Wednesday, September 30, 2009

The man who called Lee Kuan Yew a dictator to his face

William Safire, the former speech writer for Richard Nixon and New York Times columnist who died on Sunday aged 79, was known as a pugnacious commentator.

There are perhaps few better examples of this than his interview with Lee Kuan Yew, Singapore's founding father, at the World Economic Forum in 1999, when he called Lee a dictator and accused him of showing disregard for the principles of liberal democracy.

In Safire's word's: "The determinedly irreplaceable Lee Kuan Yew is the world's most intelligent, and to some most likable despot."

Lee's response to the accusation of dictatorship was "do I need to be a dictator when I can win, hands down?".

Safire's New York Times piece on the interview is online here, while a full transcript of the interview has been posted here.

There are some real gems in here, such as when Safire asks whether Lee's son (Lee Hsien Loong) would be deputy prime minister [as he was in 1999] if it wasn't for the familial connection. [Lee junior was sworn in as Singapore's third PM in 2004.]

Lee responds: "If he were not my son, he would be the Prime Minister. I'll tell you honestly, I stopped him, because he can run faster than any of the others. But I told him it would do him no good. Just stay out of this race. And his generation, his peers, know that I am not boasting when I tell you this."

Then, Safire asks whether Lee forsees a dynasty. Lee replies:

"I am not that bereft of satisfaction with my life that I need to live vicariously through him. In fact, if he doesn't measure up, it is better that he does not show up, because he'll just besmirch the family reputation."

Lee also talks in the interview of the need to restrict the flow of online content to the "lumpen mass" of 30%-40% of Singaporeans who are not well-educated. [Just 15% of Singaporeans were using the internet back in 1999, compared to 76% today.]

"We don't want this barrage day after day ... the society has got to adjust and evolve step by step."

Hat-tip to Reme Ahmad, assistant foreign editor at the Straits Times, and his personal blog.

Photo courtesy of Flickr user No Use For a Name.

Is Philippines typhoon really an example of climate change?

Various key negotiators at the crucial UN climate treaty talks in Bangkok have cited the Philippines typhoon as an example of the damage that climate change is causing in Asia.

Yvo de Boer, who was dubbed the Crying Dutchman after breaking down during the last big round of climate talks in Bali in 2007, claimed that Typhoon Ketsana was "the most recent tragic example" of climate change, according to AFP.

Heherson Alvarez, the chief Philippine climate negotiator, concurred that "Ketsana is clearly a manifestation of the consequences of global inaction in addressing the immediate impacts of creeping climate change."

But can we really argue with confidence that this is the case?

Tempting as it is for negotiators to use the devastation wreaked in the Philippines and Vietnam as a stick with which to beat the big carbon emitters, it seems intellectually fraudulent to claim that selected catastrophic contemporary weather events are direct consequences of medium-long term climate change.

Photo courtest of IRRI Images.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Britain's "relegated" Labour party finally finds its form

Given that Britain's Labour party is almost certainly on its way out in next year's general election, it may seem bizarre to some that the tone at this year's party conference has been almost ebullient, with even the supreme miserablist Gordon Brown getting a few laughs during his speech.

Is this merely the arrogance of those who have been in power for 12 years and have no regard for the pathetic ants who make up the electorate?

No. Football fans will immediately recognise this behaviour as post-relegation syndrome.

As soon as it's mathematically impossible for your team to stay up (a sadly too frequent occurence for Brentford fans like myself), the players, who have looked like they are queuing up to be euthanised all season, suddenly spark into life, freed from the fear and pressure that comes with the hope of success.

Once they know it's over, they appear as born-again as any Christian, willing and able to take on even the best teams in the league and win.

Which brings me back to the Labour party. With no chance of victory in the election, a load has been lifted off the party faithful's shoulders.

Now they can sit back, relax and envelop themselves in the comforting bosom of self-congratulation, promises that are impossible to fulfill (like abolishing cancer) and tribal attacks on the opposition (and soon to be governing) Tory party.

