Sunday, April 30, 2006

Does oil come in barrels?

One of the interesting thing you find about Bruneians is that a lot of us don't know much about oil which is the lifeline of this country. Practically everything we touch in Brunei owes its existence to oil. And yet there is so much about the oil industry that we don't know. All we know now is that the world oil price is about US$70 per barrel. And yet ask this question - how do we export oil? It's priced in barrels. So, do we still use barrels to store oil and export it?

It is true that previously oil is stored in classic wooden barrels. In America, back in 1859, customers paid by the barrel, but there was no standard size. Different oil buyers would get different amounts when they filled up from the stock tank at the well. The barrel most commonly used for oil was 40 gallons, the same size as a whiskey barrel. As production increased, a standardized oil barrel became more important, both for businessmen and for government tax collectors. Some wells were putting out more than 3,000 barrels of oil per day, and coopers were producing large numbers of brand-new containers just for oil. At around the same time, the then American government enacted new tax laws to help finance the Civil War. A standard measure of oil helped the tax collectors make its collections.

By 1870, the oil barrel size was set at 42 gallons. And by then, oil was so cheap at 10 cents per gallon that the empty barrel cost as much as the oil. That helped to set the development of the first oil pipeline. At the same time, wooden tank cars and later steel tank barges start hauling oil through the traintracks and ships, each tank car holding around 80 barrels. With each development, the barrel became more and more obsolete. However, the 42-gallon barrel is still a standard unit of measurement in the oil industry. Other units, such as cubic meters or imperial gallons, can be converted to the U.S. barrel. Even though the 42-gallon barrels is no longer in use, companies still ship some oil in 55-gallon steel drums although the volumes for these are still given in 42-gallon "barrels."

I guess the next question would be - do you know how our oil people find oil?

Saturday, April 29, 2006

Questions Confusing Mankind

1. Who was the first person to look at a cow and say, "I think I'll squeeze these dangly things here, and drink whatever comes out?"

2. Who was the first person to say "See that chicken there....I'm gonna eat the next thing that comes outta it's butt."

3. Why do toasters always have a setting that burns the toast to a horrible crisp, which no decent human being would eat?

4. Why is there a light in the fridge and not in the freezer?

5. If Jimmy cracks corn and no one cares, why is there a song about him?

6. Can a hearse carrying a corpse drive in the carpool lane?

7. If the professor on Gilligan's Island can make a radio out of coconut, why can't he fix a hole in a boat?

8. Why do people point to their wrist when asking for the time, but don't point to their crotch when they ask where the bathroom is?

9. Why does your OB-GYN leave the room when you get undressed if they are going to look up there anyway?

10. Why does Goofy stand erect while Pluto remains on all fours? They're both dogs!

11. What do you call male ballerinas?

12. Can blind people see their dreams? Do they dream??

13. If Wile E. Coyote had enough money to buy all that Acme crap, why didn't he just buy dinner?

14. If quizzes are quizzical, what are tests?

15. If corn oil is made from corn, and vegetable oil is made from vegetables, then what is baby oil made from?

16. If electricity comes from electrons, does morality come from morons?

17. Isn't Disney World just a people trap operated by a mouse?

18. Why do the Alphabet song and Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star have the same tune?

20. Do illiterate people get the full effect of Alphabet Soup?

21. Why do they call it an asteroid when it's outside the hemisphere, but call it a hemorrhoid when it's in your ass?

22. Did you ever notice that when you blow in a dog's face, he gets mad at you, but when you take him on a car ride, he can't wait to stick his head out the window into the wind?

23. Does pushing the elevator button more than once make it arrive faster?

Friday, April 28, 2006

So, you want to complain about public services?

My golf partner, Mr. K* had an accident when he wanted to join me to do some golf drives at a driving range a few evenings ago. Apparently his right back tyre suddenly blew up and he couldn't control the car and hit the crash barriers. It was raining heavily too. When he filed the report at our friendly law enforcement agency, he was advised not to say anything about the tyre as he was told that will complicate investigations and sufficient for him just to mention he skidded on the road. I am not so sure whether I follow the logic of this one but whatever it is, those people receiving the reports do not seem to like having to do additional work over and beyond of what they are already doing.

One of the biggest problems facing the Brunei Public Service or indeed any public service in the world is attitude. We civil servants sometimes failed to realise that we will not be sitting where we are if it was not for the public. No matter how high ranking or low ranking we are - from the Permanent Secretary all the way down to cleaners, the nomenclature remains that we are public or civil servants. 'Servant' is the operating noun here. But at times, public servants act as if they are the high and mighty lords of the public and not as servants of the public. At the same time, it would indeed be unfair to generalise that all public servants act that way. Many have gone out of their way to help and some I know deserved to be mentioned and deserved all the promotions that you can heap his or her way. Of course in a 50,000 strong Brunei civil service, you are bound to meet more than your fair share of bad apples.

Is there any remedy? One of the least known facts in the Brunei Government is that there is actually an agency that is responsible for addressing public complaints. The Management Services Department is the agency that has been tasked to receive public complaints and to help the complainants solve their problems. If you complain to MSD, MSD will contact the Ministries or Departments concerned about your complaints and to check whether the complaints are valid or otherwise. If it is valid, MSD will help the complainants in trying to solve the problems raised. How effective is MSD? MSD has a whole unit which does nothing else but receive and overcoming all the complaints. MSD has the backing of the Prime Minister's Office and from what I gather, complaints to the highest authority also gets channelled to MSD for it to be solved. From what I can gather too, MSD has been fairly successful in getting a lot of these complaints solved. Of course, some are practically unsolvable. But generally they do their best. So do channel all your public services complaints to: The Director, Management Services Department, Bangunan Bahirah, Jalan Menteri Besar, Negara Brunei Darussalam.

Thursday, April 27, 2006

24 phrases of wisdom

1. If you're too open minded, your brains will fall out.

2. Age is a very high price to pay for maturity.

3. Artificial intelligence is no match for natural stupidity.

4. If you must choose between two evils, pick the one you've never tried before.

5. My idea of housework is to sweep the room with a glance.

6. Not one shred of evidence supports the notion that life is serious.

7. It is easier to get forgiveness than permission.

8. For every action, there is an equal and opposite government program.

9. If you look like your passport picture, you probably need the trip.

10. Bills travel through the mail at twice the speed of checks.

11. A conscience is what hurts when all your other parts feel so good.

12. Eat well, stay fit, die anyway.

13. Men are from earth. Women are from earth. Deal with it.

14. No husband has ever been shot while doing the dishes.

15. A balanced diet is a cookie in each hand.

16. Middle age is when broadness of the mind and narrowness of the waist change places.

17. Opportunities always look bigger going than coming.

18. Junk is something you've kept for years and throw away three weeks before you need it.

19. There is always one more imbecile than you counted on.

20. Experience is a wonderful thing. It enables you to recognize a mistake when you make it again.

21. By the time you can make ends meet, they move the ends.

22. Thou shalt not weigh more than thy refrigerator.

23. Someone who thinks logically provides a nice contrast to the real world.

24. Blessed are they who can laugh at themselves for they shall never cease to be amused.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Nothing Is Certain In Life

Eugene O'Kelly died last September. Who was he? When he died, he was the CEO of KPMG, a US$4 billion company with 20,000 employees and one of America's and in fact the World's Big 4 accounting firms. He enjoyed great power and was held in great respect and prestige. He was told by his doctor in May 2005 that he had brain cancer and will not live to make it to September. During the 100 days he had left, he decided to write a book. In his book "Chasing Daylight" (Publisher McGraw-Hill, 2006) he described the last days of his life. He said that during the first decade of his working life climbing up the ladder at KPMG, he and his wife rarely took a vacation. During the last decade, he only managed to have 2 workday lunches with his wife. Imagine that. His committments in his diary is at least a year ahead. But all that stopped when the doctor told him the news.

