Monday, December 27, 2010

Julian Assange and WikiLeaks - Before the Current Hoohah

There's been a lot of global attention on WikiLeaks these days. Various authorities are positioning Julian Assange as a villain and a threat to national interests. I am not sure that this is a complete assessment of the man and what he has done.

Let me state clearly that at this point I am neither for nor against Julian Assange and WikiLeaks. I'm just an observer who believes that every story has two sides, and I for one would like to hear both sides so that I can make up my own mind.

Here's a series of videoclips from a Security conference held in KL in 2009 ... way before the Dec 2010 revelation of US diplomatic cables. I believe this talk gives us a better sense of the man and his thinking.  Take a look and judge for yourself ...

Videoclip 1 or 8

Videoclip 2 of 8

Videoclip 3 of 8

Videoclip 4 of 8

Videoclip 5 of 8

Videoclip 6 of 8

Videoclip 7 of 8

Videoclip 8 of 8

I hope you made it through some if not all of those videos. These and more like them are readily available on YouTube.  I certainly learnt a lot from watching them. I feel it helps me to think through what the whole controversy is about. Is what Wikileaks did right or wrong? Is it legal or illegal? Why did Julian Assange do it? What are the implications on political reform and public sector reform? What are the implications for Asian governments?

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

The Nobel Peace Prize Concert 2010

The Norwegian Nobel committee decided to award the Nobel Peace Prize 2010 to Liu Xiaobo, a Chinese political activist who is currently serving a 11-year prison sentence in China for trying to push for human rights for the Chinese. There was an angry reaction from the Chinese government when this award was announced.. They went on to boycott the award presentation held on 10th Dec in Oslo and pressured some other countries to do the same. China hinted at souring diplomatic relations with Norway and even launched their own alternative prize to the Nobel. You can see some of the details in the videoclip below.

I for one think it is rather sad how this whole thing unfolded. Being of Chinese origin, I am proud of what China has achieved in the past decades in economic and social development. The rise of China clearly reflects the ascent of the East to balance the dominance of the West. Which is exactly why I think the Chinese leadership needn't have taken such an extreme position. If they had simply stated that they disagreed with the Nobel Peace Prize this year and stayed away, the whole thing would have blown over very quickly. But their reaction actually called more attention to the award.

Of course, I also believe the Norwegian Nobel Committee is fully entitled to choose whichever recipient they like. And I must say they have been rather good at picking controversial candidates ... like in 2009, they chose Barack Obama as the Peace Prize recipient - a thinly veiled rebuke of George W Bush's regime.

But let me hasten to add that this blog is not meant to be a political commentary. What I really wanted to highlight here was the musical extravaganza of the Nobel Peace Prize Concert. Cisco has been a global sponsor to this event for the past decade, and in conjunction with our Public Services Summit, we invite senior level customers to attend this.

The hosts for the 2010 Concert, held on the evening of 11th Dec at the Spektrum arena in Oslo, were Denzel Washington and Anne Hathaway. And the artistes performing included: Sivert Hoyem, Florence + the Machine, Colbie Caillat, India Arie, Jamiroquai, Robyn, A R Rahman, Herbie Hancock and Barry Manilow.

Here I was just before the concert started ...

Other shots of the audience before the concert  ...

The Norwegian royalty arrive, together with the Chairman of the Norwegian Nobel Committee.

Then came the two superstar hosts, Denzel and Anne ... let the show begin !

Here are a few videoclips showing a few of the performances I liked ...

First ROBYN ...

Next we had FLORENCE + THE MACHINE ...

Then we had JAMIROQUAI ...

Then A. R. RAHMAN with his "Slumdog Millionaire suite" ... I love the energy of " Jai Ho" !

Finally the highlight by BARRY MANILOW ...

and another one by Barry ...

Well, hope you liked those as much as I did.