Photo courtesy of World Economic Forum.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Honest civil servants seen as "eccentric fools" in Vietnam

Ask most Vietnamese what their biggest complaint about the government is and they're likely to tell you it's the rampant and deeply-entrenched corruption among public officials.

A popular Vietnamese play on words mocks the term for Administration ("hành chính") in rather biting fashion: "hành là chính" - "causing trouble is the top priority".

This corruption - often under the guise of red-tape - is also holding back the pace of foreign investment and putting a big drag on Vietnam's economic development.

Earlier this month VietnamNet, one of the country's more ballsy news websites, launched a campaign against the scourge of corruption and punitive red tape, opening an online public forum for complaints about bent officials called "Joining hands to reject absurd administrative formalities".

Some of the responses are very insightful. Several correspondents noted that the minority of honest civil servants are regarded as "eccentric fools" and "idiots" by their colleagues who are on the take.

The flipside is that it is not the competent and trustworthy officials who are promoted but those who are good at playing the game and ensuring smooth (and profitable) relations with their bosses.

Hoang Nga from Hanoi argued that bad pay - often cited as a rationale for corruption - was no excuse: "Don’t excuse immorality as the consquence of low salaries. Many people live purely and keep their self-respect. It is regrettable that such officials are rare today and they may be thought of as 'stupid' by their colleagues."

It seems ironic that given Vietnam's Confucian heritage, it is now those civil servants with good connections and lucrative "extra-curricular" incomes who are most valued rather than those with the best education and the most moral fibre.

"It is painful how often rich officials return to their home villages openly boasting about their talent in building relations with their superiors," explains another VietnamNet reader. "They are proud because the whole village and their relatives admire and honor them as talented people – or so they seem, since they are richer than many who have high diplomas."

VietnamNet concluded its most recent story with a muted call for change, noting that "the prayer of nearly every reader is that the government will strongly commit to the reform of ‘administrative procedures’ and take resolute action".

I've heard such sentiments many times on previous trips to Vietnam. But despite pressure from its own people, as well as international institutions like the World Bank, the government continues to drag its feet, perhaps because today's leaders only got to the top by climbing the self-same greasy pole.

While some hope that the next generation, who have been brought up in the globalised, internet age, will be cleaner, the signs are not that positive.

As an ambitious and bright Vietnamese friend told me recently, "I used to fight against the system but got nowhere and now I've realised that if you want to be successful, you have to join the system".

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Malaysia's McCurry has the last laugh after legal battle with McDonald's

I don't imagine that many people were backing the all-encompassing, homogenous might of McDonald's in its 8-year legal battle to stop McCurry, an Indian fast food eatery in Kuala Lumpur, from using the "Mc" prefix.

Having finally fended off the accusation of trademark infringement earlier this month, McCurry's owner P. Suppiah appears to be having the last laugh.

Thanks to all the global media attention aroused by the case, he has had numerous calls from investors wishing to set up McCurry restaurants overseas and plans to open outlets in Sri Lanka and the Maldives later this year, according to a report in Singapore's Straits Times (see below).

I wonder if McDonald's will take a more relaxed approach in future or whether McCurry's new overseas operators can expect Sri Lankan and Maldivian court papers to land on their doormats sometime in the near future.

KUALA LUMPUR - SINCE restaurant owner P. Suppiah won an eight-year legal battle against fast-food giant McDonald's three weeks ago, which allowed McCurry Restaurant to keep its name, his life has changed.

Mr Suppiah, 55, has been busier than ever, receiving congratulatory messages and phone calls from all over the world. Half of them came from interested investors who wanted to open a McCurry franchise in their country.

Indeed, the Indian restaurant owner disclosed that he would be opening branches in Sri Lanka and Maldives by the end of the year.

'So many investors called me after the case, and they said that McCurry food looks very good,' he told The Straits Times at his shop in Jalan Ipoh on Tuesday.

'But I choose to open in Sri Lanka and Maldives because the investors are restaurant operators themselves, so I don't have to worry much.'

