Friday, August 29, 2008

Philosophical Musings - Part VI

The Roots of Wisdom

Although I have spent over three decades in this world, the vastness of my ignorance overwhelms me. There is so much still, to understand and learn. In truth, I am like a child, full of ignorance, seeking the Way towards the Truth. Understanding thus, I cast away my pride, at my meager store of knowledge. Whenever I feel proud of my accomplishments, I recall the following verse about wholeness by Hong Yingming:


When the water vessel is full, it overturns

While the piggy bank remains empty, it is whole

Therefore, the gentleman:

Resides in vacuity
Rather than existence

And exists in lacking
Rather than saturation

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Speed Reading - Part VII

Analytical Reading: An Overview

Having mastered the first two stages of reading, we are now ready to proceed with the third stage, namely Analytical Reading. I wish to reiterate that this stage requires substantial concentration, suitable only, if you are seeeking deep insights from the book being read. If you are reading novels or magazines merely for leisure, you do not need to use Analytical Reading. Let us review the purpose of this stage of reading:

At this stage, reading is a complex and systematic activity. This requires a thorough and complete reading. Unlike inspectional reading, analytical reading attempts the best and complete reading, given an UNLIMITED amount of time. The reader here, must ask many and organized questions. Since this is an intense activity, it is NOT REQUIRED for all reading. It is used only when you require an in-depth understanding of the particular book you are reading.

As you can see from the Diagram above, there are seven interlocking steps when performing analytical reading. We will briefly review each of these seven steps for now.

1. Classification
You must know what kind of book you are reading even before you read it analytically.

2. X-Ray
State the gist of the whole book in a short and concise paragraph.

3. Establish Rapport
Find the important words and through them, establish rapport with the author.

4. What’s the Message?
Find the paragraphs in the book stating its’ core arguments. If there are none, construct your own paragraph based on your own understanding of the book.

5. Fair Criticism
Suspend your judgment and seek first to understand the author’s line of thinking.

6. Judgment
Form your opinion and substantiate your judgment as to the validity of the authors’ reasoning.

7. Aids to Reading
Here, discussions will revolve around the use of extrinsic aids to reading such as commentaries & abstracts, reference books, dictionaries and encyclopedias.

It is important that one masters Analytical Reading as you will profit greatly from it. Applying Analytical Reading will become progressively easier if you practice it often. I will look at each of these seven steps in future posts.

Monday, August 25, 2008

The Way of the General - Part VIII

Decadence in Generals

There are eight kinds of decadence in generalship:

First is to be insatiably greedy.
Second is to be jealous and envious of the wise and able.
Third is to believe slanders and make friends with the treacherous.
Fourth is to assess others without assessing oneself.
Fifth is to be hesitant and indecisive.
Sixth is to be heavily addicted to wine and sex.
Seventh is to be a malicious liar with a cowardly heart.
Eighth is to talk wildly, without courtesy.

According to legend, Zhang Fei together swore an oath of brotherhood with Liu Bei and Guan Yu, known as the Oath of the Peach Garden. His exploits indicate him to me a masterful general, rather than merely a valiant warrior. Yet, he too, had his faults. Often treating his superiors with respect, he showed little courtesy for his subordinates. All too often, he was warned by Liu Bei that his habit of over-punishing his own soldiers by lashing and sometimes killing them, would bring about his own disaster.

To Guard A City
Prior to the Battle of the Red Cliffs, rivals Liu Bei and Lu Bu struggled for supremacy in Central China. At one time, Liu Bei had to leave his base Xu Zhou and carry out the Imperial Command to capture Yuan Shu. Zhang Fei volunteered to undertake the task of guarding the city. This was what transpired.

‘You will fail,’ said Liu Bei. ‘After one of your drinking bouts, you will get savage and flog the soldiers. Beside you are rash and will not listen to anyone's advice. I shall be uneasy all the time.

‘Henceforth I drink no more wine. I will not beat the soldiers and I will always listen to advice,’ said Zhang Fei.

‘I fear the mouth does not correspond to the heart,’ said Mi Zhu, one of Liu Bei’s advisors.

