseas Chinese community and the local grassroots who realised their global significance as a symbol of the fusion of cultures and architectural forms, and as symbols of the modern history of transcontinental human migration.  In a country like China with long history and numerous historical monuments, Kaiping's bid was viewed with skepticism initially – it was hardly surprising that people asked how could Kaiping with only 80 years' history dare rank itself with monuments more than a few millennia old.  But the grassroots efforts of Kaiping eventually succeeded in convincing the local, provincial and later central government of the merits of UNESCO WHS listing.  The rest is just history and Kaiping's significance is now recognized by the world.  I have no doubt that our efforts to get Singapore listed will face similar obstacles, but these we will overcome with education and a lot of hard work.


Take another look again at your backyard and appreciate the uniqueness of this nation!  



The New Paper (23/1/09): S'pore's own world heritage site?

The New Paper on Fri 23 Jan 09 had a report about the new Facebook group that I have recently set up, & I was quoted in the report:
http://newpaper. 0,4136,190745,00.html


S'pore's own world heritage site?

The New Paper
By Ng Tze Yong
24 January 2009


Tiong Bahru among the nominees by new Facebook group for S'pore's first Unesco World Heritage Site

THE buzz to find a new national icon, one to match the Angkor Wats and Taj Mahals of the world, is growing.

A little over a year ago, Singapore rejoined Unesco, the United Nations agency that conserves sites of world heritage.

Now, government agencies and heritage lovers here are throwing up names of places in Singapore that might make it to Unesco's World Heritage Site (WHS) list - and gain official recognition as a world wonder.

WHS status is given to the world's greatest natural or human-made wonders, deemed to be of 'outstanding universal value'.

The WHS list, which currently stands at 878 entries, includes the who's who of world attractions, such as the Great Wall of China, the Great Barrier Reef in Australia and Stonehenge in the UK.

Now, Singaporeans want one of their own.

A Facebook group set up two weeks ago, which called itself the Unesco World Heritage Site for Singapore, has gathered 150-odd members.

Possible local WHS nominees range from established tourism attractions like the Botanical Gardens to lesser-known spots like the old Tiong Bahru estate.

Said its founder, Mr Tan Wee Cheng, a 39-year-old adjunct associate professor in accounting at NUS: 'I hope to encourage Singaporeans to start identifying the things we hold dear to our hearts and want to showcase to the world.'

In cyberspace, members of a heritage lovers' forum are discussing the possibility of setting up a local chapter of the International Council on Monuments and Sites.

Also known as Icomos, it is a non-governmental organisation, comprising professionals interested in conservation, which will facilitate the nomination.

The government agency responsible for a WHS nomination, the Singapore National Commission for Unesco, said it is 'working with the relevant Ministries and government agencies to study the suitability and feasibility of nominating' a WHS.

But while the idea has captivated heritage lovers, it also has its fair share of detractors and cynics.

Their common refrain: So what's there in Singapore?

Nevertheless, Singapore's chances are 'pretty good', according to Mr Richard Engelhardt, senior adviser at Unesco and the former regional adviser for culture in Asia and the Pacific for Unesco.

Not anytime soon

'There is confidence in the Government's ability to conserve any site that is eventually selected,' he said in a phone interview from Bangkok where he is based.

However, Singapore won't be seeing a WHS of its own anytime soon.

The nomination process takes about five years, involving in-depth research by the applicant country, numerous site visits by Unesco and reviews by various committees.

Before a place can be declared a WHS, laws for the protection of the site also need to be set up and a management plan implemented to ensure its preservation.

Public support is another requirement.

'Unesco won't look at a nomination unless all the stakeholders are in agreement,' said Mr Engelhardt.

These stakeholders include government bodies, private developers and homeowners.

In Singapore however, the discussion so far seems to be taking place mostly between government bodies.

An obvious stakeholder, the Singapore Heritage Society, has not been consulted, said its president, Dr Kevin Tan.

'We do not even know of the existence of this Singapore National Commission for Unesco,' he said.

He believes the Government is taking a cautious approach.

'They are probably considering all the pluses and minuses of having a WHS in Singapore first,' said Dr Tan.

'It's the civil service mentality and that's okay. But in determining the pluses and minuses, who are they talking to?'

He feels the Government needs to engage all stakeholders and not have a perception that 'the only stakeholder is the Singapore Tourism Board'.

He hopes that the National Commission, currently made up of officials from various ministries, expands to include others like academics, architects, the Nature Society, the Heritage Society and Harp (the Historic Architecture Rescue Plan, a conservation group).

If successful, WHS status will bring many benefits, both tangible and intangible.
The tourism industry may be boosted by an influx of tourists.

'Getting on the WHS list is, after all, like getting a ISO 9000 stamp,' said Mr Tan.
'It will give us a different selling point and make our tourism industry more resilient.'

National identity

A WHS may also help to achieve what years of National Education have tried to do - cultivate a sense of national identity.

'Choosing a WHS is a healthy process for a young nation,' said Mr Engelhardt. 'It is like a high school student discovering things about his past in grandma's attic.'

But with benefits come perils.

Gaining WHS status can drive up rents and attract new residents and businesses, altering the character of a place forever.

The influx of tourists may actually end up causing harm in places if infrastructure is lacking.

This was what happened to Angkor Wat in Cambodia, Machu Picchu in Peru and the Galapagos Islands in the Pacific Ocean.

WHS status can also stifle development.

Mere months after gaining its hard-won WHS status, Penang's Georgetown may now lose it due to the construction of four high-rise hotels, projects which were planned beforehand.

But if the government halts the projects now, it can be sued by developers.

For Singapore, the first obstacle may be selling the idea to Singaporeans who believe there is little culture here to speak of.

It's a uniquely Singaporean problem.

'Most countries do not suffer from such a mindset,' said Mr Engelhardt.

'The irony is that tourism messages aimed at foreigners might have actually affected local residents even more in the way they look at themselves.'

In the 1960s and 1970s, Singapore's tourism slogan was Instant Asia, as it sold itself as a one-stop destination to see Asia.

Then came the about-turn to the present slogan, Uniquely Singapore.

'If we are truly Uniquely Singapore, then we have to ask what it is that is unique about Singapore,' said Dr Tan. 

'And surely, that cannot be a shopping mall.' 




CIVIC DISTRICT (includes Chinatown, Little India and Arab Street)
The heart of old Singapore, then the jewel of the British Empire.
Besides outstanding examples of imperial architecture, also comprises well-planned ethnic districts.

The British Empire's laboratory for tropical botanical research. First place outside South America where rubber was commercially planted. This changed the landscapes and economies of Malaysia and Indonesia forever.

Some of the world's best examples of nature conservation in an urban area. Bukit Timah Nature Reserve contains more varieties of plants and trees than the whole of North America.

Teems with unique collections of marine life from six distinct habitats - coastal forest, mangroves, sand bars, seagrass lagoon, rocky shore and coral rubble. 

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