Mr Suppiah, who has been running McCurry Restaurant since 1999, said he had just returned from a meeting with some investors in Hong Kong last week. They were interested in developing his business in Hong Kong and Shanghai but the plans were still at a preliminary stage.

His restaurant became world-famous after it won a case filed by McDonald's in 2001 to stop it from using the prefix 'Mc'.

The US fast-food chain argued that McCurry had infringed its trademark and the restaurant could mislead people to associate its products with McDonald's.

McCurry lost the case in 2006 when the High Court ruled in favour of McDonald's, and the restaurant was forced to change its name to MCurry while appealing against the ruling at the Court of Appeal.

On April 27 this year, the Appeals Court overturned the High Court's decision and allowed Mr Suppiah to re-attach 'Mc' to the name of his eatery.
Photo courtesy of Flickr user tankgrrl.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Indonesia-Malaysia war finally breaks out....on Twitter

Yes folks, it's finally happened. The cultural standoff between Indonesia and Malaysia has escalated to the next level - war has finally broken out on Twitter.

Indonesians and Malaysians are trying to post more Twitter messages (or Tweets as they're known) under their relative tags (#visitindonesia and #visitmalaysia) in order to ensure that their country becomes the "trending topic" of the day. Predictably these brave cyber-warriors have started taking pot-shots at each other.

VisitIndonesia is now the top trending topic on Twitter which, I guess, means that for a brief while people with not much else to do are talking to other people with time on their hands about Indonesia on the internet.

Strange indeed but some of the messages are actually quite funny.Here's a choice selection:

Hendymenn: #visitmalaysia if you want to learn the way of terorism 
juandra: #visitmalaysia if you want to poo/puke ;)
TheRealBlackTM: If you want an exotic looking mixed baby, #visitIndonesia and fuck one of their natives
pancatampubolon: All you neeed is $5 if you get caught by the police and have no driver's license. #visitindonesia
SupergirlCitra: #visitmalaysia Malaysian, Indonesia is more beautiful than urs!
wandaGNSH: #visitindonesia exotic, sexy, clever, mature, beautiful women inside ;D
oxcyber: We have salak pondoh fruit from yogyakarta . . It's taste is very delicious . . #VisitIndonesia #IndonesiaUnite
radeteot: #VisitIndonesia we are safe now, no more bombing( I hope so )..

P.S. Doing a fluffy story based solely on Twitter is a right of passage for any hack forced to develop into a fully-fledged, multi-meedja journalist.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Celebrity terrorism or why Al Qaeda is obsessed with blowing up planes

Michael Wesley, executive director of Australia's Lowy Institute for International Policy, has penned a very insightful blog post warning against complacency following the killing of Southeast Asian Islamist terrorist Noordin Mohammed Top by Indonesian police.

He argues that more such "celebrity terrorists", who have the power to inspire their followers while intimidating their enemies, are bound to emerge.
Terrorism is a form of political theatre, and there are two audiences that contemporary terrorists seek to influence: the intimidated and the inspired. The intimidated are those whom the terrorists attack, and those who identify with the terrorists' victims. Terrorists also use their violence to communicate with each other and their sympathizers – the inspired.

The increasingly dominant culture of celebrity, which produces a profound discomfort with anonymity, evokes among the alienated an urge to rage against obscurity. But it’s not just about ego, it's also crucial to the viability of a terrorist campaign. Without the ability to attract attention, peddle inspiration, and impress fellow travelers with one's commitment and ingenuity, a terrorist campaign will not be able to generate the footsoldiers, finances, and facilitators it needs.

Which, I think, explains why Al Qaeda followers are so obsessed with blowing up planes and other grandiose plots such as the Mumbai attacks. As Wesley notes, such plans are much harder to pull off without detection than simply sending anthrax in the post or stabbing random people in the street.

But sweeping, theatrical acts of terror are more inspirational to other potential terrorists and create more concentrated fear among everyone else. I also suspect that the obsession with grand plots has something to do with the narcissism of those who become entangled in terrorist cells.