‘I have followed my elder brother these many years and never broken faith. Why should you be contemptuous?’ said Zhang Fei.

Thus Liu Bei relented and left Zhang Fei in charge of the city of Xu Zhou.

Heavily Addicted to Wine, Talk Wildly without Courtesy
In Xuzhou, after Liu Bei had started on his expedition, Zhang Fei gave a banquet to all the military officers and said:

‘Before my brother left, he bade me keep clear of the wine cup for fear of accidents. Now, gentlemen, you may drink deep today. But from tomorrow wine is forbidden, for we must keep the city safe. So take your fill.’

And with this he and all his guests rose to drink together. The wine bearer came to Cao Bao who declined it, saying, ‘I never drink as I am forbidden of heaven.’

‘What! A fighting man does not drink wine!’ said the host. "I want you to take just one cup.’

Cao Bao was afraid to offend, so he drank.

Now Zhang Fei drank huge goblets with all his guests on every hand and so swallowed a huge quantity of liquor. He became quite intoxicated. Yet he would drink more and insisted on a cup with every guest. It came to the turn of Cao Bao who declined despite Zhang Fei’s persistence.

Then Zhang Fei in his drunken madness lost control of his temper and said, ‘If you disobey the orders of your general, you shall be beaten one hundred strokes.’

The guests interposed to beg him off, but their drunken host was obdurate, and the unhappy guest received fifty blows. Then at the earnest prayers of the others the remainder of the punishment was remitted.

The banquet came to an end, and the beaten Cao Bao went away burning with resentment. That night he sent a letter to Lu Bu in Xiaopei relating the insults he had received from Zhang Fei. The letter told Lu Bu of Liu Bei's absence and proposed that a sudden raid should be made that very night before Zhang Fei had recovered from his drunken fit.

Lu Bu got ready at once and soon arrived at Xu Zhou with five hundred cavalrymen. The guards on the wall were Cao Bao's people, and they opened the gates to let Lu Bu in. Zhang Fei was in his apartment sleeping off the fumes of wine. His servants hastened to arouse him and told him an enemy had got the gates open.

Zhang Fei savagely got into his armor and laid hold of his mighty serpent halberd. But as he was mounting his horse at the gate, the attacking soldiers came up. He rushed at them but being still half intoxicated, he made but a poor fight. Lu Bu knowing Zhang Fei's prowess did not press him hard, and Zhang Fei made his way, with eighteen leading Guards of Yan, to the east gate, and there went out, leaving Liu Bei's family to their fate.

Zhang Fei with his few followers went to his brother's camp at Xuyi and told his story of treachery and surprise. All were greatly distressed.

‘Success is not worth rejoicing over; failure is not worth grieving over.’ said Liu Bei with a sigh.

One should be wary of the eight kinds of decadence in one’s own character as well. Often it is easy to perceive the faults of others, yet difficult to realize the faults of one’s own.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Philosophical Musings - Part V

The Roots of Wisdom

One of the most interesting aspects of life is dealing with various types of people in this world. Although each and every person is unique in their own way, yet truly how different is one person from another? This is what Hong Yingming has to say:

Types of People

Under a clear sky and bright moon,
How many should be flitting free under the heavens?

The flitting moths that alone throw themselves into the night lights?

With a clear spring and green grasses,

How many things should they be able to peck and eat?

The owls that so love the rotted flesh of mice?

Ah, those people,

In this world,
Who do not resemble the moths and owls,
How many can there be?

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Analytical Review 101 - Part XVI

A Circle has no End

Overall Summary on Analytical Review of Nestle's Financial Statements
If you look at this series of posts, you will have realized that we have spent a substantial amount of time analyzing the Nestle’s financial statements. Perhaps more importantly, it would have struck you that it’s a LOT OF WORK! Yes, it is. Then again, perhaps it would be wise to reflect on how much time it took for you to earn RM10K before deciding to invest in a company? It may have took you perhaps two or three months of your life to save this much money. Then why are you so eager to invest in shares without spending, say one or two days researching the company you intend to invest?

