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Monday, April 27, 2009

Logos for a Secular Singapore

These are some of the crude logos I have designed in a sudden burst of creative patriotic feelings - to promote a secular Singapore.  Feel free to circulate them and encourage people to create logos of a similar theme and circulate them too.
 
I have no illusions about what they can achieve but hope that this would help, even in very minor ways, further ideas about the importance of the separation of state and religion.
 
 

Sunday, April 26, 2009

我和我的西藏学生

An excellent piece published in Singapore's Lianhe Zaobao about a teacher's experience teaching Tibetan students in Shanghai.  Not CCP propaganda, but neither is it the usual pro-Dalai Lama stuff one sees in the western press.  The issues are complex and would take a long time to resolve.
 
 

我和我的西藏学生

[6615] (2009-04-25)

  中国内地有许多的西藏班,藏区的学生在小学毕业时就可以开始报考内地西藏班,读完初中可以再考高中、中专,读完高中可以考大学,读完中专就直接回西藏工作去了。在内地读西藏班的西藏学生,必须回西藏工作,因为他们所有的学费、生活费都是国家负担的。

  我1998-2000年在上海行政管理学校做了两年老师。上海有两个学校有西藏班,这是其中的一个。当听说安排我做西藏班班主任时,心情非常的新鲜激动,脑袋里充满了"雪域、哈达、布达拉宫"这样的字眼。我和校长带着几个高年级的西藏学生去火车站接我班的新生,这些高年级的学生已经完全适应了上海的生活,他们很团结很干练,几乎不用我操什么心,就把他们的师弟师妹接回学校,照顾的井井有条。而我自己的西藏学生,也要在短短的数年里,经历他们那样的转变。

  刚开始接触我的西藏学生时,冲击还是非常大。他们是已经在内地读了三年初中的学生,但有些学生还是异常紧张羞怯,你温和地和他们说话,他们都象受了惊一样,还会发出不自然的尖笑。我想这是长期在封闭单纯环境里生活的人,初入陌生繁华都市的反应吧。天气还热,一出汗,藏族学生身上就会散发出浓烈的异味,是汉族学生和老师很难忍受的,但如果你表露出嫌恶,就会极大的冒犯他们。让新生养成定期洗澡的习惯,是重要而困难的一件事。女生一般适应的很快,男生的话就要差一点。

  平心而论,我们的民族政策是做了很多事的。我看见网上有说现在中国共产党的民族政策是中国历史上最好的,这个我不知道。仅就我见到的情况说,国家负担了西藏学生全部的学费、生活费、医疗费,所有的生活和学习用品都是学校配发,还有两个企业提供高额的奖学金。每年过藏历新年的时候,专门给他们拨钱买装饰品和加餐。每年有旅游、看电影、看演出、参观等机会。对他们其实也没有什么思想控制,象我做班主任的,一点大道理也不会说,每星期一次班会课,都是苦口婆心地讲不要抽烟和不要谈恋爱。但我想说一些我观察下来的问题。

  从我和西藏学生接触的情况看,我觉得藏区贫富差距非常大。西藏是个自然环境非常严酷的地方,若是普通农牧民靠自己生产,收入非常之低,生活很艰苦。但国家对西藏投入巨大,以至于只要不是农牧民,而是有个工作的人,不管是机关干部,还是普通工厂的工人,收入就很高。我看过我学生的档案,有他们家庭情况的资料。当时是1998年,据我的一个学生讲,他的父母只是厂里的普通工人,月收入有6000之多。而上海当时普遍是一两千元的工资。这样造成的贫富差距就很大。我班上的学生,如果是农牧民家庭的,除了国家给的生活费,几乎就无钱可花,而父母有工作的,就大手大脚花钱,明显超过一般上海学生。我班上花钱最厉害、最让我头痛的一个学生,父亲据说是西藏党校的校长。后来我看报道,说中央注意 到了这个问题,加大了对农牧民的补助,但中国之大,靠补助永远是搞不公平的。我同事说去年代表教育部去过青海,因为中国是典型的会哭的孩子有奶吃,国家对西藏、新疆投入很大,却忽略了青海,青海非常之苦。又因为在青海、甘肃、四川等省,藏民是和其他民族混居在一起的,国家不可能只补贴藏民,因此西藏自治区以外的藏民受惠很少。你看新闻报道中,事件频发的多在青海、四川等地,并不在西藏自治区内。