There are two things we can take here. The first is not to take life for granted. Take your loved ones out. Enjoy life. I remembered one email which made the circulation sometime last year about a man who went through his recently deceased wife's clothings and spotted some new clothes she bought but never wore. She told him that she was waiting for the right occassion. Now that she has gone, that occassion will never come. Don't put things off - wear your new clothes, go on holiday, kiss your loved ones, tell them you love them because you don't know whether you will be able to do all those things and to say those words to them.

The second thing is that death is something we can never put off. It has been said that nothing is certain in life, except death. We don't know when it will come. When it's time for you to go, it's time for you to go. We have known friends who are fit and we are surprised to see them go so 'young'. I just hope that we are prepared to face it. Eugene O'Kelly was in a way luckier. He knew he had about 3 months left. He knew what he had to do in that 3 months. That luxury is something for most of us that we can never have. We should not take life for granted. We go to bed at night expecting we will wake up tomorrow. We go to work in the morning expecting that we will return home in the evening. We fly out from Brunei expecting we will be flying back. We cannot and we should not take life for granted.

According to Ibnu Asahin, Prophet Muhammad SAW once stated: "Berusahalah untuk duniamu seolah-olah kamu akan hidup selama-lamanya dan berusahalah untuk Akhiratmu seolah-olah kamu akan mati esok hari" loosely translated "work hard for your worldly being as if you are going to live forever and work hard for your hereafter as if you will die tommorrow". You have to be balanced - be prepared for your hereafter too as well as for your current life. That means not only you have to work hard and presumably accumulate your wealth for your worldly needs but you also have to be prepared for your hereafter by doing good deeds, your prayers, making sure your family is taken care for, your children brought up right so they can at least pray for you and the list goes on; and all because you don't know when you will go. I leave you with that thought.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Movie Censors

I forgot to mention yesterday when I blogged about HBO's 'Constantine' movie that countries can control what movies are being shown in their own territory even though it is broadcast via satellite. In Brunei, that authority is under the Broadcasting Act and the assigned Director of Broadcasting will tell the local provider that certain movies are not to be shown. So during that time, the local provider can ask HBO for a different movie to be beamed down to one particular locality but the rest of the region can watch the original broadcast.

So when LSM mentioned that in his comments, I forgot to indicate that possibility in my blog. When I used to be the regulator, I would get an advanced copy of the coming month listing of all the programs and their write ups. I remembered at first I used to read the listings myself as I was interested in what programs are coming but the listings and the explanations do come in several volumes, so not long after that, I had to pass that to my junior officers to go through. In 99.9% of the cases, we let them go but there would be the odd one or two programs which for whatever reason do get stopped or Kristal-Astro would do its own censorship.

Entertainment censorship is an interesting issue and there are 2 models even in Brunei. Under the first model - the boards censor everything, there are 2 censor boards operating full time in Brunei. One is the movie and entertainment censors which censor all movies and entertainment in Brunei. Their appointment is made under the Home Affairs. The other one is the television censor board which censors all the television programs including movies which gets shown on television. This operates under RTB and gets appointed by the PM's Office. These are 2 different groups of people, so since censorships are subjective, there exists the possibility of different results.

Another censor is the one I mentioned earlier, specifically for broadcasters like Kristal-Astro. There is no censor board but there is a regulatory unit. The other difference is that this one is supposedly self regulatory by requiring broadcasters to adhere to a legislated Code of Conduct. This is based on the Singapore model. So broadcasters show the movie or program and gets told off or fined if it contravenes the conduct whereas under the censor board models, the broadcasters are not even allowed to show it and therefore gets controlled from the beginning.

The final argument is - do you need a censor? To me the answer to this is very contentious. You can find arguments for both and against without much problem. But before you decide, look at the Americans. Under their constitution, it stated clearly that the US Congress cannot enact any law that can impede freedoms of expression. But they have found it useful to have many laws which restrict many of that so called freedoms. This is especially so under the current administration on their war against terror, what they can restrict gets wider to the point that it makes ours look very tame indeed. You might want to be careful with what you wish for.

Monday, April 24, 2006

The Wild - Sequel to Madagascar?

I took my wife and 6 year old son to watch 'The Wild' at the Mall yesterday. It's a story about zoo animals going to the wild. It has a lion and a giraffe as its main characters and they go on this boat with a bunch of other animals to an island in Africa. Sounds familiar? Yup, it's exactly like 'Madagascar'. For anyone who has not watched it but has watched 'Magadascar', save your dosh. It ain't worth it. But then, what do I know. Go and spend your $6 and find out for yourself.

The other thing I don't like about watching that movie was not the movie itself. The subtitles in Malay and Chinese were huge. I have been noticing that of movies on Brunei screens. Do we really need them? And with the technologies available to us, why do these subtitles look just like they were with the 1950s movies? I don't know about the chinese subtitles but the Malay one was terrible. I think whoever is the distributor might as well as save your money doing subtitles. I don't think it works.

Anyway, that was the first time since the outbreak of HFMD that we actually went out. I think the last time I went to the mall as a family must have been last January. We noticed a number of tenants have changed hands and the amusement center is finally open. The Dixy Chicken franchise seems to be running into a little trouble. The advert has been up for months now. The ice skating rink is empty. I was wondering whether it is working or whether we Bruneians have grown tired of it. We do need a large population to get some of these things going, I tell you. After a couple of blogs about empty shops at other shopping centers, I am glad to say that it is still business as usual at the mall.

Talking about movies, I was surprised HBO was showing Constantine last night. I remembered last year I had to watch it in a cinema in Brisbane as we did not allow it to be screened in Brunei. Even now, you still cannot get the DVD or VCD of that movie. I was wondering whether my ex-regulatory colleagues did not realise it or whether they are more liberal nowadays. I don't know about you all. Personally I found the movie a bit difficult to follow and I doubt that a lot of people would find the movie that easy either. The concept behind it was a little bit 'advanced' if I may use the word.

Sunday, April 23, 2006

Food is an Interesting Topic

I was surprised to see my name being mentioned twice in BB this week - one for attending an IT sales seminar and the other for meeting a foreign delegation. My office did not issue the news releases, it was done by the other parties. Sometimes I forget my official position. The one thing one realised after a while is having to be very careful what one does and where one goes. I used to be able to walk around malls in simple clothes - a pair of slippers, t-shirts and sports pants and my favourite food are obtained at the Indian run eating houses especially the curry ones. I haven't been to one in ages. Man! I missed those days. Seriously.