My overall perception of Nestle is that it is a sound company to invest in. Cash flows are managed well and it has an attractive dividend policy. However, due to its’ strong brand name and excellent cash flows, the share price of Nestle is too high compared to its’ earnings. It is an excellent blue chip share to invest in, as a hedge against inflation. You may ask me, so at what price should I decide to buy shares in this company?

My answer is simple: Reread my series of posts and look at the latest quarterly financial results of Nestle in the link below. Then, make up your own mind and you decide at what price it is worth investing!

An End of a Long Journey
We have journeyed long through this Analytical Review 101 series. For those of you that have been diligently reading it, this series of posts may raise more questions than answers. Trust me, this is a good thing. The world of investing is fraught with perils and dangers. A little knowledge is a dangerous thing. I hope though, I have highlighted the dangers such ventures to your attention. Forearmed with such knowledge, an intelligent investor may yet profit from his investments.

For those readers that are interested in downloading Nestle (Malaysia) Berhad’s 2007 Annual Report, you can find it via the link below.

If you that are interested in constructing your own financial dashboards, I will be sending out my Nestle Financial Dashboard and all the relevant workings in an excel file. If you wish to receive it, kindly subscribe for my blog via the Feedburner Email subscription on the upper-right hand side. Your email will not be divulged nor will you be spammed.

Alternatively, kindly drop a comment in my blog with your e-mail address so that I can send the spreadsheet to you. I’ll be sending out the worksheet on the 30 August 2008 to all my subscribers or interested commentators.

A New Beginning
A circle has no end! Similarly, there is no end to our journey in the world of investing. One must learn, unlearn and re-learn about the stock market and our opinions of the companies we invest in. In my future posts, we will look at the more advanced aspects of investing. We will also look at the more noteworthy companies in Bursa Malaysia and perform detailed financial analysis to evaluate whether they are worth investing.

Two Intriguing Questions?
It is surprising to me that none of my readers have yet to pose me these two rather intriguing question. Some of you know me well, though for others, I am a totally anonymous figure. I do not wish to disclose my identity merely because I wish to remain low profile. However, if I were a reader, I would surely ask the blog author this:

‘Why should I listen to you?’
I ask you not to listen to me. Rather, I ask you to merely listen to what I have to say. As with all things, it is your judgment and discernment that will serve you best. If you agree with what I say, then act accordingly. Otherwise, let it pass. Comment, if you have any doubts or questions and I shall endeavor to answer any questions you may have.

‘Why the PriceLess advice?’
At this time and age, if you do not raise such a question, I would indeed be worried. Truthfully, this blog serves as both a personal motivational and disciplinary tool to ensure that my journey into the world of investing is both well reasoned and carefully planned. I have gained much from those that were willing to share their knowledge and wisdom with me, so why should I be miserly with my own? Remember, what is valuable is sometimes free, but not all those who read can profit from it.

I would appreciate if you could revert with any comments or feedback you may have on this series of posts. Further, if you wish to me to explore certain investing topics in greater detail, please do let me know.

Monday, August 18, 2008

The Way of the General - Part VII

Psychological Configurations

Some generals are brave and think lightly of death

Some are hasty and impulsive
Some are greedy and materialistic
Some are humane but lack endurance
Some are intelligent but timid
Some are intelligent but easygoing at heart

Those who are brave and think lightly of death are vulnerable to assault

Those who are hasty and impulsive are vulnerable to delay
Those who are greedy and materialistic are vulnerable to loss
Those who are humane but lack endurance are vulnerable to fatigue
Those who are intelligent but timid are vulnerable to pressure
Those who are intelligent but easygoing are vulnerable to sudden attack


Founder of the Wu Kingdom, Tiger of Jiang Dong
Sun Jian’s was Sun Quan's father and it was he who established the foundations of the Wu Kingdom. His personal bravery and resourcefulness placed him amongst one of the most influential men of his time. If it were not for Yuan Shu’s pettiness, Sun Jian would have certainly succeeded in crushing Dong Zhuo’s forces and restore the Han Empire to its’ former glory.

Some generals are brave and think lightly of death
Yet, what sort of general was he? His actions depict him as a brave, intelligent and persistent warrior. Yet, he was also somewhat reckless and hot-headed. At the Battle of River Si Pass, he failed to foresee the risk of a counter-attack by Dong Zhuo’s forces, resulting in the Coalition’s undoing. Although he survived, his recklessness would prove to be his Achilles' heel.