  由此引发的另一个问题是官员腐败,尤其是藏族官员的腐败。和我建立了私人友谊的一个高年级女孩告诉我,她是牧民的女儿,他们知道投考内地西藏班是改变他们命运的机会,因此拼命努力。但如果一个地区招收十个学生的话,差不多要考到前三名才有机会,因为其他名额都会被有关系的人拿走。在西藏的行政系统内,中共是依赖自己培养的藏族干部队伍进行管理的。由于要倚重他们,又由于不同民族交流的敏感,对藏族干部较其他地区更为宽松,这样显然会造成更为严重的腐败。而同样,官员的腐败会在民族地区带来更严重和复杂的后果。我的西藏学生中,有些根本不在乎学习,他们有恃无恐,因为他们的父母或亲戚是干部。而有些极其刻苦努力的农牧民子女,却知道无论多么优秀努力,将来也不会有什么好前 途。不象在上海这样的大城市,提供各种各样的工作机会,普通人凭自己的专业技能可以获得一席之地,西藏是高度依赖中央政府的地方,学生找工作都要靠分配,这样就产生了腐败的温床。我所喜欢的那个西藏女孩,年年考第一,但毕业后去了一个偏远地区在一个小饭店里做会计,另有一个表现优异的班长,到了乡下去,那个地方电也不通,他写信自嘲说天天开烛光晚会。而远不如她的同学,在拉萨做舒服高薪的公务员。我从学生身上观察到的社会不公,折射扩大到整个地区的各个层面,让我觉得西藏自治区暗流涌动,潜伏着危机。官员腐败和社会不公,在全中国都是司空见怪,但在民族自治区,矛盾却极容易激化。

  由于是否能获得一个好工作会带来人生命运天上地下的差别,有些本是农牧民子女的学生,表现出异常强烈的"争取进步"。我才宣布完班级干部组成名单,就有学生留下来和我直接说,他要当班长,他说所有的工作都可以包在他身上,我什么都不用操心,他就是要当班长。而另一个学生也告诉我说,他能做多少事,也要当班长。后来我发现,对老师阴阳怪气、爱理不理的多是干部子弟,也就是已经进入了国家队伍的。而表现积极的肯定是农牧民子弟,为了要挤进国家队伍。我的班长和团支部书记几乎斗了两年,其中一个竟然还让管宿舍的阿姨到我这儿来打另一个的小报告。我的班长能力极强,所有事一把抓,我几乎插不上手。我试图在班里搞民主,让他们投票选举班干部,这么简单的事也能在班里搞出复杂的派系 斗争。当我发现我的班长连我的小报告都打时,不由暗自怒上心头。正在此时,他在操场上捡到了一张IC卡,他明明知道这是别的西藏学生的(学校给西藏学生发特殊的IC卡,每月打一定的钱进去,他们可以在食堂和学校商店使用),却上商店去一次性拉完花光。但西藏学生就这么两三百人,小店营业员几乎人人都认识。一个平时从来不怎么花钱的,突然一下子花这么多,肯定会有很深的印象。丢卡的学生到小店一问,事情立刻穿帮。这样的事情如果报告给学校,他的班长立刻就要撤了。据说我的班长跪下来求了别人,说这是西藏学生的丑事,不要让汉族老师知道,人家放过了他,但自己班上的同学不放过他,就告诉了我。我把我的班长叫到办公室,问他这件事,他开始不承认,后来就不说话。我看他精神压力太大,就和他 聊别的事,问他家里的情况。他一直咧着嘴笑着,说阿爸阿妈在家里,种地有多么苦,年纪上去一点就干不动了;他的一个哥哥出了什么事,另一个哥哥伐木,冲到江里淹死了。一米八多的男孩子,脸又大又黑,还保持着咧嘴笑的样子,眼泪却大颗大颗地掉下来。他说,家里只剩他一个男孩子了,他走的时候,告诉阿妈他一定会表现好,他一定要翻身。他说,其他同学多多少少家里都汇点钱来零花,但他家里没给他汇过一分钱,看同学买这个买那个,他心里非常羡慕,捡到了卡……我想我一生都无法忘记那个咧嘴笑的脸上,大颗大颗的眼泪掉下来。

  不公平的社会环境,会给人的心理带来一定的扭曲。许多藏族学生干部,比汉族的更会说官话,对汉族那一套不健康的官场文化,青出于蓝更胜于蓝。我常常诧异于达赖喇嘛在五十年后对西藏民众还有号召力,宗教的力量固然巨大,但也可能和政府官员缺乏公信力有关。

