Saturday, December 12, 2009

Calling on Chongqing, China

I had an interesting four-day business trip to China last week. Cisco held a Public Services conference in Chongqing, and I was invited to moderate some sessions. This gave me the opportunity to have a nice albeit short look around the city after the conference.

It was my first trip to the city of Chongqing, in the Sichuan province. Chongqing is a port city situated in the south-east of the Sichuan Basin between the Yangtze and Jialing River.The municipality, one of four directly administered by the central government, has some 33 million inhabitants. The place is known for its hot & spicy food (especially the famous Chongqing Hot Pot) and for being the place where those intending to take a cruise down the Yangtze River and see the Three Gorges Dam, usually begin their journey.

We were most fortunate to have had Fiona Liu, a Chongqing local, as our tour guide. She spoke perfect (and I really mean PERFECT !) English, and was very knowledgable about the city. She brought us to many interesting places and educated us with many facts about the city. I thoroughly recommend her as a guide to anyone wishing to visit Chongqing. You can email me for her contact.

Chongqing skyline
Note the muddy brown Yangtze River (from left) and the dark green Jialing River (right)

Historically, Chongqing was the wartime capital of China during the Second Sino-Japanese war (1937-1945). Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek made it his base, and the city was heavily bombed by the Japanese planes. Fortunately, due to its mountainous environment, many people were saved from the bombing. One can still see some old air-raid shelters in the hillside. In late November 1949, the Nationalist KMT government led by Chiang Kai-shek, under attack by the Communist forces, fled the city and went over to Taiwan.

Recent statistics reveal that Chongqing is one of the fastest growing cities in China, and indeed everywhere in the city, one can see huge construction projects being carried out. The China central government is also trying to develop Chongqing as a major financial centre.

Our group standing in front of the Great Hall of the People, Chongqing

We visited the China Three Gorges Museum, which was right across from the Great Hall of the People, separated by a huge square where residents were exercising, strolling about or socialising with one another..

The China Three Gorges Dam Museum, Chongqing
(gives a lot of background about this monumental engineering feat. The Three Gorges hydro-electric dam is the world's largest electricity generating plant, and when fully operational by 2011, it will have a total electricity generating capacity of 22,500 MW)

Road Warrior meets Ancient Chinese Warrior
(In the background, you can glimpse the Chongqing Opera House)

I had a chance to walk through Jiafangbei, the main shopping district of Chongqing ...

The place was thronging with people - shopping, having family outings, watching street performances and displays, taking in the festive mood (they had all manner of  X'mas decorations out too!) ...

I sat down for a roadside snack with an "old local resident" ...

There was even a sizeable choir performing in the centre of the shopping district.

That evening, we ventured to the restaurant district at Nan Bin Lu for dinner. This is just by the river bank. There were boat restaurants, al fresco dining, Chongqing hotpot joints, and all manner of brightly-lit eateries, bars and pubs.

China is an absolutely amazing place. Each time I visit, I find myself astounded by so many things - the culture & history, the people, the cuisine, the architecture, the development  ... and the relentless pursuit of growth and success. No wonder economists forecast that China will become the world's largest economy within two decades.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Mid-Autumn Festival

The Mid-Autumn Festival  ( zhōng qiū jié in Mandarin ) is also known as the Moon Festival. It is a popular East Asian celebration of abundance and togetherness, dating back over 3,000 years to China's Zhou Dynasty. In Malaysia and Singapore, we also refer to it as the Lantern Festival or "Mooncake Festival."

The Mid-Autumn Festival falls on the 15th day of the 8th lunar month of the Chinese calendar (usually late-September or early October), a date that parallels the Autumn Equinox of the solar calendar. This year it falls on 3rd October 2009. This is apparently the ideal time, when the moon is at its fullest and brightest, to celebrate the abundance of the summer's harvest. The traditional food of this festival is the mooncake, of which there are several varieties.

The Mid-Autumn Festival is one of the two most important holidays in the Chinese calendar (the other being the Lunar New Year). Farmers celebrate the end of the summer harvesting season on this date. Traditionally, on this day, Chinese family members and friends will gather to admire the bright mid-Autumn harvest moon, and eat moon cakes and pomeloes together. Other interesting customs include: carrying brightly lit lanterns, putting pomelo rinds on one's head, burning incense in reverence to deities, planting Mid-Autumn trees,and collecting dandelion leaves for distribution among family.