Food is an interesting topic. When I first started blogging on spaces.msn I used to upload photos of the interesting food I come across. I hardly mention it nowadays cause I don't really go near food places and when I do, it tends to be the same boring places such as Li Gong Restaurant at the Empire etc. In Brunei, our restaurants are really facing a lot of challenges. Especially with the current crackdown on 'unclean' restaurants. Probably one of these days we have to come up with a grading system like those done in the nearby countries. At least you do know what you are expecting when you are eating at a 'D' classified food stall. That's something I think the authorities ought to do next. If people still insist in eating your food when you are classified 'D', then you must really be good.

A number of foodstalls I used to patronise in Singapore duing my schooldays were certified 'C's and 'D's when the classification was enforced. Their food still tasted very nice notwithstanding. When I was in Jakarta way back in 1991, I was staying with my foster parents during the Youth Ship Program and they took me to this roadside stall famous for its durian juice. I looked at the place and see the flies swarming and I remembered thinking if I survived this, my stomach must be stronger than I thought. I have to admit the durian juice at that stall was one of the best I have ever tasted in my life and lo and behold, nothing happened to me. Sometimes I wonder whether we are over cautious and too prejudiced when it comes to this matter.

The one time I had food poisoning was, of all places, in Singapore. I can't remember what I ate, I thought it was a curry puff bought at one food house in Lucky Plaza and that night I had to call the duty doctor in and he gave me an injection and some tablets. That was the most expensive of all foods, it cost me about $250 for the doctor's trip plus the medications. Nowadays, whenever I travel, I always bring lots of immodium tablets with me. Surprisingly I have not had to rely on them of late despite the raw fish in Japan and Korea and other god knows what. So far I have survived and hopefully I will continue to do that. So maybe we should do the classification thing for our foodstalls and restaurants. That way we can train our stomach by eating at the Cs and Ds stalls in preparation for our overseas trip.

Saturday, April 22, 2006

Yayasan SHHB

Yesterday was the 4th Friday in a row I have played golf on the nearby Golf Club. It was a bit upmarket as I played with the Chairman of the Club and the other two colleagues of mine were almost professional players. The one thing I realised is that the more I played, the worse I get. Must be pure psychology or something. I think it's the more things I know phenomena. You can't help it. Beginners are always given free advices by the more experienced players. And these advices piled up. I think that's what happened today, too many advices - my brain got confused. And that's the other thing about golfers. Blame everything else but the golfer's skills.

I don't want to talk too much about golf. What happened was in the afternoon, I went with my 6 year old son to Yayasan in Bandar. It has been a while since we last went there. During the last month we were practically barricaded indoors at home what with the bird flu scare and the hand foot and mouth diseases. Mingling with the crowd was a no-no. Though yesterday's scene at Yayasan would not have done much to spreading any kind of pandemic. There was hardly anyone there compared to the Yayasan weekends that I used to see. A number of shops are closed and does not look as if anyone is coming in just yet. What's going on?

Part of the explanation I gather is that there are too many other malls or shopping areas which people go to. I guess that's right, we had the Mall in Gadong and the HH Mall in Jalan Muara. One huge HH mall is coming up in Sengkurong as well sometime end of the year. This is also related to catchment areas. The Yayasan's catchment area is the Kampung Air which is the area surrounding it. I don't have access to demographic studies but I would presume the more affluent catchment area is not there. Secondly it is not the sale season. People according to some do not shop during the non-sale season. And I guess this is also what Bruneians' termed as 'bulan karing' literally dried month - end of month, so money is a bit stretched.

What I am afraid of is the third reason. Too many people are paying off their unpaid electricity bills all this while. I blogged about the workshops being empty and I guess if it affects workshops, the same should happen to department stores and malls as well. Yesterday's news about the Water Department who will be as equally tough on their customers have scared people into not going to departmental stores. I sure hope that these are temporary phenomenas and that people once they have paid their electricity and water bills and have changed their pattern of consumption should by then be able to come out and enjoy themselves once more. Otherwise our department stores and malls will become white elephants.

Friday, April 21, 2006

How many children does the Prophet has?

Yesterday afternoon was our agency's celebrations of Prophet Muhammad SAW Maulid celebrations. The speaker started by asking how many children does the Prophet has? I have to admit I was a little bit lost. I know he has a couple of daughters and a couple of sons who died in their infancy but I don't know the exact number. The speaker threw the question open to the audience and there was no brave person answering that question. That was in fact one of the points raised by the speaker was just how little we know of someone who is a very significant figure such as the Prophet and yet we know more about today's pop stars and idols of today. Most people were able to answer whether Mawi AF was married or not. (By the way, the answer is 6 children - 4 daughters: Zainab, Ruqayah, Umi Kalthum and Fatimah and 2 sons: Qassim and Abdullah).

My wife came home the other day after chatting with the other mothers while waiting for their children to come out of the classes. One of the teacher mother did not know the name of one of the major department's director when she is supposed to be a teacher and should be fairly knowledgeable about this matter. I am not sure whether to blame that teacher mother or maybe that's the way things are. I have to admit at my level I am expected to know more things and I do know many things but there are also much more things I will never know even if my life depends on it. I don't have the time to learn them.

I guess there are several lessons here. Knowledge is dependent on interest. Interest also has to be cultivated and cultured. If we don't know, ask. From what I was told, the writer, CH Gallop, I blogged about yesterday apparently is a prolific questioner. He asked many things and by asking, get many answers. Sometimes we stopped our children from asking too much and just ask them to accept certain things. We should not do that. Much knowledge is gained by asking.

I am going to impart a few useless knowledge which I learned yesterday from a book which I just got off the post - the Thais, Filipinos and Indonesians are in world's top 5 for watching the most television per week; surprisingly the Thais and the Filipinos are in the world's top 5 for reading the most; the Thais also came 5th for listening to the radio most and came 2nd for spending the most time on the computer and the internet! I am just wondering how the Thais managed to do everything and still able to have an average population growth of 0.89%. USA on the other hand has the largest total prison population of more than 2 million and also the most even taking population into account with more than 700 for every 100,000 are in prison. By percentage of GDP, Brunei's 5.1% defence spending of GDP makes us 19th in the whole world! By the way, the book is the Economist's "Pocket World in Figures 2006 Edition".

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Wanderer in Brunei Darussalam

I found a new book on Brunei about two weekends ago at one of the Indian run book/stationery store at Supasave Gadong. It was indeed a rare event as I went there to have a quick look at some golf magazines and this book seemed to fly out of the shelf to me. I have always been in the lookout for Brunei books and have bought practically all there is that are available out there.

The book is entitled "Wanderer in Brunei Darussalam" written by Pengembara which is the pseudonym of CH Gallop who lived in Brunei for about 30 years. The book is printed last year by Marshall Cavendish Editions. It actually contains selected articles written daily by the author for Borneo Bulletin sometime in 1991 and 1993. It's a fairly thin book, only about 112 pages long. CH Gallop was a Principal at Sufri Bolkiah English School in Tutong and then became an Inspector (Nazir) for about 28 years. Educated at the London University, he later obtained a Masters degree in Malay Literature from Universiti Sains Malaysia. Some of these articles were already published in another compilation published by Hongkong Bank entitled "Pengembara - The Road Less Travelled' in 1997 to celebrate HSBC's 50th Anniversary in Brunei Darussalam. From what I have been told Mr Gallop and his family was a very popular figure in Tutong and he always like to ask lots of questions enabling him to get a lot of information about Brunei.