  我感觉到的另一个问题,是汉藏两族之间的隔膜。在学校里,汉藏学生比较少见有个人友谊。因为国家对少数民族有保护的政策,要是发生争执,肯定是偏向少数民族的。学校和老师反复教育汉族学生,注意不要引起民族矛盾。这种战战兢兢的心态,就造成了为免麻烦,能少接触,就尽量少接触。缺乏个人之间的交流,观察一个群体,往往就只看到了个别很优秀或很糟糕的成员。我看许多网上的评论,说有藏族学生喝醉了酒,拿着刀追砍汉族学生的。我们学校也发生过这样的情况,也有过西藏学生喝了酒,在镇上撒酒疯,砸玻璃和路灯,整个镇子大气不出,听由他砸。但这些都是极个别的,如果你不和这个群体接触,看到的就是这个出格的人,你和这个群体接触,就会发现大多数人都是很好的。将心比心,看到汉族 人中间老有在外的不文明现象,但那不能代表全部的汉族人。

  我很爱我的西藏学生,但我最初的浪漫想法却渐渐消失了,我觉得,天下的人都是一样的,如果有某些特点的话,很可能是环境打下的烙印。一般会觉得西藏人民淳朴热情,不为物质所动。但我想可能那是长期封闭单一的环境造成的。在我的观察里,我的西藏学生在上海适应地非常快。他们从紧张羞怯很快就变得时尚自信,短短几个月,如果有足够的经济能力的话,他们很快就和上海的少男少女没什么两样了。他们不是汉化了,而是都市化了,现代化了,这绝不是政府有意为之。

  我不相信五十年前的西藏是天堂,因为我的学生给我看过她的家庭在五十年代时的照片,我看了吓了一跳,上面的人又黑又瘦,带着一种呆滞的表情,像是木刻的。她也告诉我解放前人只能活三十多岁。又没有什么婚姻制度,她的两个妹妹,好像和她都不是一个父亲的。也许有游客喜欢看原生态的文化,但对于生活在其中的人民来说,他们有权过更幸福的生活,而不是把生活变成化石供人参观。但我另外要提醒我的汉族同胞的是,你不要把一个人的心想得太简单。你觉得你是把他们从一个黑暗恐怖的封建农奴制度解放出来,他们理当永远感激。你觉得你花上了这么多钱,他们应该表现得很高兴很知恩图报的样子。是的,这些事绝不是假的。但是,任何一个人,他都是有尊严的,都有自己独立的想法。一个民族,更是 这样。

  主管西藏学生工作的副校长开大会不会忘记的一个主题就是要西藏学生忆苦思甜。有一次,他说,你们要珍惜在上海的学习生活环境啊,去年我送毕业生去西藏,不是在远的地方,就是在拉萨的郊外,田里的农民吃着……他还没说完,高年级学生就开始起哄吹口哨,声音把他压过了。老师之间也互相议论说,西藏学生和以前不一样了,毕业班有一次参观上海大型企业的机会,象宝钢啊什么的,以前问西藏学生你们想去哪里,都是很兴奋,但现在问他们,他们很冷淡,说他们没有兴趣。有西藏学生私下很直接和我说过: "你们就是想告诉我们,你们有多先进,我们有多落后;你们给了我们多少,我们全靠你们。"另外一次,我让我的班长到我办公室来拿课程表,他看过以后说:"老师,我要加一个字。"我很惊讶,不知哪里错了,他拿起笔来,在"语文"上面加了"汉"字,变成"汉语文",我说:"这不是一样的么?"他很严肃的对我说:"还有藏语文,要写清楚是哪个语文。"但学校里并不教藏语文,并不是学校不重视,据说以前还请过一个藏族老师教藏语文,但住了一年因为太寂寞的缘故离开了。从这件小事中我感受到了藏族学生对本民族语言和文化的执着。

  我常想,这一代的年轻人,不管是汉族的,还是藏族的,和以前是完全不一样的。他们受到了完整和良好的教育,又是在资讯充分的时代里,他们都是现代人,但民族的记号又深深打在血液里。汉族对少数民族不要象以前那样想得简单,就是我给你投很多钱,处处照顾你,你要知道好歹,老老实实太太平平的。我们是一样的人,都在迅速变化的世代里,都承受着工业文明和城市生活对我们的压力和冲击,在继承传统和成为现代公民之间都有困惑和茫然。我们要彼此相爱,用心沟通,共同开始新的生活。

  我最难以忘怀的,是我考取研究生以后要离开学校,我的西藏学生送我。那是2000年的夏天最高温的时候,他们说他们一定要喝酒,但学校规定不能喝酒。我就到他们的宿舍去,狭小的室内大部分都被双层床占满了。三十七八度的高温,挤了三十几个人,每一个人上来给我献一条哈达,举着酒杯唱一首祝酒歌。我身上堆满了哈达,又是汗又是眼泪,气都透不过来,人生能有几度这样酣畅浓烈的情感呢。

  我爱我的西藏学生,我觉得汉族就象一个大家庭里的长兄,要把弟弟妹妹都照顾好。现在长兄要做的,恐怕不是安排这个安排那个,而是要静心听弟弟妹妹们讲心里的话,毕竟,长兄在成熟,弟弟妹妹也在成长,一切都不是过去的样子了。

  Crystal

 
 

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Diary of A Singaporean Mind: Confession of an S-chip CEO.