Children often hear the tale of the moon fairy living in a crystal palace, who comes out to dance on the moon's shadowed surface. This legend of the "lady living in the moon" goes back to ancient times, to a day when ten suns appeared at once in the sky. The Emperor ordered a famous archer to shoot down the nine extra suns. Once the task was accomplished, the Goddess of Western Heaven rewarded the archer with a pill that would make him immortal. However, his wife found the pill, took it, and was duly banished to the moon. Legend says that her beauty is greatest on the day of the Moon festival.

The other famous legend surrounding the Moon festival is linked into Chinese history. During the Yuan dynasty (AD 1280-1368), China was ruled by the Mongols.  The leaders from the preceding Sung dynasty (AD 960-1280) were unhappy at being subject to foreign rule, and began to furtively organise a rebellion. The rebel leaders, knowing that the Moon festival was drawing near, ordered the making of special cakes. Baked into each moon cake was a message outlining attack plans. The mooncakes - which the Mongols did not eat - were the perfect vehicle for hiding and passing along these plans. Families were instructed not to eat the mooncakes until the day of the festival, which was when the rebellion took place, and the government was overthrown. This led to the establishment of the Ming dynasty (AD 1368-1644).

Great stories, huh? Would make great swordfighting movies ala Shaw Brothers or John "Red Cliff" Woo. Anyway, always good to know the legends, customs and traditions behind any festival. Now who says this blog is not educational? LOL.

For those who celebrate it, do share how you spent your Mid-Autumn Festival ...

Friday, September 25, 2009

Formula 1 Fever Grips Singapore


Vrooom. Vroooom. This weekend is when the Formula 1 Night Races happen, right here on the Singapore street circuit. It's the second time the F1 races are being held in Singapore. And things are beginning to heat up in this normally prim-and-proper (some say clinical and comatose) Lion City. There are posters everywhere. The TV and news media are chock full of articles and pictures of cars and the sexy lasses called the SingTel Grid Girls (kinda ambassadors for the event). I even notice ordinary drivers revving their engines a bit more, and occasionally letting their hair down with spurts of speed and execution of risky overtaking maneuveres on the Singapore roads.
Anyway for the F1 event, there are practice runs today, qualifying rounds on Saturday, leading up to the Grand Finals on Sunday. Should be pretty exciting for racing enthusiasts.
Different people I know have varying opinions on the appropriateness of street circuits for motor racing, and some even question the realism of Grand Prix in general. And recent revelations of Renault's transgressions on this very same circuit a year ago simply reflect the utmost importance that some automotive companies place on being victorious ... win at all costs it would seem !
Here's a map of the street circuit, around the Marina Bay area.

I must admit I haven't been a huge fan of F1. I don't follow the sport that closely and in fact until last year's race in Singapore, I hardly knew my Hamilton from hamburger, or my Schumacher from my shoe ... but still I have to say that it was quite a thrill watching the race last year, albeit on TV from the comfort of my living room. I'm not particularly partial to sweltering conditions, deafening noise and choking exhaust fumes ... but all my friends who have seen it "live" wax lyrical on the experience, and chide me for staying home.
Of course, whether one watches it at the circuit or on TV, what many people look for are the crashes and mistakes and pitstop booboos (like last year where one car drove off from the pit with the fuel pump still not dislodged). Talk about schadenfreude !!!
Even if one is not into F1 racing, a good thing about the Singapore F1 is that during the period, lots of entertainers and celebrities are in town. This year, the following artistes are performing at various venues: Backstreet Boys, Chaka Khan, Mavis Staples, Travis, and others. I'm told that even busty Beyonce is in town to do a concert !!! And there are also local and regional performers including Indigo, Electrico, Rivermaya, Strikeforce, Wicked Aura Batucada, Alemay Fernandez and the Dim Sum Dollies.

What I also find very interesting to observe, is how some of the familiar streets in central Singapore are being transformed into a nocturnal racing circuit. Huge panels of lights have been installed all around the track, the roads on the circuit have all been heavily reinforced so that a crash from a high-speed vehicle would not damage the surrounding infrastructure too much.

Ah yes, here's a badly taken videoclip of me driving on one section of the F1 circuit, a few days before they blocked it off for the event. Enjoy ;-)

I'll probably update this post over the next few days, with significant events relating to the F1 extravaganza. So do stay tuned.

Vrooom. Vrooom. Vrooom. Let the race begin !!!

