Archive for the 'Country update' Category

Sunday Morning in Jesselton

It’s actually Kota Kinabalu in Sabah. Jesselton is what they used to call the place. Not coincidentally, I heard some interesting news about Sabah over the weekend and thought it’d be worthwhile to share the stories.

In 1970, the state was one of the richest in the federation, with a per capita GDP second only to Selangor (which at that time included KL). However, despite its abundant natural resources, Sabah is currently the poorest Malaysian state. According to a recent article, the overall poverty rate fell to 16 per cent in 2007, compared to 23 per cent in 2004. This is still three times more than the national average.

Also read somewhere that the pregnant women in Pitas (the poorest county in Sabah) had the highest mortality rate in Malaysia. There are many tribes that live off the beaten track so the aboriginal women, with their enlarged bellies, have to take boats, cross bridges, and walk for hours or even days to reach a clinic. Some women choose to deliver their babies at home because they have no money for transportation down the mountains. A crude, sharpened piece of bamboo is used to cut off the umbilical cord. As you can guess, the mortality rate for childbirth is also very high.

But enough with the depressing news. If we have the capacity and capability, we need to ask the Lord to use us to help lift our brethren out of poverty. While we take many things for granted, like being able to have clean water simply by turning on the tap, these people have to walk for miles just to obtain that life-giving resource. How is daily life like – I have no idea. Don’t think I can imagine the crushing poverty over there. What is clear to me is that this is happening not in Burundi or Ethiopia but right in our own backyard.

May we find in our hearts the desire, humility and generousity to reach out to those less fortunate. May the Lord use us mightily to affect the fate of nations. Ooops, I was supposed to upload some Sunday Morning pictures here but think I’ll put it in the next post. Sorry about that.


Remembering the forgotten people

The following piece was written in late 2001 and published in my church’s newsletter. I thought it might be good to post it online so as to remember our brethren up north. May His Spirit continue to teach and lead us to pray for the less fortunate.

Thy will be done

The faded, tear-stained photograph brings back warm memories. It seemed like only yesterday she held their tiny bodies close to her bosom. Last night, her eldest child called. He announced that he was going steady with another man. And that he’s moving out. Two months earlier, her daughter ran away with an older woman. Both children have grown up now, she reminds herself.

* * * * *

When was the last time he had a bath or a decent meal, nobody knows. All day long, he hobbles under the hot sun holding out a blackened, sore-infested hand. Where his eyes used to be, there are now bloody, gaping, pus-filled sockets. A bent, toothless old woman is holding his arm. She is his eyes. They make their way through the crowd begging for money.

* * * * *

A dusty, squalid road runs through the the main town. The residents live in dirty, single room shacks. Stay a while and through the windows, you’ll notice little eyes twinkling mischievously at you. Oh, there are plenty of children here – always loud, playful and terribly restless. But unlike most kids, their tiny noses are constantly swollen and itchy. Sniffing glue does that to you.

* * * * *

Her husband travels frequently. She tells everybody he’s having an affair and it’s true. But she doesn’t leave him because she’s afraid of being alone. And besides, there’s a 5-year old with the cutest smile in the whole world. Laughingly, she says she can’t control his behaviour either. She admits that she often screams and throws things at him. Once, late at night, the neigbours had to physically restrain her from strangling the little boy.

* * * * *

Two women meet each other at the playground. Old friends, they smile and sit on the grass while their children make a dash for the swings. Before long, the conversation comes around to their favourite subject: Husbands. The younger woman says she her man isn’t home. She doesn’t know where he is and he hasn’t called in five months. At least I know what my husband is doing, says the other. He’s spending the night with his mistress.

* * * * *

Last December, a group of us spent five days in Haadyai among these people. We sat with them, ate with them and listened to their stories. Ater that, we all went on our separate ways. I returned to an air-conditioned house, closet full of clothes and fridge packed with delicacies. My wife was waiting for me at the door. I thanked God that I am loved and that He has blessed me exceedingly abundantly.

Then I remembered the child sleeping in a small room shared by three families, the old couple who are probably rummaging through the garbage bins looking for food, and the young woman washing her husband’s mistress’s clothes.

Lord, what does it take to bridge the gap between the haves and have-nots? Between the hidden people and those who choose not to look? Between those who only know suffering, and those who know the suffering Christ?