Those who are brave and think lightly of death are vulnerable to assault
In AD191, the Coalition had been disbanded and Dong Zhuo still terrorized the land. Sun Jian, who had retreated back to the Wu Kingdom, was instigated by Yuan Shu to attack Liu Biao in the Jing Province.

Liu Biao’s forces led by Huang Zu attempted to defend Jing at the banks of the River Han. However, they were no match for the Wu Navy and were pushed back all the way to Xiangyang. Liu Biao’s forces were surrounded by his enemy and they were in desperate straits. It was only a matter of time before their eventual defeat.

However, Liu Biao’s adviser, Kuai Liang proposed a cunning ruse to Lu Gong, a warrior of great strength, to save the city.

‘You will have five hundred soldiers: Choose good bowmen. Dash through the enemy's formation and make for Xian Hills. You will be pursued; but send a hundred soldiers up the hill to prepare large stones, and place a hundred archers in ambush in the woods. These are not to flee from the pursuers but to beguile them along devious ways round to the place where the boulders have been prepared. There stones will be rolled down and arrows shot. If you succeed, fire off a series of bombs as a signal, and the armies in the city will come out to help. If you are not pursued, get away as fast as possible. Tonight will be suitable as there is very little moon. Start at dusk.’

As foreshadowed, when Sun Jian heard news of Lu Gong’s squad attempting to escape, he pursued them furiously with merely thirty horsemen. Being reckless, he rode too far ahead of his escort. Goaded on by his enemies, he pursued them to Xian Hill, where he was ambushed by Lu Gong’s men and hit by several arrows and a huge stone crushing his head. His escort was also killed.

Lu Gong, then set off a series of bombs. Hearing this signal, Liu Biao’s forces led by Huang Zu, Kuai Yue and Cai Mao led their armies out and counter-attacked. With their commander dead, Sun Jian’s forces were in disarray and suffered huge losses.

Kuai Liang’s cunning ruse succeeded due to his understanding of Sun Jian’s psychological configuration. The death of Sun Jian was a great loss to the Wu Kingdom and it was fortunate that Sun Ce and Sun Quan proved worthy successors to inherit the mantle to the Wu Kingdom.

知己知彼 Know Thyself, Know Thy Enemy
百战百胜 A Hundred Battles, A Hundred Victories
(In the book “The Art of War” by Sun Tzu)

Friday, August 15, 2008

Philosophical Musings - Part IV

The Roots of Wisdom

Another one of Hong Yingming’s poems from his book ‘The Roots of Wisdom’, translated into English by Tsai Chih Chung.

The Deception of Appearances

When I have rank
And people respect it
They are respecting
My tall cap and great sash

When I am destitute
And people despise me
They are despising
My cotton garb and straw sandals

If this is so
In their hearts
They do not respect me
So, why should I be happy?

If this is so
From the depths of their soul
They do not despise me
So, why should I be upset?

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Analytical Review 101 - Part XV

An Investor’s Dilemma: Choosing between Mother Theresa & Angelina Jolie

Before one decides to invest in the share market, try answering the following question:

‘If you won a contest and could go out on a date with either Mother Theresa or Angelina Jolie, which one would you choose?’

[For ladies, try choosing between Gandhi and Brad Pitt]

If you ponder long and hard enough, it may be illuminating to realize that parallels can be drawn between the vastly different emotions Mother Theresa & Angelina Jolie evokes, and the world of investing.

Mother Theresa, founder of the Missionaries of Charity in Calcutta spent over forty five years of her life ministering to the poor, sick and dying while guiding the Missionaries's expansion throughout India and other countries. In 1979, she was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for her work and contributions. Her very name evokes an idealism based on compassion, selflessness and loving kindness.

Angelina Jolie, conversely, has been cited as one of the most beautiful woman in the world. She is an acclaimed actress and has won three Golden Globe Awards, two Screen Actor Guild Awards and an Academy Award. Mention her name, a sensual, sultry and sexy image comes to mind.