Sunday, July 18, 2010

Scenes from Hanoi, Vietnam

This week I've been back in Hanoi for meetings. Thought I'd just post some random shots from this charming capital city of Vietnam. The photos have been taken over the space of many trips.

Mind you, June and July aren't the best months to visit Hanoi. The temperature can go up to 45 degrees C. Fortunately I have been going between one air-con building and another, so I haven't had to bear the full brunt of the heat.

On 10th Oct 2010, the city (Thang Long-Hanoi) will be celebrating its 1000th year history as the key capital. It was founded in 1010 as a city called Thang Long (Flying Dragon).  In fact, throughout its dramatic history, Hanoi has borne many names: Giao Chi (Remote Land), Tong Binh (Proper Home), An Nam (Pacified South), Dai La (Great Belt, as in the dyke surrounding the city), Dong Do and Dong Quan (both meaning Capital), Dong Kinh (Eastern Capital) - which the French priests later interpreted as Tongkin. The name Hanoi, or more strictly Ha Noi, only appeared after the Nguyen Dynasty attained power in 1802, shifted the capital to Hue and renamed the city in 1831. Ha Noi literally translates to City in the River, City Surrounded by Rivers, City in the Bend of the River, or more romantically City in the Embrace of the Rivers. Despite the name change, even well into the 20th century, people still like to call the city Thang Long.

Sunset scene on Hoan Kiem lake in the centre of Hanoi

The Opera House, Hanoi
Art in the streets of Hanoi

Want a "Mona Lisa" or "Sunflowers" painting in your living room? Want yourself standing next to the Mona Lisa? All can be done through the talents of these copy artists in the streets of Hanoi.

A candid shot into an alley way

Outside a souvenir shop near the Old Quarter of Hanoi.

Evening in the Old Quarters of Hanoi

The above photo by Jemima Yong ( really captures the community feeling among the residents of the Old Quarters. I'd encourage you to click to enlarge the picture and try to tell the story yourself. I am firmly of the opinion that in transitioning to "modern" city living, we have lost much of this community feeling.

A roadside fruit seller arranges her ware

The unique art form of Water Puppetry in Hanoi

Ok, more on Hanoi later. I now have a plane to catch ...

Monday, July 12, 2010

On Top of Singapore

Recently we decided to explore the newly opened Marina Bay Sands integrated resort (IR) facilities in Singapore. This was the second IR to open on the island state, the first one being the Resorts World Sentosa, which opened its doors on the Lunar New Year.

The MBS buildings are certainly impressive structures, and for the past year we had been observing the three towers growing higher and higher, and finally the horizontal boat-shaped structure was put on top. I have no doubt it was quite an engineering challenge.

Well, here are some photos from that day ...

The above was on Level 1 of the mall & casino building, where a canal had been constructed to give short rides to the visitors.

Next we bought tickets to take the elevator to the Sky Park, as they call it. It cost S$20 per adult, with discounts for children and senior citizens.

The picture above shows the two orbs making up the Esplanade theatres, while on the right, you can see the seating and performing areas that will be used for the annual National Day celebrations.

I must admit the view from the Sky Park was much better than from the Singapore Flyer, the big wheel that I visited about 1.5 years ago. You can get a sense of the relative size of the Flyer as compared to the MBS tower in the photo above.

This view above is overlooking Clifford Pier and the Financial district. The thingie around my neck is the audio guide they provide visitors with such that when you press the number corresponding to different view stations, you get a narrative of what you are viewing. Quite useful.

And this one shows the Marina Barrage in the background.

The other section which was interesting was the swimming pool.  As you can see, the pool goes almost to the edge of the building, and gives the impression that if one is not careful, it's a long drop down to earth. Looks scary but it doesn't seem to bother the swimmers and sunbathers.

Anyway, enjoy the scenery ...