I waited for an answer but He remained silent. After a while, I heard His voice. He was crying too.

Signs you’re back in Malaysia

Bus guide at the bus stop where I wait for my transport.

Need a place for your roadside stall? Hey, what about at that sign over there?

"I'm not racist, only colour preference." Then again, it's probably not the official t-shirt of the 1Malaysia concept. Also, somebody should check the grammar.

I suppose we shouldn't be surprised at cars parking indiscriminately ...

... even if it's in front of a police station.

No wonder they call this place Bolehland. (Boleh = ‘Can’ in Bahasa). Looks like we’ve got a bit of work to do here.

Beautiful Malaysia

Photo by Siew Lian. Taken 6ish pm yesterday

Amidst all the current tension, it’s good to remember Who’s really in charge. In Christ, we place our hope. While Optimism sort of denies reality and says, “It’s not so bad,” Hope admits, “Yes, it’s bad. Really bad. But I still believe and trust in You.”

Start-up nation

start-up nation

In our humble ad agency network, the most-promising office – in my opinion – is in Tel Aviv. At a recent global meeting, the stuff they put on the table was truly inspiring. It was bold, original, strategic and daring in its use of new media.

Which is strange. As far as I know, Israel isn’t exactly on the advertising creative map. They’re good in agriculture and IT technology and uh, that’s about it I think. My bad. Then I came across the book you see above. It talks about creativity (among other things), how it has improved and why we can expect to see more of it in the future.   

The authors take on what they call the trillion-dollar question: How does a country of 7.1 million – surrounded by enemies, in a constant state of war since its founding, and with no natural resources – produce more start-up companies than large, peaceful, and stable nations like Japan, China, India, Korea, Canada and the UK?

The following is a review by Rabbi Shmuley. It’s taken from his blog, where he pens with incredible insight and a whole lot more authority than I will ever muster. The article’s slant is on foreign aid but you get the idea. Plus, it provides a glimpse into one of the world’s most underrated countries. Excerpts here.

Why Israel Should Reject American Economic Aid
Rabbi Shmuley

Over the weekend I read Startup Nation, the new book about why Israel has emerged as an unlikely global leader in high-tech. Even if its authors Dan Senor and Saul Singer were not my friends and, in the case of Saul, my editor at the post I would still say that it’s the best advertisement for Israel to come out in recent memory. Foregoing the usual discussion of Israel as an embattled nation whom everyone hates and seeks to destroy, it focuses instead on the ingenuity and invincibility of the Israeli people and their vast technological contribution to the global economy. Where the Israeli army is discussed its focus is not on soldiers chasing down terrorists but on how the Israeli military serves as a future commercial networking tool for soldiers who served in the same unit. You can see why the book both informs and inspires.

Am I the only one is just plain tired of only hearing bad news about Jews and Israel? Remember the old joke of the Jewish guy who loves reading anti-Semitic magazines. When asked why he says, “When I read Jewish newspapers all I come across is that we’re hated and attacked. When I read the anti-Semitic alternatives they tell me we run the world and have all the money.”

Israel is not a victim. Less so is it a tragic nation. Rather, as Startup Nation makes clear Israel today is one of the most highly educated and technologically-advanced nations on earth with one of its fastest growing economies. And it’s time that Jewish newspapers and periodicals stopped the sad, tired, worn story that Israel is about to draw its last breath.

True, Israel has implacable, terrorist enemies that surround it, and yes, Iran is building a bomb which is an existential threat to the Jewish state. That’s all mighty serious stuff. These threats should and must be discussed, confronted, and ultimately neutralized, by force if necessary. But is that all there is to the modern Jewish story? Is there not also a story of tremendous success? Just imagine what a downer it is for the rest of the world to hear that the Jews only see themselves as perennial victims who are about to be murdered. And propagating only that bad news means that people learn to tune Israel out. Whenever they see the country coming up on the news – which is all the time – they naturally assume it’s some tragic, depressing story. So they either turn the channel or worse, they watch it and conclude that Israel is a place of guns, bombs, and bullets. If only they could hear about Israeli universities ranking in the top ten worldwide, of the growing number of Nobel Prize winners, of Andy Grove, Warren Buffet, and Bill Gates rushing to invest in Israel, and how a crazy percentage of all the world’s computer chips are manufactured in the Jewish state.