I would add, though, that the "urge to rage against obscurity" is nothing new. Just read Crime and Punishment (first published 1866).

Monday, September 21, 2009

Three Vietnamese men drown in a vat of fish sauce

One of the major downsides of rampant economic development in Asia has been the proliferation of grim industrial accidents as ambitious proprietors have paid little heed to the safety of their workers.

Of all the gruesome ways to go, I can't think of many worse than drowning in a vat of fermenting fish sauce, a fate that befell three workers in central Vietnam on Saturday, according to Thanh Nien News:
Police in the central province of Khanh Hoa are investigating the deaths of three local workers who choked and drowned in a fish sauce vat on Saturday.

The incident happened when 36-year-old Bui Dinh Tuan, a worker of Cam Ranh Town’s fish sauce-producing Phuc Binh Factory, climbed into a 2.4 meter-high vat used to hold fermenting fish to fix a pipe.

Tuan inhaled some kind of asphyxiating gas and died on the spot, according to the local police.His colleagues Tran Thin and Nguyen Huu Tai, jumped into the vat to rescue him, but they suffocated as well.

Fish sauce, which is made from fish that is fermented with salt for months, is a staple of Vietnamese cuisine.

Source: Tuoi Tre

Sunday, September 20, 2009

A China-dominated world will be very different but will it be better?

As China prepares to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic, most observers agree that it will take less than another 60 years for the rapidly-growing nation to become the world’s pre-eminent superpower.

The more vexed question is what a China-dominated world will look like in 2050. Martin Jacques, a British academic and journalist, has just published a book called When China Rules the World that attempts to offer up some possible answers.

Jacques addressed a meeting of Singapore’s Foreign Correspondents Association on Friday, when he argued strongly that the world would be a very different (and better) place with China, not the US, as the dominant power.

He claimed that those who believe that the West has a monopoly on modernisation and that China would therefore become more Western as it becomes more modern were wrong. He outlined a number of key historical factors that explain why a Sino-centric world will look so different:
  1. China is a civilization-state, not a nation state like most European countries or the US.
  2. China used to govern East Asia through a tributary state system and East Asian economies are now being reconfigured to be China-focused.
  3. Unlike Brazil, India and the US, China is not a multi-racial country, with 92% of the population describing themselves as Han. There is a very weak conception of cultural difference, as evidenced by the treatment meted out to the Tibetans and Uighurs.
  4. The Chinese polity is constructed in a different way to the West, with the Chinese state seen as representing the embodiment of Chinese culture (see 1). Unlike in the West, the pre-eminence of the Chinese state has rarely been contested – i.e. China has not experienced the challenges to the central state from the people, the church, merchants and municipal councils that were commonplace in the West. Hence the Chinese state is used to operating through supplication and favour rather than bargaining.
Jacques concluded the rise of China “has got be a good thing because it’s the most rough and ready democratisation in the last 200 years”. Evidently his view of “democratisation” has more to do with balancing out the power of America and the West than it does with free and fair elections.

While his historical argument about the heterogeneity of China's development is convincing, I find it hard to share his quixotic and rather Utopian view of China's wider influence. The presence of a single, hegemonic superpower is potenitally a threat to the wider world, whether the top dog is the US or China.

The push-back against China’s growing global influence has already begun in Australia, in some African countries and, closer to home, in Vietnam.

Interestingly, Jacques admitted that his “single greatest concern” about China’s rise was the lack of recognition of different racial and religious groups. I wonder if that has anything to do with the tragedy that befell his Indian-Malaysian wife, who died in a Hong Kong hospital in 2000 after receiving sub-standard treatment because of Chinese racism, according to Jacques.

Photo courtesy of Flickr user gadgetdan.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Malaysian minister drags Singapore into Southeast Asia's simmering culture war

Just when Malaysia and Indonesia seemed ready to end their ridiculous kulturkampf over traditional dances and batik, Malaysia's tourism minister has dragged Singapore into the fray, implicitly accusing the neighbouring city-state of "hijacking" its food.