Thursday, July 8, 2010

World Fairs and the Shanghai Expo 2010

Let's begin with a bit of history ... The names "World's Fair", "World Fair", "Universal Exposition", and "Expo" have all been used to refer to the various large public exhibitions held in different parts of the world. The first Expo was held in The Crystal Palace in Hyde Park, London, United Kingdom in 1851 under the title "Great Exhibition of the Works of Industry of All Nations".

Photo (1) : Crystal Palace, London in 1851

It was supposedly the brainchild of Prince Albert, Queen Victoria's husband, and was the first international exhibition of manufactured products. As such, it influenced the development of several aspects of society including art and design education, international trade and relations, and even tourism. It became the precedent for the many international exhibitions, later called "World's Fairs", which were subsequently held to the present day.

The second World's Fair, held in 1855, was in Paris. The third went back to London in 1862. Subsequently it was Paris (1867), Vienna (1873), Philadelphia (1876), Paris (1878), Sydney (1879), Melbourne (1880), etc. In 1970, it was held in Osaka, Japan. I remember because I was there as a child with my parents. The last few Expos have been held in Hannover, Germany (2000), Aichi, Japan (2005) and Zaragosa, Spain (2008).

Last month I had the opportunity to spend a day at the Shanghai Expo 2010. We got there just as it opened at 10am. Most of the expo is on the Pudong side, with a smaller section on the Puxi side (Pudong and Puxi represent respectively the areas to the east and west of the Huangpu, the river that cuts through Shanghai).

Photo (2) : Map of Shanghai Expo 2010

Overall a very impressive showcase, with throngs of people visiting.  I reckon this could become the most visited Expo ever! Here's a selection of photos from our day at the Expo ...
Photo (3) : At the China pavilion (I didn't go in as the queue was about 4 hours long)

Photo (4) : I love the architectural designs !

Photo (5) : At the Malaysian pavilion. Negara ku .......

Photo (6) : Some shots with the Malaysian dancers performing outside

Photo (7) : This is the Singapore pavilion, supposedly shaped like a music box

Photo (8a) : This realistic looking tree roots lie within the Cambodia pavilion.

Photo (8b) : The Kingdom of Cambodia pavilion

Photo (9) : G'day mate, here's the Aussie pavilion

Photo (10) : With colleagues in the Estonia pavilion

Photo (11) : In front of the Latvia pavilion

Photo (12) : UK Pavilion

Photo (13) : With a colleague outside the Cisco pavilion

Well, there are obviously many, many more pavilions and sights that I won't be able to show ... so if you do have a chance, go visit it yourself. The Shanghai Expo 2010 is open until the end of September 2010.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

On MOUs, Marble and Music

The recent drought of postings was because I've been busy travelling. This week I was back in Vietnam - two days in Hanoi, two days in Da Nang (where I am right now) and half a day stopover in HCMC.

Da Nang was the key focus of this trip. It's still one of my favourite cities in Vietnam and I've been engaging with various government agencies there for a number of years. The purpose of this trip was to oversee the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between the People's Committee of Da Nang and Cisco. I had been working towards this for quite a while, and believed this to be a significant milestone in our partnership. More on this event can be read here.

After the official work was over, I had a chance to pay a visit to Marble Mountain, one of a cluster of five marble/limestone mountains located a few km south of Da Nang, that stretch from the coast inwards (in a westerly direction). The mountains are named after the five elements; Kim (metal), Thuy (water), Moc (wood), Hoa (fire) and Tho (earth). There are many caves and tunnels in the mountains and I read that they were used quite a bit during the Vietnam (or American, depending on which side you are on) War. The area is now famous for stone sculpture making and stone-cutting crafts.

Here's a shot of the area where the Marble Mountains are located. You can see three out of the five mountains ...

And here are some shots taken at one of the many stone sculpture shops.