The articles are interesting - writing about certain aspects of Brunei and giving a fascinating insight into our own country from the perspectives of an 'orang puteh' but more than we will ever know. For instance he writes about a Bruneian whose job was to read the quran at the various graves of our former Sultans everyday. I did not even know about the existence of such a person. He talks about a few Kampungs like Selayun, Tanah Jambu and Masjid Lama (in Muara). I think the latter has disappeared by now replaced by a collection of flats and industrial estates. I did not know that the Wisma Puri apartments at Jalan Tutong owned by the PGGMB was originally named Projek Sungai Ketam - Crab River Project. So, all in all, a good investment for about $13.40. Grab it at your nearest bookstore (if you can find it).

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

What? Me, an electricity and water meter reader?

I was chatting with one of my gym mates at JPMC Gym last Sunday. He used to work at the Empire Hotel but now runs his own workshop. He was telling me how most motorcar workshops in Brunei have of late gone very quiet. Apparently Bruneians who used to go to car workshops to do minor repairs and servicings and other things needed for cars have stopped going to workshops. The concensus among workshop owners is that the current crackdown on electricity bills recalcitrants have apparently affected the spending power of Bruneians. They are now putting off going to motorcar workshops foregoing servicings and other minor works. It's interesting to note the multiplier effect of one policy change. I just wonder which other sectors are affected.

What electrical department has been doing is forcing Bruneians to confront the one thing they have been putting off - not paying their electricity bills. Paying electricity bills have been a low priority all this while but now has become a high priority. I even know of some who deliberately pay only a fraction of their electricity bill because DES allows them to. The outstanding amount would no doubt become larger because they are still using electricity. Part of the blame should be on the department itself for allowing the built up of these bills. If they had been rigorous in the past by charging interest rates and other charges like the Telecommunications Department, everybody would have been paying their bills and DES unpaid bills would not have reached more than half a billion dollars.

I was a bit worried too. Even though my electricity and my phone bills are up to date, the last time I received my water bill was some 11 months ago and the one before that was another double digit months apart. So I asked the water services counter for a reprint of my latest bill statement, but to my surprise, the counter clerk could not do that. Apparently I had no bill to pay because the water department has never sent anyone to read my water meter for the last 12 months despite the fact that my house faces the main road and that there is absolutely no way any water meter man could have missed it unless he was Mr Magoo's brother or someone with really serious eye problems. So, they kindly gave me this booklet full of postcards of which I am supposed to fill in with my meter reading at the end of every month and they will then send me the monthly bill based on that reading. At first I thought since I am already doing that for my electrical bills so what's another meter to read. Though with everyone asking me to be their meter readers, I am thinking I should get a discount at least!

I asked the head honchos of DES and the Water Department what actually happen to people who don't pay their bills? According to DES, it will continue to supply electricity as long as those people discuss with DES of how they are going to settle their bills - how many instalments, how much etc... And the water department - similarly they will do that but with water services, they can actually put a restrictive devise so that the waterflow will greatly reduce but not stopped completely. So the Brunei Government is actually still quite generous in making sure that the public still receives their water and electricity despite not paying for it.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Medical Tests

Two children were sitting outside the RIPAS Hospital.
One of them was crying very loudly.

2nd Child: Why are you crying?
1st Child: I came here for blood test.

2nd Child: So? Are you afraid?
1st Child: No. Not that. For the blood test, they cut my finger.

At this, the second one started crying.
The first one was astonished.

1st Child: Why are you crying now?
2nd Child: I have come for my urine test!

Monday, April 17, 2006

Live on Radio

My agency is preparing its corporate video and I was having a discussion with the filming house that was preparing it. As usual, there was a national broadcasting agency's person with them moonlighting as their script writer. I have always wondered just how many of them moonlight, you see quite a number of them filming weddings etc. I used to moonlight too at the broadcasting agency many years ago as an English radio newsreader in the early 1990s.

In my days, the pay was not that great. They paid me $20 for one session. Admittedly that was only for about 15 to 20 minutes of reading the news. But that did not take into account the 1 hour that I have to be there earlier checking the news and also making sure that the editing is up to scratch (plus a few weeks of unpaid training time). I can assure you that sometimes I was embarrased to read the news out loud as the grammar was all funny. I studied English Literature up to A Level, so I would say my English was slightly advanced compared to most. Being a government officer, I also know when their facts are slightly off too. So, it does take that 1 hour to make sure of the English, the facts and to get the reading intonation correct. So it's not just a matter of going to the studio, switch on the mike and start reading.

The newsroom and the studio then were in different buildings. For the 7.15 am news or 9.15 pm news, it was not much of a problem. All the news gathering and editing would have been over hours before and I just collected the script from the newsroom and walked over to the studio. But when there is a late breaking news or the 12.30 noon news, I normally had to wait in the newsroom fidgeting as the editors would sometime take until about a couple of minutes before the news before finalising the newsscript. Then I had to run all the way to the studio. Many a time, I have been completely breathless when I switched on the microphone. Nowadays the studio is in the newsroom itself.

Unfortunately I was not able to go on the television news. By my third year, I was already doing the tv news dry run. Before each news delivered live, there is always a dry run, an exact replica of the live news. So I used to be the person doing it and the actual newsreader would do it live. I did this for a few times as the editors were giving me time to familiarise myself before putting me on live. But by then I was already into my first year of marriage and I was then appointed as the deputy to run the newly created retirement fund agency, and my time was severely limited. And I guess the glamour of being in the public eye was waning. I decided to quit. The editors wanted me to stay on but I had no intention of newsreading as a career. I have often wondered where my career would have taken me had I been a national television newscaster.

The question many people asked me is how to get on the radio. It's not that difficult really. Ask the studio if you can get a voice test and they will test you by giving you something to read. Don't worry about sounding polished - they will train you to do that. What's important is whether you have a 'radio' voice. If you listen carefully to all the announcers and the newsreaders on the radio, you need to have that kind of voice. If you don't have it, then you don't have it. You can't force it. It's nature. However, the one important thing is you must stop swearing. If you make a mistake during the voice test, never say any of the forbidden swear words. You may have the most beautiful voice in the world, but no way that the management will put you on live if they know you have a tendency to curse or swear.

Saturday, April 15, 2006

Nobodies to Somebodies

Someone asked me once - how did you get promoted? That's what my colleagues would say - soalan cepu emas - the million dollar question. I can think of some reasons. But honestly speaking the real answer to that is I have no idea. I have always been quietly doing my work and minding my own business when things just popped out of the blue. Don't get me wrong. I am grateful for my promotion, it does provide me and my family that extra comfort in life, and for me to indulge in my hobby of buying model airplanes and books. Of course, there are times when I would gladly trade it in for the annonymity, the calm and tranquility that I used to enjoy before my appointment.

Does luck have anything to do with it? Perhaps. But when you think about it, luck is when opportunity meets preparedness. You have to have the opportunity but at the same time you would have to be prepared. It's like surfing - you have to be ready with your surfboard at the right place and when the big wave comes, you are ready to surf. Even if suddenly a big perfect wave came but you are on shore with your surfboard, you certainly are not able to take advantage of it.