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Some Interviews on Asian challenges, transformation & e-initiatives

Found two videoclips from an interview I gave earlier this year to eGovAsia, a website associated with the publication Enterprise Innovation.

The first one is on e-initiatives across Asia ...

The other is about transformative and challenges forAsian governments ...

Hmmm, do I look fat?

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Connected Communities

At the recent "NICT Conference 2009" in Putrajaya, Malaysia, I was on one of the panels & spoke on the topic of "Connected Communities: Towards Intelligent Urbanisation".

Urbanisation is a very significant (and seemingly irreversible) trend for global economic development. In the next 5 years, 300 million more people are going to become urban dwellers. Urban activities also typically contribute to at least 70 percent of overall national economic growth. Thus, the focus of my talk was to highlight ways in which urban communities could be better connected via technology, to enable them to be more productive and effective.

For those interested in my presentation, a PDF copy can be downloaded at the website

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

National Broadband Initiatives (Interviews in Bangkok)

In a recent visit to Bangkok, Thailand, I led a workshop for government officials. The theme was around Connected Government, and also on the benefits of deploying National Broadband.

I also had a session with a number of Thai journalists. Here are some articles or excerpts from those interviews. The first is with Bangkok Post (an English language daily), and the other a Thai language paper Krungthep Turakij.

Article 1: Bangkok Post (17 June 2009)

Article 2: Krungthep Turakij (2 June 2009)

For the article in Thai, I am told by our PR manager that the gist of the content is as follows:

Headline: E-Government: the ‘government’ highway to stimulus the Thai economy.


- ICT can play an crucial role to stimulate the economy & increase GDP especially during economic crisis situation

- The Thai Government should leverage its ICT budget to build the readiness to support the future growth ie. investment in development of the Government Network in order for all Thai people to access into information. This will help improve human resources development, create new business opportunities, pull in the more foreign investment and help stimulate economy recovery.

- The Government has an important role, which falls into 2 parts: (1) Create a good environment around National Broadband Network to be able to leverage and develop opportunities in the future and (2) improve the Government Information Network (GIN) to enable all government agencies to connect, access, share information and be able to provide ‘one-stop’ service faster, easier and more securely.

- Cisco's SONA (Services Oriented Network Architecture) is a sound framework to leverage on.

- The Government Information Network should be open, standardized, scalable and secure.

- Common people should be able to use the service through single portal and support all business organizations to be able to improve their competitiveness and launch new services to the market speedily.

- It was suggested to leverage ‘cloud’ computing technology to make most of the resources of the Government Network to achieve maximum benefit.


Saturday, April 25, 2009

Article: Jumpstart Asian Economies with ICT

Here's a recent article in Enterprise Innovation based on an interview with me ...

Jumpstart Asian Economies with ICT

By Allan Tan

The buzzword within the economic and political circles of Asia is “economic stimulus package.” Indeed when economies are tumbling citizens and businesses turn to the government to provide the impetus to drive economies forward. Just how much is Asia planning to spend to get the local economies out of the sinkhole we are in today?

Over US$656 Billion has been earmarked by Asia’s governments as stimulus package for 2009. All are hoping the packages which consist of public spending on infrastructure, creating new jobs through training and education, creating environments conducive to new business and industries, tax cuts, government-secured loans to private sector businesses, all aim to stop the downward spiral.

But when you realize that many of Asia’s economies depend on the US market for business opportunities, you suddenly realize that local efforts may be futile unless one of two things happen: (1) the US gets its act together; or (2) the Asia region turn inward to support each other. But this is just my observation.

James SL Yong, Director of Public Sector Programs (ASEAN) for Cisco Systems has a very interesting chart on how the economic stimulus package would work. It reminds me of spaghetti with meatballs.

It takes a crisis to focus the mind

According to Yong, government priorities have always been around economic competitiveness, providing effective public service, public safety and security, and governance. “The global economic slump has not diverted attention from these priorities but added the extra focus on getting local economies out of the recession,” Yong adds.

“A crisis is too good to waste,” Franko Roma, Stanford University economics professor. “You shouldn’t waste a crisis because that’s where things actually happen if you play your cards right.”

People, and governments, can do great things given the proper incentive. And the global economic crisis is a very good incentive.