"We cannot continue to let other countries hijack our food," tourism minister Ng Yen Yen told reporters at the launch of a gourmet food festival in Kuala Lumpur.

She went on to cite dishes such as chilli crab, laksa, and bak kut teh as examples of Malaysian dishes that had been hijacked by others, with Singapore presumably at the top of that list.

Without a hint of irony, she even singled out "Hainanese chicken rice" as an authentic Malaysian dish that had been stolen by interlopers, according to The Star newspaper.

All these dishes, incidentally, are listed by the Singapore Tourism Board as quintessential Singaporean fare.

Apparently this was more than idle banter as Ng explained that over the next three months, the Malaysian government would "identify certain key dishes to declare as Malaysian".

Forgive me for suggesting that, faced with rising racial tensions, crumbling public support and a stagnating economy, the Malaysian government ought to have better things to do than launch a food war against Singapore.

Given the shared cultural heritage of Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia and the fact that these three entities (none of which existed before 1949) could easily have become one giant nation (Indonesia Raya) or many smaller states, these new culture wars are rather farcical.

Nineteenth century British prime ministers Palmerston and Disraeli used gunboat diplomacy as their preferred vehicle for the jingoism needed to distract the people from the real issues of the day.

The Malaysian and Indonesian governments obviously prefer hawker stall diplomacy: "Mine is the original, best No.1 Laksa, lah. Other one only copy but no good, wah."

Pic courtesy of Flickr user KayVee.INC.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Why can't Than Shwe open a bank account in Singapore?

Is it just me or does all the hoo-hah over the Burmese junta allegedly "stashing" millions of gas dollars in Singapore bank accounts rather miss the point?

Unlike the US, EU and Australia, Singapore (like other Southeast Asian nations) has a full and active economic and diplomatic relationship with Myanmar.

Singapore's banking regulator may insist that the city-state is not a safehaven for hot money.

But that's largely irrelevant to the Burma cash question because the Singapore government views the junta as a legitimate regime.

Therefore any cash accrued by the generals is, by definition, not considered hot money in Singapore.

So why can't Than Shwe or his fellow Burmese generals just open a bank account with DBS or some private bank and deposit their money there like any other secretive millionaire, with no questions asked?

Photo by deepchi1, courtesy of a creative commons licence.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Daily Mail finds ghost scoop off coast of Malaysia

After yesterday's stunning Wall Street Journal revelation that Vietnamese men drink bia hoi today's award for stating the bleeding obvious but dressing it up as the scoop of the century goes to the Daily Mail for uncovering the existence of a "secretive ghost fleet" of empty container ships and oil tankers off the coast of Singapore.

In a story headlined Revealed: The ghost fleet of the recession Hong Kong-based freelance journalist Simon Parry reveals that "the biggest and most secretive gathering of ships in maritime history lies at anchor east of Singapore".

Fearless Parry claims that this fleet of empty ships has "never before" been photographed and that "the world's ship owners and government economists would prefer you not to see this symbol of the depths of the plague still crippling the world's economies".

Which would all be great colour were it not for the fact that it's an outrageous exaggeration. Any one of the nearly 40 million passengers who have flown into Singapore's Changi airport in the last year will have been able to spot this "secretive" armada merely by peeking out of the window as they come in to land.

Equally, any one of the thousands of people who walk along the extensive beaches of Singapore's East Coast Park and Sentosa island every day will have been aware of the existence of this "ghost" fleet.

As for the ridiculous claim that these ships have "never before" been photographed, it's barely worth refuting. Suffice to say that in a 15-second search of Google Images, I found pics of idle ships taken well before this article was published here, here and here.

It's fair and worthwhile to write a story arguing that amid all the guff about green shoots, the shipping industry is still in dire straits. But, even by its own hyperbolic standards, the Daily Mail has pushed this one too far, and some.

Hat-tip to Lowy Interpreter. Pic courtesy of hradcanska, thanks to a creative commons licence.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Vietnam in bia hoi shock - another great Wall Street Journal scoop

Being a regional correspondent in Southeast Asia can be a dangerous business. Less because of the threat of violence or police harrasment than because of the risk that covering so many countries will force you to over-stretch.