This relates to a new book called 'Nobodies to Somebodies' written by a Peter Han. Peter Han has written for the New York Times, Boston Herald and also Associated Press. He has a website for the book at The book is interesting as it interviews 100 highly accomplished leaders and in the book they described their earlier paths, the choices they make and the lessons that they learned which propels them from being a nobody into a somebody. When you think about it, apart from a select few, practically everyone starts off being unknown. If we don't do anything, we remain a nobody, an unknown. That's the lesson from this book - we can actually change and become 'somebodies'.

There are just too many lessons in the book. Among others, the book described one way to be a somebody is to become the big fish by mastering the small pond, and then only will you be able to gain the confidence to raise your ambitions. You have to acheive smaller tasks before you can do bigger stuffs. You must also be able to learn when to stay at your job and when to go. You need to have a huge appetite to work and towards gaining hands on experience. And you must keep learning and learning. Be competitive. Be prepared to change. Don't let old plans get in the way of new opportunities or luck. Personal and professional growth is something you need to constantly do. But above all you need to have willpower and passion.

I hope that helps people who are interested in becoming a somebody. Happy Reading!

Friday, April 14, 2006

Reasons why the English Language is Hard to Learn

  1. The bandage was wound around the wound.
  2. The farm was used to produce produce.
  3. The dump was so full that it had to refuse more refuse.
  4. We must polish the Polish furniture.
  5. He could lead if he would get the lead out.
  6. The soldier decided to desert his dessert in the desert.
  7. Since there is no time like the present, he thought it was time to present the present.
  8. A bass was painted on the head of the bass drum.
  9. When shot at, the dove dove into the bushes.
  10. I did not object to the object.
  11. The insurance was invalid for the invalid.
  12. There was a row among the oarsmen about how to row.
  13. They were too close to the door to close it.
  14. The buck does funny things when the does are present.
  15. A seamstress and a sewer fell down into a sewer line.
  16. To help with planting, the farmer taught his sow to sow.
  17. The wind was too strong to wind the sail.
  18. After a number of injections my jaw got number.
  19. Upon seeing the tear in the painting I shed a tear.
  20. I had to subject the subject to a series of tests.
  21. How can I intimate this to my most intimate friend?

Thursday, April 13, 2006

The Humble Headwear

When I was in Surabaya, I went to one of the crafts shop thinking of buying our Malay songkoks. For the non-Malay readers, songkoks actually come in a number of colours, shapes and sizes. Sizes obviouslylah. Some of us are small heads and some of you are big heads (figuratively as well as in reality). Colours too. Generally most songkoks are black, but Bruneians have come up with more colourful concepts such as brown, green, blue and occassionally red and yellow. Some are made of suede, some animal skins and fur (I used to have a very hairy white one made out of sheep skin and fur I think) again with its own distinctive colours. Songkoks can also be the hard type and the foldable type and the inside can be made out of newspaper or plastic or whatever else they put inside.

Some have different types. The Brunei ones generally are either flat, or bergunung or tinggi or berlis (has laces). Flat is the normal one about 4 inches in height, the bergunung or bertingkat one has a slight hump and can be higher at about 4 1/2 inches high. The berlis one has got lace like decorations on the side of the songkok. The tinggi one is just taller, normally about 5 inches in height. All these are dependent on the tastes of the wearer. So, when you actually go to a real master maker, be prepared for the questions of what type of songkok do you really want starting from the colour to the material to the actualy type that you want to wear. Rather reminds me of trying to buy Coffee from Starbucks - what type of coffee, where it's from, how do you want to make it, what type of milk that you want to put in it etc. And all I wanted was plain black coffee with a little bit of milk! I never learned how to order coffee in Starbucks even up to now.

So, back to songkok. The crafts shop I went to in Surabaya asked me whether I want the hard type (which they don't have and yet have the cheek to ask me) or the foldable type (of which they seemed to specialise in). Next question, expensive or cheap, I told them an expensive one of which the price is about 70,000 Rp. (about $13). Apparently there are about 3 different types at that price. One is called the President - this is the high one about 4 1/2 inch height to 5" height. The other one is the Kharisma which is what we called in Brunei berlis. And the third one is called AC. I was at a loss of what AC stands for. So I took the songkok out and discovered one thing. On the top of the songkok, the front and back end was not fully covered with the suede. Instead they placed cloth mesh and it allows air to flow through and keep the head of the wearer cool. So AC actually stands for Air-Cond! It is interesting to wear this particular Songkok. It really is nice and cool. I bought 2 straight away. I bought some other types which are so much cheaper in Surabaya which is around 22,000 Rp. (about $5) each.

If you want to know more about songkoks, I took the liberty of placing an article on my main website Songkoks are indeed interesting and not just for Bruneians to wear. And with the A/C type it is possible for songkok to be improved and be made more innovative. There is hope yet for our traditional headwear.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Love, Lust and Marriage

LOVE - When your eyes meet across a crowded room.
LUST - When your tongues meet across a crowded room.
MARRIAGE - When you try to lose your spouse in a crowded room.

LOVE - When *ntercourse is called "making love."'
LUST - When *ntercourse is called "scr*wing."
MARRIAGE - When *ntercourse is a town in Pennsylvania.

LOVE - When you argue over how many children to have.
LUST - When you argue over who gets the wet spot.
MARRIAGE - When you argue over whose idea it was to have kids.

LOVE - When you share everything you own.
LUST - When you steal everything they own.
MARRIAGE - When the bank owns everything.

LOVE - When it doesn't matter if you don't climax.
LUST - When the relationship is over if you don't climax.
MARRIAGE - When ... uh ... what's a climax?

LOVE - When you phone each other just to say, "Hi."
LUST - When you phone each other to pick a hotel room.
MARRIAGE - When you phone each other to bitch about work.

LOVE - When you write poems about your partner.
LUST - When all you write is your phone number.
MARRIAGE - When all you write is checks.

LOVE - When your only concern is for your partner's feelings.
LUST -When your only concern is to find a room with mirrors all around
MARRIAGE - When you're only concern as to what's on TV.

LOVE - When you are proud to be seen in public with your partner.
LUST - When you only see each other naked.
MARRIAGE - When you never see each other awake.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

The Day Off

So you want the day off. You think a day is not too much. Let's take a look at what you are really asking for.

There are only 365 days per year available for work.

There are 52 weeks per year in which you already have two days off per week, leaving 261 days available for work.

Since you work only 8 hours a day and spend 16 hours each day away from work, you have used up 170 days, leaving only 91 days available.

You spend 30 minutes each day on coffee break, that accounts for 23 days each year, leaving only 68 days available.

With a one hour lunch period each day, you have used up another 46 days, leaving only 22 days available for work.

You normally spend two days per year on sick leave. This leaves you only 20 days available for work.

We offer five holidays per year, so your available working time is down to 15 days.

We generously give you 14 days vacation per year which leaves one day available for work and there is absolutely no way are you going to take that day off.

Monday, April 10, 2006

Let me brag about for a while. One of the many verbal comments (you have to trust me on this) is that the website is an interesting website. Interesting is really an interesting word. I am not so sure whether to take it as a compliment or otherwise. I have yet to come across people who actually said the website is good or it provides fulfilment to their life. Anything other than 'interesting' would be nice to hear. Alright, alright, I don't want to sound as if I am fishing for compliments here.