Where ICT sits in the economic recovery

Yong divides government infrastructure spending into two areas: physical and smart infrastructure. Physical infrastructure consists of water and electricity, roads, bridges, railways, telecommunications and ports. Governments are throwing money here to create jobs. Unfortunately most physical infrastructure projects are finite in nature. Jobs are created throughout the course of each project but once the work is completed, you won’t need the same amount of people to maintain these projects.

Smart infrastructure projects, which include national broadband networks, wireless hotspots, and rural connectivity, provides employment opportunities not only at the onset of the project but even after the work has been laid-out. “You will need skilled people to not only build these networks but maintain them as well. These infrastructure projects not only help uplift the skill levels of people, but have the potential to create new industries,” comments Yong.

Crafted well, some of these smart infrastructure projects have spawned new industries in themselves. Yong cites the case of South Korea’s national fibre optic broadband network project. While originally meant to offer nationwide broadband to every home and office, the project has spawned new industries like online gaming and digital animation.

Yong suggests that governments take a balanced approach to infrastructure investments that cover both physical and smart infrastructure projects.

Dual role of ICT

- John F. Kennedy, President, United States of America, January 20, 1961.

If you look at the way most government agencies are built today, they are built around delivering a service - in a way that best suits how a government department works. For instance, it takes 15 steps and 52 days to register a business in the Philippines. Compare this to Singapore’s 4 steps in 4 days approach. How? Singapore has successfully merged ICT with process to shorten the time and improve productivity

ICT is an enabler for many governments. Properly planned, built, and maintained, ICT solutions can greatly help government departments improve service delivery to the citizenry and businesses.

“Government 2.0” is widely viewed as addressing the shortcomings of present-day public service delivery and enable government departments to work better.

The idea is that the government is created to serve the citizenry, to make it easier for citizens and businesses to access public information and transact with specific government departments.

“In many cities and many organizations, ICT is enabler of more effective working, more productive workforce and more creativity,” says Yong.

As the single largest consumer of ICT, the current economic crisis is forcing government departments to do more with less, with the help of ICT. Visit any government department in Asia, and you will find independent departments with their own applications databases, data centers and networks. Yet, if you like at the core of these systems, they are all built around delivering service to the people.

Taking their cue from the private sector, some governments are now looking at pooling together infrastructure and resources to deliver the same or even better services at a much lower cost of building and supporting these new heterogeneous networks. The airline industry has been doing this for years.

ICT is also an industry. Asia’s low cost manufacturing base and large labor and talent pool has spawned an industry that serves not only the needs of the local market but the rest of the world as well.

“The skill base that you build from your people, the experiences that they have gotten, and the infrastructures they built can be repackaged together and sold to other organizations or countries that are embarking on the same journey,” suggests Yong.
Singapore’s national ICT infrastructure and policies, Malaysia’s multimedia super corridor, Taiwan’s ICT manufacturing base, and South Korea’s heavy investments in national broadband are prime examples of ICT-based industries that have spawned new industries in and around themselves.
Governments need to be cognizant of the changing lifestyle of its citizens. “People today don’t
always work in offices. They are very mobile. So governments need to build systems that are flexible and take into account the mobility of employees,” advises Yong.
If there is anything that Al Gore will be remembered by is his championing the education of the masses on the potential threat that climate change. Governments have, within them, the power to affect climate change policies in a positive way. But they have to lead by example.
Learning from the private sector, governments can implement systems and processes that have smaller carbon footprint, are more eco-friendly. ICT can help here.
The magazine can be found at

Monday, February 16, 2009

Friday the 13th, Valentine's Day & Other Quaint Festivals

I haven't been posting on this blog for about a month. Apologies to my readers (all 3 of them :-). It's because I've been travelling quite a bit last month and also caught up in a couple of other projects. The projects have quietened down a bit now, so I'm refocusing some of my attention back onto Asian Observer.

Thought I'd start again on a somewhat lighter topic - quaint festivals and practices. It struck me (and no doubt a few million others) that this year, Friday 13th was the day before Valentine's Day. What a contrast of moods these two days invoke.

The first is associated with ghosts, ghouls, monsters, serial-killers, gruesome mutilations, lots of blood and other scary stuff. The date itself, Friday 13th, happens once or twice a year and as far as I can find out it is considered by some folk to be "unlucky" although a few people I asked don't seem to know exactly why*. Some extremely superstitious people don't even want to leave the house on such days for fear that something bad will happen to them! And of course Hollywood has done its part to capitalise on this infamous day with a seemingly never-ending series of popular horror flicks - like "Friday the 13th - Part 145" ...