It's a trap that Bangkok-based James Hookway of the Wall Street Journal seems to have fallen into with his latest piece, entitled Vietnam Brewers Fight Global Giants By Popularizing Kegs of 'Fresh Beer'.

According to our man (temporarily) in Hanoi, Vietnam's brewers are battling back against the scourge of imported beer with a "secret weapon" that "enjoys a cult following in parts of the country".

What amazing product has James uncovered, I wonder? Is it some new local brew infused with lemongrass and chilli or a new type of widget to keep your beer fresh?

No, he's talking about plain old bia hoi - a cheap, watery draft beer that is available at almost every local eating establishment up and down the country from big restaurants frequented by businessmen to tiny roadside stalls.

To argue that local brewers are suddently turning to bia hoi to fight off Tiger and Heineken seems misleading, especially as James himself admits that bia hoi has been around for decades and currently satisfies 30% of the beer drinking market.

It's like arguing that fish and chips is a "secret weapon" in the battle against American fast food imports in Britain that has somehow managed to attain a "cult following".

The real story, surely, is that the status-conscious emerging middle class in Vietnam is turnning away from bia hoi toward premium foreign brands.

Since it was bought by Rupert Murdoch, journalists at the Wall Street Journal have come under greater pressure to deliver exclusive stories.

When hacks can't find a proper scoop they sometimes try to conjure up "scoops of interpretation" when some new trend is supposedly uncovered.

I'm afraid that this story is more a "scoop of misinterpretation".

Make exceptions for deserving cases? Not in Singapore

A social worker in Singapore once suggested to me that the government deliberately limited the extent of financial assistance to the less well-off because it believes that if benefits were more widely available, some would try to exploit the system while others would become dependent on hand-outs.

This approach has been made starkly apparent thanks to an unfortunate civil servant, who sent out a document containing written answers to Parliamentary questions this morning with the track changes function still on, thereby revealing how the answers were edited.

Yesterday in Parliament Mah Bow Tan, the minister for national development, was asked about the public response to the new Lease Buyback Scheme, which allows hard-up elderly citizens to cash-in part of the lease on their government flats in return for an upfront sum of $5,000 and regular monthly payments.

As the scheme is subsidised, the scope is limited to the less well-off but Tan finished his answer by saying that the Housing Development Board  would "consider appeals on a case-by-case basis". However, an additional clause which said that the government would "make exceptions for deserving cases" has been struck out.

A previous sentence which initially noted that the government would "review whether the eligibility criteria can be relaxed, taking into consideration the public response" has also been struck out and replaced with a watered-down version which suggests merely that the government will "review whether the LBS target group should be expanded".

Monday, September 14, 2009

Singapore's back-door Christians at it again?

Given their vociferous opposition to homosexuality, it's rather ironic that some of Singapore's fundamentalist Christians seem to prefer doing things by the back door.

Earlier this year there was the protracted AWARE saga, when a group of "family values" Christians masterminded a surreptitious takeover of Singapore's main women's association in an attempt to limit its sex education programme.

Now, a new citizen journalism website that professes to be a "balanced and in-depth" news portal ( has come under fire because of allegations that it is a front for pushing Christian values.

The allegations are detailed here and here, while Mathew Yap, who is in charge of the still-to-be-launched website, provides his defence here.

Much of the criticism is, for the blogosphere, quite reasoned and fair. Few have a problem with Christians trying to promote their own values but they are unhappy at the way they feel the fundamentalists are trying to hide their minority religious views under a cloak of mainstream respectability.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Warning - Adult content: Singapore's first political film gets 18 certificate

Children avert your eyes at once. Singapore's Media Development Authority has cleared "Singapore Rebel", a documentary about opposition leader Chee Soon Juan by film-maker Martyn See, for release.

It is the first "political" film to be allowed since the restrictions on political films were eased slightly back in March.

However, it has been given an 18 certificate because of its "mature content".