As a one-man website and hence the website owner, designer, administrator, developer, typist, programmer as well as its sole content provider, I actually received a number of emails from students and other interested parties about Brunei. There was this one time, someone from India wanted to sell jewelleries to our biggest boss and was asking whether I could help him (plus a commission too!). I told him to contact our High Commission in India. Royalty watchers write in too asking for photographs of the various members of the Royal Family. I normally told them what I have available on the website is all I have, I don't have anything else. Royal Family watchers around the world formed some 60% of the total number of visitors to I am just amazed the number of photo downloads, there seemed to be a cult out there.

The other major downloads are music. If you have not been to the music page on, go there now. This is the only website in the entire world, in fact, in the entire universe, that has Brunei classical songs, Brunei patriotic songs, SEA games songs, Royal Wedding songs that you can download and listen to. Even RTB does not have this collection and it took me years to amass all these. And I charge you nothing. And all I get is the website is interesting, tsk, tsk.

I won't even mention the many papers and powerpoints and pdf files that I put available. I can even tell when UBD papers are due as suddenly the number of downloads on certain files get so massive (every month about 10GB worth of materials gets downloaded from the website). It must be very boring for the UBD lecturer when he marks all these papers. These papers must be referring to the same few papers available on I keep smiling everytime I picture this lecturer reading the same points over and over again. I look forward to the day when become the sole reference point for UBD papers and papers related to Brunei Darussalam. Now, that will be interesting!

Sunday, April 09, 2006

Special Prayer For Selected Occassion

Dear God, I beg you to..

give me the wisdom
to understand
my boss.

Give me the love
to forgive him.

Give me the patience
to understand
his actions.

But dear God,
don't present me strength.

Because if you give
me strength...

I will break his skull!!

Saturday, April 08, 2006

Being a Good Copier

Satu daerah satu industri (SDSI) is the latest buzzword in Malaysia. I saw it on TV3 last night. It sounded so grand and so exciting and as if it's the latest in-thing. To Malaysians, it maybe but to people living in Thailand, this so called latest promo is old hat. The Thais had been promoting their one tambon one product (OTOP) for the last few years. So, what's new?

Someone says copying is the best form of flattery and in this particular context, it makes much sense. You don't really have to come out with new ideas. Do what has been successful elsewhere and do it better. You will come out on top. The Japanese in the 1950s were copiers. They copied everything and before they make them better, they just copy them. But look where they are now.

I remember Pehin Aziz, the former Minister of Education when he was the Minister of Communications. He said to me, at that time I was still a very junior officer, why reinvent the wheel? The wheel is already there. What we have to do is make the wheel better. We have to leapfrog ahead of the people we copy from. Copying in this context again makes much sense. The whole world is full of copycats. We learned from one another. Otherwise we won't be able to go anywhere. We are not big enough to be innovators and the amount of R&D spending is just too small to make any impact on the industry.

There are a number of countries that we can emulate, countries with similar sizes as us - Bahrain, Singapore, the UAE (Dubai etc), Luxembourg etc. The Bahrains of the world has long since diversify from oil and gas. Its oil and gas only contributes some 20% to GDP compared to ours which is exceeding 60%. It diversifies into the heavy industries and financial services - turning itself into the Singapore of the middle east. We all have seen Singapore, turning itself from a non-resource rich country into one which is the financial hub of the south east asia region. Dubai grows rich into tourism and financial services and Luxembourg is pure financial services. Catch that word - FINANCIAL.

Is it too late for us? I don't think so. The one thing about money is that it is fickle. It can be here today and gone tomorrow. Look at our wallets! So, we can still attract the money to come to Brunei. We have done so through the International Financial Center at Finance Ministry. We have started our fledgling capital market by introducing the government's bonds. But we have to do more. We have to remember that the oil and gas won't last forever. When that eventually runs out, we better have a standby industry or industries taking its place quickly.

Friday, April 07, 2006

I Did All That?

Last Friday, I went back to the fairways for the first time in about 17 years. I lost about 6 balls which is not too bad. This Friday, I took Mr. K* with me. He has been on the driving range for the past few nights. I know he is reading this blog so I am not going to count the number of balls he lost (hint ... he,he, much more than my first attempt last week - way way much more!) I did not do that much better either as I forgot to mention also that our balls loved to visit parts of the golf course seldom visited by other golfers. So in all, it was a fairly scenic tour of the side fencing, lakesides, water drainage etc. I thought I will share the following jokes for all the golfers out there:-

After a particularly poor game of golf, a popular club member skipped the clubhouse and started to go home. As he was walking to the parking lot to get his car, a policeman stopped him and asked, "Did you tee off on the sixteenth hole about twenty minutes ago?"

"Yes," the golfer responded.

"Did you happen to hook your ball so that it went over the trees and off the course?"

"Yes, I did. How did you know?" he asked.

"Well," said the policeman very seriously, "Your ball flew out onto the highway and crashed through a driver's windshield. The car went out of control, crashing into five other cars and a fire truck. The fire truck couldn't make it to the fire, and the building burned down. So, what are you going to do about it?"

The golfer thought it over carefully and responded...

"I think I'll close my stance a little bit, tighten my grip and lower my right thumb."

Thursday, April 06, 2006

Tourism Strategy

Our neighbouring country is extremely clear with what it wants. This year it targets some 100,000 tourists from the Middle East to come to Singapore. They have seen the effect in Kuala Lumpur where literally from July to September, it is almost impossible to get a hotel room. All the hotels will be filled with Middle Eastern people who thronged to the shopping malls, the restaurants, the entertainment places and such like. It's just amazing to see the number of hijab wearing ladies at Bukit Bintang area. So the Singapore government made it a point to get some of these people to come to Singapore. They are also targeting their Singapore Big Sale to be at about the same time.

In Brunei, I am not sure who we are targeting. Let me see. We don't want the backpackers because apparently we think they don't bring in much money. We don't seem to be targeting the golf tourists or the shoppers. We are no longer targeting the theme park adventurers as our beloved JP is in a serious tansitional state. So who are we targeting? I forgot, oh yes... the nature loving tourists to see our unspoilt countryside. Our much touted niche of tourism, the eco-tourism. With the number of tourists that RTB has been interviewing, I wonder how much they are spending. I wonder what they are going to spend their money on assuming they do want to spend. I don't see much things to buy around the nature parks, hmm, come to think of it, I don't even see any stores round the nature parks. So that answers another question, I wonder where they will be spending their money. I am beginning to wonder whether the focus on the relatively niche eco-tourism is the right strategy for us. If y ou ask me, there don't seemed to be that much money in it.

I mentioned before in one of my earlier blogs that I saw the Koreans going back to Seoul with their golfbags after playing golf at Kota Kinabalu and Kuala Lumpur and with bulging shopping bags after shopping sprees at KL. Can't we get some of these people to come to Brunei? It's not that far. They are in the vicinity after all. What about the Japanese? They play golf and shop too and they have money. Even the newly affluent Chinese and Taiwanese? I am not that proud to expect other people to come and spend money in Brunei. We don't have a big enough rich population that can match the spending power of the tourists with money to burn.

We are thinking of tourists who must come here for drinks and all sorts of other things. But not all tourists are like that. The few that somehow managed to find their way to Brunei looks to be enjoying themselves. We have attractions. We have the golf courses, the resort hotel, the hopping malls and other hidden treasures. We ourselves need to rethink our strategy. Otherwise, we will watch our neighbouring countries taking away all the tourists and leaving none to us.