The other festival, Valentine's Day, is usually linked with romantic love, giving of roses, chocolates and cards between love-struck individuals (as they make goo-goo eyes at each other) The symbols associated with Valentine's Day are the heart and Cupid (that naked little angel, armed with bow & arrow to supposedly link hearts together with well-placed shots). Although the origin of the festival stems from an ancient Christian martyr named Valentine, I believe that in modern times this festival transcends religions and is almost global, bolstered by blatant commercialisation driven by confectionery, card and gift companies. Each year on or before Feb 14th, millions of cards and candy are purchased and presented, and many candle-lit dinners are consumed - representing a nice economic spike for the respective industries.

So there you have it. Two very different festivals, one driven by fear, the other by desire - both extremely powerful human emotions. Despite my natural skepticism about both festivals, I must admit that in the current economic doldrums that we are all in, perhaps creating a few more of such emotionally-charged days may not be so bad after all.

Finally, what can one do with Friday 13th falling just one day before Valentine's Day, as is the case this year? Well, one movie title I saw recently seemed to capture and creatively integrate the two moods. The movie was called "My Bloody Valentine". I believe the latest rendition (to be released in Feb 2009) is a remake of a Canadian slasher film of 1981 (the original poster is shown, with the tagline "There's more than one way to lose your heart ..."

* My further research found this out: In numerology, 12 is a number of completeness (eg 12 apostles of Jesus, 12 months of year, 12 zodiac signs etc), so 13 is considered irregular - transgressing the completeness. Friday has in the past been considered unluckier than the other days of the week for travelling or beginning new projects. In more recent times, witness Black Friday which is associated with stock market crashes. Also Jesus was supposedly crucified on a Friday. Another story tells of the Knights Templar being arrested in France by King Philip on Friday 13th Oct 1307.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

When Singapore Surrendered ...

About a month ago I visited the Old Ford Factory on Upper Bukit Timah Road, Singapore. It's quite strange that even though I stay a mere ten minutes away from this historic site for some years, I've never explored this place until this visit.

The original building, built in 1941, was the first Ford vehicle assembly plant in South-East Asia.It was strategically located near to the Malayan Railway, which allowed goods to be transported to and from the docks at Tanjong pagar. Being on Bukit Timah Road also afforded an alternative transportation route. During the earlier part of the war, the factory equipment was also used to assemble fighter planes.

But historically the most significant event to have happened at the Old Ford Factory was the formal surrender of the British forces to the Japanese on 15th February 1942. On this fateful day, the British forces led by Lt General Arthur Percival walked up the slope to the Old Ford Factory and surrendered to the Japanese forces led by General Tomoyuki Yamashita.

The Old Ford Factory, gazetted as a national monument, is now an exhibition centre known as "Memories at Old Ford Factory". It is dedicated to the surrender itself as well as recalls the hard times of the Japanese occupation years (1942-1945). There were many exhibits and pictures related the fall of Singapore, including even the boardroom in which the surrender took place. Visitors can see even the table & chairs used - some are replicas, but some are the original pieces.

The fall of Singapore to the Japanese Army is considered one of the greatest defeats in the history of the British Army and probably Britain’s worst defeat in World War II. About 80,000 Indian, Australian and British troops became prisoners of war, joining 50,000 taken by the Japanese in the Malayan campaign The Japanese gave Singapore a new name "Syonan-to" which meant "the Light of the South", which is quite ironic as the people in Singapore spent the darkest days of their lives during the three-and-half year long Japanese Occupation.

Here in Asia, we are fortunate to live in a region of relative peace and prosperity (notwithstanding the few potential hotspots of tension like Afghanistan or the Korean border, and the current global economic recession), so it is even more important to have places and exhibitions like "Memories of Old Ford Factory" serve as stark reminders of the horrors of war and occupation. In essence it embodies a strong caution of what could happen if tolerance, diplomacy and negotiation were to be disregarded.

In the garden by the Factory, a rock has been carved with an ancient Chinese poem titled "Taking History as a Lesson" by Emperor Tang Taizong:

"With a bronze mirror, one can see whether he is properly attired

With history as a mirror, one can understand the rise and fall of a nation

With man as a mirror, one can see whether he is right or wrong"

More information on the Old Ford Factory and related exhibits can be found at its website.