An amazing story. The writer is familiar with the S-Chip process though I disagree with a number of parts. The sleaze is definitely a major feature of the whole process and the writer has described it quite accurately.


Diary of A Singaporean Mind: Confession of an S-chip CEO.: "THE CONFESSION OF AN S-CHIP CEO We are victims as well!!!
.
Let me tell you the story. By the time you read this article, it would reached have hundreds of investors, bankers, regulators and journalists. My purpose was to shed some light on the “dark sides” of the business of S-Chips (Chinese companies listed on Singapore Stock Exchange), so as to help prevent more financial losses in the future hurting the ordinary people on the street. From this angle, I wish to redeem myself somewhat........."

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Love & Hate, or what I missed about China... Finding someone to do 涮羊肉 with me?

 

Love-&-Hate

 

Perhaps like most people who had spent time away from home, I have a love and hate relationship about the places I had lived or spent a lot of time in – London and China.  We bitch about these places, complain non-stop about them and sometimes even dread the thought of returning to these places.  I am sure foreigners resident in Singapore complain about us as well.  The reality is, people often complain a lot also because they like a place, and they just need to get the negatives out of the system by talking about them. 

 

Having kind of settled into the routine in good old Singapore, I am beginning to be nostalgic of London and China again.  I wouldn't talk about London here – you are probably familiar with it.  For China, I won't talk about what I dislike about this country, for many of you, frequent-China-runners, have heard too much or complain non-stop about it yourself after your latest business trip there.  Now that I am no longer there on a regular basis, the negatives are becoming blurrish, while the positives have in some ways become rosier.  Here are some of them (not in any order):

 

-         The bookshops of China – especially Beijing's Wanfujing and Xidan Shuju (I had been to these places countless times for retail therapy).

-          The greasy, high collasteral Northern Chinese fare (that I could persuade few of my waistline- or white-meat-conscious Singapore friends to indulge with me) such as 涮羊肉 (lamb hotpot) ,蚂蚁上树 (vermicelli with spicy minced pork),鱼香肉丝 (shredded pork with fish sauce),孜然羊肉 (fried lamb with cumin)

-         The charming teahouses of Houhai, Beijing, where I used to clear my mind after those long sessions with auditors.

-         That cozy expat bar in a siheyuan lost among the hutong somewhere north of  Forbidden City; a cool Tibetan club and pub so out of this world near the Embassy district; that Russian/former Soviet restaurant cum night club in Beijing's Russian Quarter; the bizarre Ugyur restaurant in Beijing where foreigners are teased and have fun; that wonderful disco near the Stadium (except for the annoying hookers hanging around).

-         The tasty "coffin roll" in a nice restaurant near Meishuguan Dajie, plus a tiny family-run Sichuan outlet nearby.

-         The spicy catfish soup of Anyang, Henan

-         The bustling Raffles City of Shanghai

-         The many DVD shops that spurts from nowhere and closes with every crackdown.

-         The antique shops of Liulichang, Beijing and perhaps Zhabei of Shanghai

-         The peasant painters of Shenzhen

 

There are many others but these are what I can think of right now.

 

 

Sunday, April 19, 2009

SgTravelCafe presentation on 17 Apr 09 (Marymount View)

Yesterday, Marymount View played host to this month's SgTravelCafe:
 
"Cycling in Japan. 3 Months. 3,000Km" by Cheng Chin Yuen
Brief Moments Presentation:  "The Curious Case of Benjamin Keiji Ogami, the one legged former Japanese-American WWII detainee in Massawa, Eritrea" - by Tan Wee Cheng
 
About 37 people turned up. Definitely more manageable than the 50 during past two sessions.
 
Chin Yuen presented yet another wonderful session on his many exciting travels and insights into life in other countries.  During his 3 months journey in Japan, he had travelled to all 4 main islands of Japan.  He entertained us about the hospitality and kindness of the many  ordinary Japanese that had hosted him and showered him with drinks, food and snacks.  He told us about his adventures at a spectacular crater lake and playing pilgrimage at some of the 88 pilgrimage temples of Shikoku.  Well done, Chin Yuen!  We hope to keep in touch with him and wish him good luck in his next 3 years of more adventures in Australia.
 
Wee Cheng also did a Brief Moments presentation on the extraordinary life of Benjamin Keiji Ogami, a 80+ year old crippled Japanese-American he met in the dilapidated, war-scarred city of Massawa, Eritrea. See http://twcnomad.blogspot.com/2008/04/eritrea-anatomy-of-war-and-peace-part-1.html for details.
 