So remember .... if you want to order some marble lions or dragons or deities or nude maidens or fountains for your grand mansions, you can place an order with me. Shipment to all corners of the world provided. I'll give you some good rates. LOL

Finally after dinner last night, I was invited to a music lounge to enjoy some traditional Vietnamese music and modern pop hits. I was impressed by the quality of the musicians (the white-haired violinist you see in the photo is particularly good!). And of course, there was a variety of singers doing everything from Vietnamese ballads to Lionel Richie's "Say You, Say Me". Alas, none attempted "Nobody".

All the lady singers I saw were lovely and had extremely powerful vocals. This was evident as each lass belted out soulful numbers one after the other with ease.

Da Nang and its surroundings are indeed fascinating places - ideal for relaxation and for exploring the real Vietnam. It is clean, safe, scenic and the people are mostly friendly. I have quite a number of friends in Da Nang and I'd certainly recommend it to all.

Friday, April 2, 2010

April Fools' Day - Jokes and Pranks

Yesterday was 1st April, which most people know as April Fool's Day or All Fools' Day. The day is marked by the creation of hoaxes and other practical jokes and pranks of varying sophistication on friends, family members, enemies, and neighbors, or sending them on a fool's errand, the aim of which is simply to have some fun and to embarrass the gullible or unsuspecting. Most of these jokes are small but some are pretty big scale. Some can be quite hilarious (except perhaps to the victims of the prank) and still memorable after many years.

I remember one April Fool's Day back in the late 70's when I was in London, the BBC's "That's Life" program announced that a new species of creature had been discovered. They showed footage of something called the Lirpa Loof which looked somewhat like a cross between a small monkey and a koala. They even showed the stool of this strange creature to be purple in colour and glowed in the dark (making good use of colour tv technology obviously). The announcer said the creature was now in captivity at the London Zoo. As a result hundreds of people called in and crowds flocked to London Zoo hoping to catch a glimpse of the creature.

Another joke I read about was when the BBC programme Panorama ran a famous hoax in 1957, showing Italians harvesting spaghetti from trees. They had claimed that the despised pest, the spaghetti weevil, had been eradicated. A large number of people contacted the BBC wanting to know how to cultivate their own spaghetti trees.

Another one is about Decimal Time. This has been repeated several times in various countries. This hoax involves claiming that the time system will be changed to one in which units of time are based on powers of 10. So in the "new" system, 100 seconds will make 1 minute and 100 minutes will make 1 hour. Hmmm ... this could have interesting implications for clock & watch makers, exam-taking students or runners trying to break sporting records.

Over to you ....

Are there any good April Fool jokes you remember from your life?

Did you play any jokes yesterday and were they successful?

Did anyone get you yesterday with their April Fool prank?

Thursday, March 25, 2010

The Allure of the Wonder Girls

Pardon this minor digression into my personal enchantment with this musical group and its catchy hit song "NOBODY". Even if you've never heard of the Wonder Girls, a girl group from South Korea, I would suspect that many of you would have heard strains of this tune being played on TV, radio, music stores or even someone's mobile ringtone.

This is not usually the kind of musical group that grabs my attention, but I must admit their hit is extremely catchy and their performance style quite entertaining (I also find it amusing to imagine someone surnamed Chew or Chiu or Choo in the audience who must feel very flattered by their vocal rendition!).

The five person Wonder Girls, are managed by singer-songwriter Park Jin-Young of JYP Entertainment (who formerly managed that other Korean sensation, Rain ... tho' I must say I'm not as impressed by him!). This is an artifically constructed group with each of the five original members selected through auditions (kinda like the UK's Spice Girls a generation before). The Wonder Girls debuted in early 2007 and became popular later that year with the song "Tell Me." They have scored three consecutive #1 hit singles: "Tell Me", "So Hot", and "Nobody". In 2008, they won two Daesangs ("Artist of the Year" Awards).
Even more impresssive was the fact that the group entered into the American market in 2009, with the lead single "Nobody" - which also became the first song by a Korean artist to enter the Billboard Hot 100.

Enough from me ... Turn up your speaker volume to the max and enjoy the music video ...

Like it? Share your views on this and other music groups you like.