Hello to the tourism people, anyone home?

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Brunei Government Bonds Sukuk Al-Ijarah (Update)

I thought I will give a little bit on update of the first ever issuance of the Brunei Government Islamic Bond - Sukuk Al-Ijarah. The first ever Brunei Government bond issuance of B$150 million was a total success and issued at 3.4%. The total bids were oversubscribed by about tens of millions of dollars.

Having an official rate will now make life easier for other agencies and companies in Brunei to fix their rates. This is one of the first aims of the government in launching the sukuk. Unlike other governments whose aim to raise bonds is to use the money, the Brunei Government does not need such money especially with oil prices now at US$67 a barrel and having healthy sums in our reserves. As we build up our expertise and also build our yield curve and the public's expectations, we can slowly build up our own capital market. That's something we need to do very quickly so that our private sector will be able to issue their own papers and debt notes in the future. This will enable them to get their funding at a rate much lower than relying on the banks' loans with their relatively higher interest rates.

Anyway, I thought I will share with you what Bloomberg way back in July 2003, wrote about Brunei's capital market efforts (my apologies to Bloomberg for copying this without your consent):-

Brunei bonds with Liar's Poker - July 27, 2003 - By Bloomberg

The counter of a bookstore in Brunei's capital showcases an unlikely pair of books: Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, and Liar's Poker. Both are page-turners in their own right. The former is the fifth instalment of JK Rowling's wildly successful Harry Potter series; the latter is Michael Lewis's 1989 account of his stint as a Salomon Brothers bond salesman. The selections make an interesting contrast and raise a question: what's this store thinking?

"Well, Harry Potter, of course, is probably the biggest book in the world," says employee Saiful Rahman. "Liar's Poker is there because Brunei wants to be a big player in bonds."

That even employees of a tiny bookstore in Bandar Seri Begawan know bonds may play a role in Brunei's future prosperity says a lot about its determination to launch a vibrant debt market. Then this tiny Muslim nation of 345 000 people can work on winning a piece of the global bond business, especially the nascent one for Islamic debt. Brunei has little chance of unseating global bond capitals such as London, New York or Tokyo. Especially when you consider Brunei doesn't even have a bond market; it only recently launched an equity exchange. Its vast oil wealth left the government little incentive to create financial markets. It's now building them.
Asia's developing economies could learn much from the process.

After all, the region has been slower to create large, liquid, fixed-income arenas than investors had hoped. While Malaysia and South Korea are making good progress on the bond front, companies in many Asian economies still rely on banks for financing. Brunei may provide an intriguing test case of a southeast Asian economy building a market from scratch. It needs to create a debt department and form a group of dealers to bid on and distribute debt. From there, Brunei needs to develop a vibrant secondary market to pave the way for corporate, mortgage-backed and asset-backed securities.
It's not completely unlike the challenge elsewhere in Asia. Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, South Korea and Thailand have been busy, but progress has been unsteady and the lack of deep debt markets remains a major vulnerability for the region. Like its peers, Brunei ends up shipping large quantities of its financial reserves overseas. Its economy would be better off if that money stayed in the country and was put to productive use.

"It's really about developing ways for us to use our own money in our own economy," says Lim Hong Him, the assistant chief executive at the Brunei Economic Development Board.

So Lim and his colleagues are working to diversify the economy. Oil and gas account for 94 percent of exports. Yet the source of the nation's wealth could vanish in 20 years if predictions about Brunei's wells running dry come true. Efforts to fill that void are intensifying. One strategy is to turn the country into an offshore financial centre akin to Bermuda or the Cayman Islands. Brunei also sees great potential in the growing market for bonds and other investment products for Muslims; Islam bans paying and receiving interest. Brunei wants to be at the forefront of creating alternative asset classes for followers of Islam.

Prior to the 1997 Asian financial crisis, regional developing nations did not bother building large and active government bond markets, never mind ones for corporate debt. The crisis was a lesson in the importance of having liquid debt markets. And selling more debt in local currencies could shield Asia from problems across the globe.
And here in Brunei, where energy wealth and the government of Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah dominate the economy, a thriving private sector needs to be created. For an attention-deprived - and investment-deprived - southeast Asian nation like Brunei, a thriving bond business could be just the thing. It's for this reason folks like Lim are discovering Liar's Poker. More than 13 years after Lewis wrote it, the book stands as perhaps the most graphic account of the bond business and how things really work on Wall Street.

The tale is quite relevant to Brunei. Lewis described his job at Salomon Brothers as transferring money in the form of bonds from those outside the US who saved to those inside the US who consumed. In a nutshell, Asian countries like Brunei want to do the same for their economies. A credible bond market could go a long way towards pulling more business and foreign capital their way.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Management of Umrah

I don't remember when you were younger - in those days, there was uncertainty when the hajj flight is going to take place. There would be like rumours what the flight dates were and how you have to be prepared. Most see it as the trials and tribulations of going to hajj. It would not be the same if the flights are confirmed and there was no uncertainty. You take the fun out of it. Umrah in those days were unheard of. Nobody goes on umrah. My brother went in the late 1970s with a friend of his and it would be almost a decade later before any of us actually went again.

My parents and my sister recently signed up with a particularly well known travel and umrah agent h*h for their umrah. I thought it was an interesting experience on their part. First of all, they did not know when the flight will take place. After that, not only did not know when the flight will take place, they did not even know if the flight will ever take place - apparently the Saudis have not extended out umrah visas just yet but it seemed that you can go there on a tourist visa. I am not going to work out the logic but middle eastern people seemed to be experts at this kind of thing. In the meantime all 100+ people who have signed up for the umrah just waited.

Then one day before the flight, everyone was informed that the flight will finally take place by Royal Brunei Airlines from Brunei to Jeddah ...through an overnight stay in Singapore... Huh? Again, don't explain the logic, how anyone can get tickets to Jeddah in Singapore but not from Brunei. So they went and they arrived and they performed the umrah.

So it is now our turn to wait for them to come back. My sister sms me that they will not be returning on their scheduled flight but on a later flight about a couple of days late but surprise, surprise, their bags will actually make it on the scheduled flight. So we were supposed to go to the airport yesterday to collect their bags only to be informed that the agent will do it as we were not allowed in anyway. My parents and my sister themselves are supposed to be arriving later today. My dad later told me that there was a problem due to the passenger listing, a couple of ladies who were supposed to be on the flight was not on the flight, so the authorities wanted to know where they were. Apparently they did not board from Singapore and so now they have to be flown in and to return with the group!

I used to sit in the Umrah and Haj Management Policy Committee at the Religious Affairs Ministry. At that point in time, the biggest issue was the sub-$1000 umrah which is causing an uproar among other umrah agents as they were losing customers. They wanted it controlled. My sense was - hey, this is competition (I am a firm believer of free markets). People want to pay sub-$1000 for an umrah, go ahead. Just don't expect hotels near the Masjidil Haram or fantastic buffet dinners. Apparently too many people like paying sub-$1000 umrah and the company running it went into trouble to the point of stranding Bruneians in Jeddah. RBA had to be flown in and rescued some hundreds of Bruneians. There was a lot of complaints, but to me when you pay substandard prices, you expect substandard services.