 

Why moderate Christians must speak up against the fundamentalists

This is a private letter sent to my Christian friends...

"In Germany, they came first for the Communists, And I didn't speak up because I wasn't a Communist;
And then they came for the trade unionists, And I didn't speak up because I wasn't a trade unionist;
And then they came for the Jews, And I didn't speak up because I wasn't a Jew;
And then . . . they came for me . . . And by that time there was no one left to speak up."

 

    Martin Niemoller, German pastor, 1945, on how ordinary citizens had allowed the Nazis to gain power

 

The sudden takeover of AWARE by religious fundamentalists through a coup once again has shown the ridiculous extent to which these extremists are willing to go to further their discriminatory causes. You may tell yourself, it's none of my business, but if everyone says this, it is a matter of time these lunatics will destroy the traditionally tolerant nature of our country and its diverse cultures. Concerned citizens, especially Christians, must speak up or otherwise see the ultimate destruction of harmony in this land. 
 
I went through university with zealous Christian school mates that tell me I would burn in hell so long as I do not become a Christian, no matter whether I live a virtuous life or not.  And for people who die non-Christian, too bad - they simply do not meet the grade and would burn in hell for eternality.  Hence their anxiety to get the terminal ill converted on death bed.  I argued with them initially and soon learnt to ignore them and their illogical beliefs.  I thought ignoring them is fine, as that would not affect my life.  I am wrong.  I see more and more of them, and over the last 2 decades, they have been pushing their agenda aggressively on our society.  They have reached a point when I am telling myself, enough is enough.  They are making lives of people here unpleasant.
 
These fundamentalist Christians are influenced by the Culture Wars in the US, and are bringing to Singapore incredibly intolerant beliefs and values.  Among various things, they are against woman's rights to decide on abortion and what's good for themselves, the individual's right on whether to extend his own life when faced with terminal illnesses, equal rights of all citizens irrespective of sexual orientation and even basic stem cell research that can save livesWhy can't these people let everybody decide how best to live their lives?  
 
I believe that most Christians in Singapore are sensible people.  Increasingly, however, to many non-Christian Singaporeans, the radical behaviour of the fundamentalists are not only affecting what others think about Christians in general, but rapidly eroding away the tolerant fabric of this nation.  Just as the Government have asked moderate Muslims to speak up against radical ones, I would urge my fellow moderate Christian citizens and friends to speak up against those who attempt to impose their values on others.  Please, tell those among you who have strong views: "If you are against abortion, euthanesia, homosexuality and stem cell research, preach that to your family.  Don't force the whole nation which is 85% non-Christian to go with you."
 
If you don't speak up against them, then be prepared to watch these people turning this land into an ideological battleground.  Isn't it better spending time helping the poor in these trying times than to battle others and wanting to impose rules on other people's private business?
 

 

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Random SG: WWII Military Bunker nr Labrador & CHIMJES

Misspelling of China place names in the ST

I noticed that place names in China are often misspelled or mislabeled in the Straits Times.  Today's articles about migrant workers in Singapore had references to "Ji Lin Province" and "Qilin Province" when it should rightfully be "Jilin Province".  I also recall past references in other ST articles to "Shenyang Province" or "Jinan Province" when these are cities or prefectures in Liaoning and Shandong Provinces respectively.  Knowledge and understanding of China are essential in today's world.  Such misspelling and mislabelling are embarrassing and may point to how little Singaporeans know China. 
 

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Andy Xie: Double dipping in 2010

What's your take?
 
 
 
Caijing Magazine 

Double dipping in 2010 


Andy Xie 

April 11, 2009 


At the beginning of 2009, I wrote that the global economy would stabilize in the second half and a bear market rally could start in the second quarter of 2009. 


I thought that stagflation would be the dominant characteristic for the next few years. I am still sticking to the story. 


The bear market rally began earlier than I expected. The reason was that major governments have been introducing subsidies for speculation. They believe that the main problems are liquidity and confidence. Hence, if investors or speculators are brought back in the game, the world economy could be back to a virtuous cycle again. 


I think that this type of approach would lead to a second dip in 2010 Subsidizing risk taking does inflate asset prices, mainly stocks for now. However, the hope that rising stock prices will lead to economic revival will not be fulfilled. 


We are in the middle of a debt bubble bursting. Rising asset prices lift economy through boosting borrowing for investment and consumption. 


As the current levels of indebtedness are already too high, we won't see rising debt demand for consumption or investment. When the dream of a quick economic recovery is dashed, stock prices will slump again, which could expose more problems in the financial system and trigger a second dip in the global economy. 