The film has been available on YouTube for some time and you'll have to judge for yourself whether you'd want to let your children watch it.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Rare racist attack in Singapore

A Singaporean Muslim has been jailed for three years and sentenced to 12 strokes of the cane after punching a Jewish man outside the National Library earlier this year.

Azmi Osman, an unemployed 35-year-old who had the phrase "anti-Jews" tattooed on his face, hit Eliyahu Benhiyoun, a 21-year-old worker for Singapore's Jewish Welfare Board, on the upper arm in an unprovoked attack, according to the Straits Times.

It's not the sort of incident that happens often in Singapore (the Straits Times says it is "the first case of its kind involving a religiously aggravated assault") and, given the government's paramount desire to keep religious tensions at bay, it's not surprising that the judge has handed down a stiff sentence.

Apparently, Azmi has had a Merlion (the invented national mascot that's part fish, part lion) drawn over the "anti-Jews" tattoo but the original is still visible, so he will be "counseled" to have it removed. A story as unpleasant as it is bizarre.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Loan sharks, Anwar Ibrahim, spunk and me

Over the last month 223 of you have made your way to this blog through a search engine, using 178 different keywords, according to the ever-useful Google Analytics service.

Many people came here after searching for information about Anwar Ibrahim, the Malaysian opposition leader, loan sharks and Singapore. Not surprising as that I have given these subjects a lot of coverage over recent weeks.

The most popular inbound search term was "ben bland blog", which led to 24 visits. I can assure you that none of these were vanity searches...

One person arrived at The Asia File after searching for "ben bland journalist photo". I wonder whether I have a secret admirer or if the media police from one of the regions more repressive regimes are after me.

While I hope to satisfy all my readers, some of the searchers will undoubtedly arrive here to much disappointment.

Like the web fiends who googled "asian upskirt" and "search spunking" only to end up at one of the region's most high-brow political blogs.

One apparent entreprenuer searched for "how to start loan shark singapore" but sadly for him/her this blog will have been of little use, other than to provide some basic information about the typical interest rates charged by the illegal moneylenders.

If only they could have connected with the visitor who googled "loan shark needed singapore".

Some of the inbound searches seem to defy logic and question my faith in the supremacy of the Google way.

Why someone would search for "markings on land that no one can explain" and end up here, I cannot understand.

Still, so long as the search engines keep driving traffic here, I cannot complain.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Blogging may be light for next 10 days.... I'm currently traveling.

Feel free to amuse yourself in the comments or email any story ideas to


Bangladesh: new initiative to combat malnutrition

This story of mine was recently published by IRIN, the UN's humanitarian news service:

DHAKA - There have been mixed reactions to a private-public partnership to popularize a nutritional supplement known to reduce the incidence of anaemia in infants and young children.

The supplement, known as Sprinkles, is a blend of powdered micronutrients which, when sprinkled onto food, provides children with all the necessary vitamins and minerals.

Renata, a leading generic drugs manufacturer based in Dhaka, will produce, market and sell the food supplement alongside BRAC (Building Resources Across Communities), the biggest NGO in the developing world, and the Social Marketing Company (SMC), a not-for-profit enterprise.

But the cautious Bangladeshi government has declined to comment on Sprinkles or its promotion. Fatima Parveen Chowdhury, director of the government-run Institute of Public Health Nutrition (IPHN), explained that since Sprinkles is a new product, the government would only be in a position to comment once its effect on Bangladeshi children had been established.

Read the rest here.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Singapore to improve "incomplete reporting" of overseas investments - IMF

The last sentence in the International Monetary Fund's annual review of the Singapore economy, which has just been released, is perhaps the most interesting:

"Given all members’ obligations to provide accurate data to the Fund, Directors welcomed the authorities’ intention to improve over time the currently incomplete reporting of the international investment position of Singapore," the report, which offers a supportive view of the government's reaction to the recession, concludes.

Has the Singapore government previously flagged this desire to be more transparent about the actions of Temasek and GIC, its two massive sovereign wealth funds?

A brief Reuters summary of the report is online here.