For my parents' and my sister's predicaments, I am not sure who to blame as they certainly did not pay substandard prices, if anything, I would say they were overcharged. But if this is an indication of how even well known travel agents can fluff an umrah despite already charging an arm and a leg, then I would seriously say we have to start thinking of how to regulate it somehow but not at the expense of competition. Unfortunately I am not in that committee anymore, that would be a great place to start.

Monday, April 03, 2006

Excuses, Excuses

Have you even been in a situation where you so desperately wish something would happen so that you can escape? I know during school days, that would be when the teacher started calling on everyone to answer questions etc and I did not the answers to the questions. I would be so desperate for time and that's when the watch seemed to be slowing down. At that point in time I would really really be praying for a miracle. Of course, nowadays at work too, when you are so under pressure to complete something and you can't and you know the boss will be calling for you anytime.

I once worked for a Deputy Minister who is known for his temper and he assigned a particularly tough piece of project that had to be completed as he had to submit that to the highest authority. I was struggling with it as I have really no idea how to begin, let alone how to complete it. This, they did not teach me in my two masters courses. All I had was scribbles and notes all over the place - in my laptop, my drawers and my many file cabinets. His Secretary called me and said the DM wanted me to bring up the work (I had another week dateline) and I told him to tell the DM that I am still completing it, as afterall I still have another week or so. But to be on the safe side, I decided to compile everything together there and then just in case. True enough, half an hour later, the secretary turned up at my door and said the DM wants to see me immediately and to bring up whatever work I have done, it does not matter how much has been completed. I went up and showed him the half an hour compilation work and he was pleased and guided me further on how he wanted it done. I breathed a sigh of relief and thanked the Al-Mighty for giving me that half an hour!

At a more senior level, excuses are no longer acceptable. If you can't do it, tough, you ought not to be sitting there. I remembered when I was assigned to the palace, when something is assigned to you, you better start thinking of the 100 different ways of achieving it. Only if you have run into any problems that you can't solve, and only then you can turn to your superiors who will ask you why you have not tried xyz ways. So you have to be ready that you have tried not only xyz ways but also a to z ways and it still can't be done, and only then you will be vindicated.

Since my promotion last year, my fellow course mates had been bugging me to 'belanja' (give a treat). I had been so busy that finding a nice quiet evening when everyone is available is not easy. Finally last week, I invited all 17 of them to a reunion dinner at the Empire. I got 16 insya'Allahs (one of them is in KL) that they will come, insya'Allah meaning with God's will. Come the actual night, there was only 7 of them. I am not going to start counting the excuses, ...oops... I mean to say reasons, but at this level, I have to accept them including a few who has to stay and work late night because of His Majesty's visit the next morning to that district. In a way, I was lucky as I only had to pay less than half of what I expected to pay out. So there is a blessing there and nobody can bug me anymore for not 'belanja'.

Sunday, April 02, 2006

Kaplan and the Balance Scorecard

I was one of about 40 people at Li Gong Restaurant at the Empire lucky to be listening to a luncheon talk given by the guru of balanced score card, Robert S Kaplan yesterday afternoon. Kaplan is here in Brunei Darussalam and his one day conference which will be held tomorrow at the ICC entitled "Managing for Results: Using Balanced Scorecard to Achieve Better Performance and Good Governance in the Public Sector" a sellout even at $1,200 a person. According to the blurb, the conference supposedly will 'help delegates understand how to meet the needs of diverse constituents; hear how other leaders in government implement change to manage constrained financial and human resources; and master strategy alignment, execution and sustainability to drive performance and governance in organisations." Sounds a mouthful but it is Robert Kaplan.

For the uninitiated, who is he? Aside from being a Professor at Harvard Business School, he is co-developer of the BSC approach. This relatively new approach to strategic management was developed in the early 1990's by him and Dr David Norton. Recognizing some of the weaknesses and vagueness of previous management approaches, the balanced scorecard approach supposedly provides a clearer prescription as to what companies should measure in order to 'balance' the financial perspective. As of late, the BSC approach can also be used to prepare Strategic Planning for organisations. His latest book entitled 'Alignment' shows how companies can build an enterprise-level Strategy Map and Balanced Scorecard that clearly articulate the "enterprise value proposition" - how the enterprise creates value above that achieved by individual business units operating alone. This critical alignment lies with corporate headquarters.

The BSC approach is only one of the many revolutions going on in the Brunei civil service. On the outside, non-government people just see calm water not realising the underwater currents is churning. A lot of changes have taken place except that changes may not be as much as people had hoped but maybe a lot more than what was seen even 10 years ago. Almost every ministry had adopted and shown off its strategic planning - the Ministry of Defence, the Prime Minister's Office, the Ministry of Finance and yesterday, the Ministry of Home Affairs. Each a document outlining what they planned to do and how they plan to do it. This was unimaginable even 5 years ago.

Technologically, the civil service had advanced. I walked around my building with a tabletPC (even though once in a while, I feel like throwing it 17 floors down) in connection with almost anyone else who has one. My officers sent me instant messaging, e-mails and documents with so much ease that we saved so much time that even coming up to my office becomes unnecessary. With the LegCo, the transparency in government is becoming visible. If you are non-government, don't write us off yet. We are here to serve the public and we aim to do it as well as we can.

Saturday, April 01, 2006

Managers and Clerks

Yesterday, I blogged about Permanent Secretaries. Today I will blog on the more mundane job but as equally important jobs that we do on a daily basis. When you were younger, your parents must have hoped and prayed that you become a manager or the equivalent of one at some point in your career. I think that's pretty much standard Asian thinking. Managers are good and anything less than one is not good.

However if one was to study the origin of the two words - managers and clerks and other jobs in between, you would rather not be a manager. The word Manager originally means "a horse trainer who used his hand" for manage is from the Italian word "managiare" (to train horses) which is based on the Latin word "mano" for hand. A manager in its early form is not the manager we envisaged today. The job title transformed over the years from looking after horses into looking after offices and from using your hands into using your head.

But the word clerk on the other hand actually refers to one who uses his head (as opposed to the manager who used his hand). The word clerk is derived from the Latin word "clerius" which means clergyman or scholor - that is a person who handles viatal records. You would actually be surprised to find certain important jobs even today in the Brunei Government uses the word Clerk. The most important one is the "Clerk of Council" translated as Jurutulis is the person who manages and administers the Legislative Council. He is the one that makes sure the Council runs and assists the Speaker of the Council. Another important Clerk is the "Clerk of Works" which is the person who looks after big important projects in Public works Department.

How about Secretary? The word Secretary is again derived from the Latin word "secretarius" which means "keeper of secrets". That's why the keeper of secrets in the Brunei Government service are called Confidential Secretary and Confidential Clerk and in the private sector, we even have the Executive Secretary. By that logic Permanent Secretaries are just permanent keepers of secrets!

Another important post is the stenographer. Stenographer combines the word "steno" which means compact and "grapho" which means write - that is a compact writer who takes down dictation in shortform, somene at arm's length to counteract the manager's long hand. Unfortunately all the stenographer jobs in the government service has been abolished and replaced by Assistant Confidential Clerk.

If your parents ever bugged you about being Managers when you graduate, offer them this blog instead.

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