The world is amidst a burst after a speculative boom. Boom-burst cycle is quite frequent in history (see 'Manias, Panics, and Crashes: A History of Financial Crises' by Charles Kindleburger). 


A synchronized global one is rare. The last one comparable to the current one was the boom-burst of 1920s and 30s. A synchronized global cycle requires trade and cross-border capital flow to be large. A synchronized global burst is difficult to overcome, because devaluation and export promotion no longer work. 


If one country has a burst, it can devalue, boost exports, and make money from foreigners to reflate its financial system. East Asia came back this way from its banking crisis ten years ago. Policymakers are frustrated that their stimuli are not working so far. 


The US government and the Federal Reserve have spent or committed $12 trillionto bail out its financial system. Its budgeted fiscal deficit for 2009 is $1.75 trillion (12% 0f GDP) but will probably surpass $2 trillion. ECB, Bank of England, and Bank of Japan have all cut interest rates tohistorical lows. Their governments are already running high fiscal deficits. 


But, employment, business confidence, and consumer confidence continue to deteriorate around the world. Major economies probably suffered similar contraction in the first quarter of 2009 as in the last quarter of 2008. For the whole year of 2009, euro zone, the UK , and the US may contract by 4-5%. 


Germany and Japan could contract by 7-8%. This sort of global economic collapse is unprecedented. Moreover, it is difficult to see how the world would grow again when the collapse is over. 


If history is guidance, political crisis tends to follow such an economic collapse. When an economic crisis triggers a political one, it makes a quick economic recovery virtually impossible. 


Out of desperation, governments are trying to support asset prices either directly or incentivizing reluctant speculators to play. Without understanding what governments are doing, most people think that things are either getting better or well soon. After all, shouldn't stock prices tell us about the future, according to theory (Unfortunately not true in practice when you really need it)? 


The positive thinking is leading many to chase this market. This is a bear rally that will swallow many smart investors. 

This phase of government policy-targeting asset prices began with the Fed's announcement for buying up to $1.15 trillion of treasuries, commercial and mortgage papers. It was targeting mortgage interest rate in order to stabilize property price. However, this sort of policy meant that the Fed knew what property price should be. 


The US property price was 100% overvalued relative to income. After the bubble burst, it should go back. What the Fed is doing is to slow the adjustment and shift a big chunk ofthe adjustment through general inflation rather than property price decline. What the Fed is doing will impact the dollar for years to come. 


The second part came with the Geithner plan for stripping toxic assets from the US 's troubled banks. Hank Paulson, Tim Geithner's predecessor, wanted to focus on stripping the bad assets off the banks too. His plan didn't fly because the market prices for the bad assets were too low for the banks to survive. Most banks have questionable assets more than twice their equity capital. 


As these assets are trading at 30 cents on the dollar, if the toxic assets are sold at market price, most banks are bankrupt. This is why Hank Paulson shifted to injecting money directly into the banks first. The hope was that it would stabilize the financial system and the toxic asset prices would rise sufficiently for the banks to survive. 


This hasn't happened. The Geithner Plan tries to boost the prices of toxic assets by subsidizing speculation. The centerpiece of the plan was offering government-guaranteed 6-1 leverage. If an investor risks one dollar, the plan caps his loss at one 1 but offers the reward equivalent to risking 7.The current toxic asset price is 30 cents on the dollar. 


The price reflects the expected return on the bad asset. It is equivalent to 70% chance of bankruptcy and total wipeout for creditors and 30% chance of survival for the borrowers that support the assets. 


Under the Geithner Plan, an investor that puts down one dollar can buy $7 worth of toxic assets. At the current price of 30 cents on the dollar, he could buy $23.3 of toxic assets. There is 30% chance that the investor gets $23.3 and, after paying off $6 of debt, and has $ 16.3 in income. There is 70% that he loses everything. 


Hence, his expected income for his $1 investment is $16.3*0.3= $4.9. This plan should have boosted demand for toxic assets tremendously. 


Indeed, based on the simple example above, investors should be willing to pay more than twice the current price. This would save the banks. For the investors in toxic assets, they reap rewards from the 30% of the performing asset bundles that they have bought and leave the 70% non performing ones to the taxpayers. 


This 'beautiful plan' works by robbing taxpayers. But, the prices for toxic assets have not risen that much. Why? I think that the market doesn't think that the plan could work. The public opinions may torpedo it before it goes into implementation. If it goes ahead, the US Congress may pass retroactive laws to confiscate the profits from the investors who participate in this scheme. Essentially, the Geithner Planis giving speculators free money. But they are not taking it because they are terrified of the consequences. 