The time has come for world Jewry to no longer look at the Jewish state only as the refuge for a persecuted people and instead focus on Israel as the place where the limitless potential of the Jewish people is finally being manifest. All we needed was for people to get out of our way, to rid ourselves of countries that shoved us into ghettoes or gave quotas as to how many Jews could attend University, and just look at how much we now thrive. And we prosper not as a self-absorbed nation but as a people who make vast contributions to the welfare of all mankind.

It is time for Israel to begin seriously considering forgoing American economic aid. I understand the military aid. Israel has an insane number of crazies who wish to attack and destroy it. But the economic aid creates an unnecessary dependency, undermines the perception of Israel as a prosperous country, and gives the United States undo influence over Israeli policy. And surely we all believe that decisions governing Israel’s right to defend itself should be taken by the Israeli Prime Minister rather than the American President.

There is more.

Many a Jew has wondered aloud why the Arabs got all the oil and Israel got none. What could G-d have been thinking in making despots and dictators like the Saudis and Kaddafi so insanely rich while Israel has to struggle for every shekel it earns. Only now to do we see the truth. Oil is the greatest curse ever to befall the Arabs. By digging a hole and having money flow from the ground, the Arab states had little incentive to build world-class Universities and a thriving high-tech industry. And when the day finally comes – and it will come – when the world is wise enough to finally find an alternative energy source to oil, these despotic regimes will completely collapse.

This isn’t rocket science. All of us, I’m sure, know at least one rich friend whose kids had to work for very little and who consequently became spoiled and indolent. Israel has had to work for every thing it has. No country in world history has ever been more unjustly reviled or more ferociously and continuously attacked. Conversely, no country better inspires the world to ponder the infinite capacity of humans to rise from the ashes – and in the case of the holocaust, quite literally – and build a shining state on a hill.

Israel still has a lot of problems and a lot of enemies who seek to destroy it. It must be hyper vigilant and forever strong. But it is time for the other side of the story to be highlighted as well. And I hope that more books like Start Up Nation will begin to focus on Israel’s colossal achievements rather than merely its insurmountable threats.

Thinking out of the enclosure

When their beloved pet zebras died, a zoo in Gaza needed to do something to draw in the crowds. Perfectly understandable, since the only remaining animals were an aging tigress, two monkeys, and a selection of birds, rabbits and cats. Nobody knew how long the tigress was going to last and when they were particularly grumpy, the primates had a nasty habit of chucking butt drool at visitors.  

People, kids especially, want zebras. They want to see these gentle creatures grunt, graze, gallop and do that thing with their ears. To import a striped horse however costs roughly USD40,000. But you can’t just have one, you need two at least and either way, the zoo didn’t have that kind of money. Just then, a donkey passed by and the keeper had what you might call a brainwave.

the zebra formerly known as donkey

Photo credit: AP Photo/Hatem Moussa

Full story with video here. One can only imagine what the other donkeys would think.

Donkey 1: Harry? Is that you?

Donkey 2: It’s me.

Donkey 1: Why … are you wearing that body paint?

Donkey 2 (Whispers): I’m not supposed to talk about it.

Donkey 1: Have you been eating the poppies again?

Donkey 2: The kiddies were upset the zebras died so I decided to do something about it, ok?!

Donkey 1: And what will they say when their zebra brays?

Donkey 2: Hey, they’re kids. I could be mewing and they’d still think it’s perfectly normal.

Donkey 1: Right.

Donkey 2: They love it when I bray, in fact. It’s sort of a new trick for them.

Donkey 1: Don’t zebras have white bellies? Your stripes are painted all the way round …

Donkey 2: Can we talk about something else?

Donkey 1: So are we on for next week?

Donkey 2: Uh …

Donkey 1: I promised the in-laws we’d take them out.

Donkey 2: Did you see the sign at the zoo’s entrance?

Donkey 1: No, what does it say?

Donkey 2: Next week’s attraction: Lions.

A Shelter in the time of storm

It’s 11.30pm. As I’m typing this, my friends in Manila are in the midst of a flash flood. BBC broke the news two hours ago, tweets were coming in as early 13 hours ago. Right now, the latter is abuzz with emergency phone numbers to call, tips for dealing with floods including where to go for food and aid, and where to donate pesos. Social media has suddenly taken on a whole new meaning. Stay strong Philippines. The Lord is sovereign and difficult as it is right now, His banner over you is love.