The third piece is changing the mark-to-market rule. The Financial Accounting Standards Board of the US has changed its rule for accounting asset value. It now allows financial institutions to value their assets according to their 'judgment' rather than market price if they think that the market isn't working. Market may not value asset prices perfectly.But, who could do better? 


This rule change is to allow the banks in trouble to stop reporting losses from asset quality deterioration. When this change happened, the share prices of the troubled banks rose sharply. The market was not just reacting to a superficial change. 


The change is meaningful for the share prices. If the banks can name their prices for the assets on their books, they don't have to raise capital to stay in business. This means that they might make enough money over time to recapitalize. 


Hence, the risk of their bankruptcy has declined. The increased survival chance has boosted their share prices. Shouldn't this be a good thing that banks don't go burst? Not necessarily so. Look at what happened in Japan . Its banks essentially didn't report their losses and tried to make money to recapitalize. It kept the economy down for ten years without succeeding in their getting out of capital shortfall. 


The reality won't change with a change in the accounting rule. These banks know they don't have enough capital. Hence, they won't increase lending and will try to milk their existing assets for profits to recapitalize. They will be a drag on the economy for years to come. 


The US seems to be copying from Japan . In addition to the US 's policies for targeting asset prices, most othermajor economies are encouraging their banks to lend. What does'encouraging' mean? Banks normally lend to maximize profits by balancing between risk and reward. 


When governments encourage them to lend, it really means pressuring banks to lower standards, i.e., taking on more riskfor the same or less reward. This sort of policy is really to exchange non-performing loans in future for boosting demand today. The argument infavor such an approach is that, if every bank lends, the economy improves, which would decrease non-performing assets. 


This sort of 'free lunch' thinking works temporarily by inflating another bubble. Of course, it will create a bigger mess in future. Reflating an asset bubble to support the economy is widely hoped for by distressed investors around the world. Policymakers, in addition to their concerns for economic weakness and political stability, are responding to investors' cry for help. 


This is why we are seeing so many policies that are pumping air into a deflating bubble. It seems the air-pumping is working now. But, it won't last. As governments throw everything at it, more air is going in than coming out. But, government actions can't put in air on a sustainable basis. The air leakage will last with rising unemployment, falling corporate profits, and collapsing trade. I think that the air leakage will overwhelm government air pumping in 2010. Another major dip in asset prices is likely. 


Further, I think that inflation will become a problem, which would cause treasuries and othergovernment bonds to drop. Government bonds are the last bubble to burst. Other asset prices will bottom when this bubble deflates. This force willreverse all the air that governments are putting in now. The global economy would have a second dip then. The debate over inflation or deflation has been raging on. The low bond yield suggests that the consensus is for deflation. 


In September 2006 atthe IMF-World Bank annual meeting in Singapore I predicted a financialcrisis in 2007, economic crisis in 2008, and stagflation beyond. The lastprediction has not happened yet. What governments and central banks are doing have strengthened my conviction that stagflation will haunt the global economy for years to come. 


Historically, the burst following a speculative boom is deflationary fortwo reasons. First, a speculative boom is investment biased. Hence, there is overcapacity during the burst, as the demand during the boom was exaggerated. 


Second, bankruptcies of banks and production businesses drive up unemployment, which decreases demand and pushes more businesses into bankruptcies. This vicious cycle prolongs price decline. The current burst won't lead to sustained deflation for two reasons. First, the speculation was centered on unproductive assets like property and financial product. Automobile and electronics are two global industries with considerable overcapacity. 


The automobile industry has had overcapacity for a long time. The problem was covered up by the credit bubble that exaggerated demand, as buyers were incentivized to change carsmore frequently with zero down-and-zero interest rate financing. The deflationary pressure would end with the bankruptcy of one or two major producers. 


The deflation would last if governments prop up their autocompanies with taxpayers' money. At least the Obama government has shown unwillingness to do so. 


The electronics industry is used to deflation. It is usually good deflation-rising productivity supporting declining price from that industry. What's going on now is not good deflation. 


The drastic cuts ofcapital expenditure by global companies have caused a demand collapse forIT products. The pressure is causing the industry to cut back quickly.This industry is shrinking without government prodding. 


The bad deflationin this industry will end quickly with capacity reduction. China's manufacturing expansion is also a source of overcapacity. When the Asian Financial Crisis depressed demand one decade ago, I thought China 's overcapacity was deflationary, because manufacturers in other countries would have match Chinese prices. Now is different. 


Manufacturing prices are Chinese. Manufacturing value added has shrunk dramatically relative to the costs of raw materials. The manufacturing capacity in China is unlikely to sustain deflation. For example, three quarters of the cost for steel production are raw materials like iron ore and coking coal. The overcapacity in steel production can't sustain price decline of steel product. Second, the vicious cycle between bankruptcy, especially banks, and demand contraction is unlikely now. 


Governments and central banks are propping up virtually every bank in the world. They are lending to industries to keep them afloat. The current dynamic suggests that a bottom for the global economy would be reached soon. As mentioned above, I thought it would be the first half of 2009. Now, with a second a second dip forecast, it would be likely in 2010. 


Despite demand weakness, inflation could emerge through commodity inflation and labor unions pushing wage increase, the same factors in the 1970s. Commodity inflation is already visible as investors who are frightened of monetary expansion seek safe haven. Oil is back above $50/barrel despite demand collapse because so much money has flowed into exchange traded funds that buy oil. 


As central banks keep printing money, more and more money will flow into commodities. I always believe that labor union is mostly demand driven. During prosperity labor unions are weak as a rising tide lifts everyone's living standard. When hard time hits, more people support union activism. 


During economic stagnation, especially stagflation, without union power, average workers will see declining living standard. The national strikes in Franceand other European countries are a harbinger for what could come. I have argued above for a second dip in 2010 and stagflation beyond. I want to add some comments on the nature of bear market rallies. In a structural bear market that lasts for years stock markets can have big bounces from time to time. These bounces can be as big as 40% from bottom to top. Obviously, rallies of such size are mouthwatering. It is difficult for investors to stay on the side line. I am not against playing such bear rallies. But, one must remember that bear rallies are at best zero-sum games and often negative-sum games, i.e., making new lows after each bounce. One's profit is someone else's loss. Timing is everything in playing bear bounces. Getting in and out early are the basic principles.The most harmful behavior is chasing. After a rally of 30% has happened,it is very bad for your financial health to chase. 


The last structural bear market happened in the 1970s and lasted for ten years. It is obviously difficult for investors to stay on the sideline fora decade. After all, how long does one live? This is why a structural bear market swallows more and more people through such rallies. 


The ones that jump in later tend to be more patient and probably smarter. The last ones that perish in a structural bear market may have IQ over 200. I am afraid that the current bear market won't end until it brings down Warren Buffett.
 

Monday, April 13, 2009

Hye Kia Nam Li Tang Yeo Wui 泰家南旅同乡会

See my article at:
http://www.chinatownology.com/hye_kia_nam_li_tang_yeo_wui.html

Hye Kia Nam Li Tang Yeo Wui
泰家南旅同乡会

 

hainan clan association  hainan clan association singapore  hainan clan association

 

The Hye Kia Nam Li Tang Yeo Wui, (泰家南旅同乡会), literally meaning the Tai Jia Southern Travel Same-Village Association, is a clan association whose members originally came from the Tai-jia Village, Wen-chang County, Hainan Province (海南省文昌县泰家村) of China.  Commonly known by its members as Nam-Li (南旅), the association was officially registered as a society on 23 September 1937, although a 1974 document says that Nam-Li was already functioning in 1934.  Its first premise was at 12 Seah Street....(continue at the above link)

Christian Lacroix the costumier, exhibition at the National Museum

Random Singapore (Vivocity, Dhoby Gaut MRT, Chinatown)

Sunday, April 12, 2009

My charming NTU accounting students (Group 14)

I look so bloated and old:)

Primary school near UNESCO World Heritage Site

I like this note made by a friend on Facebook:
 
Wee Soon Khai made a comment about your note "Letter to ST: Botanic Gardens should be made World Heritage Site (published 9 Apr 09)":

Someday during application for a place in Primary School, I want to be able to write on the form that I live within 1 km of a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

 

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Fuzzy evening shots - St Joseph's Church

Good Friday procession at St Joseph's Church (Victoria Street)

Took some photos at the famous annual procession.  My camera isn't good for night shots but took a number anyway.  The Straits Times has a good writeup which I reproduce here:
 
"...in contrast to a more sombre ceremony taking place downtown.

At Singapore's oldest Roman Catholic Church in Victoria Street, parishioners re-enacted a centuries-old Portuguese Good Friday ritual - the removal of Christ's body from the cross after the crucifixion.

St Joseph's Church, which was built in 1912, is said to have been founded by Portuguese settlers between 1851 and 1853.

 

Last night, more than 4,000 people attended the church's ceremony.

At 8pm, a life-sized statue of Jesus was gently lowered from a giant cross by altar boys. It was then carried out by the church's priests, who led a 20-minute candle-lit procession around the church grounds.

 

Catholic parishes St Mary of the Angels in Bukit Batok, Immaculate Heart of the Mary Church in Serangoon and Holy Trinity Church in Tampines, re-enacted the 'Stations of the Cross', depicting the final hours of Jesus' earthly life."