Have you answered the question yet? If so, please read on…

Fixed Deposits are equivalent to Mother Theresa
In the world of investment, Fixed Deposits are equivalent to Mother Theresa. Both are stable, secure and strong. Why do I say that? This is because Fixed Deposits exhibits the following characteristics:

1. Principal Guaranteed
The principal that you invest is virtually secure. There are veryminimal risks involved when you put your money in Fixed Deposits. If you invest in RM10K in an FD, rest assured that one year later, you SHALL see that RM10K still in the bank.

2. Returns Guaranteed & LOW
When placing a FD for a period of time, the interest income receivable is stated up front. True, the returns are paltry. Yet, the great thing is that they are GUARANTEED. There are no IFs, ANDs or BUTs… It’s a sure thing, PERIOD!

3. High Liquidity
If you ever need cash urgently, there are no problems whatsoever in withdrawing out your principal even though it’s being placed in FD. In a worst case scenario, you may have to forfeit a certain portion of your earned interest income.

Angelina Jolie and the Sexy World of Shares
Everybody wants to get on the bandwagon these days and invest in shares! Who doesn’t drool over a hot looking sexy babe? Same thing with shares, just dump your money and watch it fluctuate…One day it’s up, the next it’s down. Just be careful and don’t get yourself burnt! Investments in shares are risky and I’ll explain why:

1. Principal Guaranteed to Fluctuate
When you invest in the shares of a company, you must understand that the only thing that is certain is your investment SHALL fluctuate! Once you dump in RM10K, a month later, it may grow to RM15K or shrink to RM5K. If you are the type of person who cannot live with any risk, then don’t invest in shares.

2. Returns Guaranteed to Fluctuate
Returns in the form of dividend payout by companies are also uncertain. Usually the discretion whether to pay dividends (and the quantum) or otherwise, lies solely with the company. As minority shareholders, one does not have much leverage to request for dividends. So, unlike FDs, don’t be surprised if you don’t get a single sen out of your investment until you sell it.

3. Highly Liquid IF YOU ARE DETACHED
Yes, shares are highly liquid. Unfortunately for you, if the RM10K you invested shrunken to RM5K, are you willing to sell it off? That’s a 50% loss on your capital! Conversely, if the stock market is booming and your RM10K has ballooned to RM20K, are you willing to cash out and let go of your shares? Or are you going to hold on and hope it goes up further…???

Analytical Review
With this in mind, let’s look at the Financial Dashboard below. As discussed above, we can compare FDs to Shares although there are vast differences:

FD Interest Income = Earnings
The FD Interest Income is a certain and guaranteed. However, earnings for companies are susceptible to competition, economy and a host of other factors. Interest rates are certain and are computed in advance during FD placement, whereas the current earnings of a company is largely uncertain at the time of investment.

FD Principal = Share Price

The Principal that you invest in FD does not fluctuate. However, share prices fluctuate daily depending on the mood of Mr. Market and the global economy.

FD Interest Rate = Earning/Market Price %
Whilst the FD Interest Rate is a sure thing, historical Earnings/Market Price % is not always, a reliable indicator of future returns. Firstly, we are never sure of the earnings at the time of investing. as we are relying on historical information. Secondly, the market price fluctuates daily making it difficult to quantify the probable return we can make on our investment. Depending on the competition and economic situation, a profitable company in the past may turn out to be unprofitable in the future. This is a risk for all businesses and as investors, we have to bear with it.

With this in mind, let us look at Nestle’s Earnings/Market Price %. It is hovering around 4.5 % to 4.8% for the past three years. As Nestle is in a stable industry with a strong brand name, this appears reasonable. Yet, FD rates are approximately 3.7% per annum, Nestle only offers an additional return of 1%. Is it really worthwhile investing? Although there is an upside in terms of capital appreciation (i.e. share price goes UP!), perhaps one should consider whether there are other companies yielding a higher rate of return.

It is important to note that investment in shares is like dating a hot babe! Yes, it’s alluring at first sight, but exercise wisdom and caution, and hopefully you’ll avoid getting burnt. So, look before you leap!

Monday, August 11, 2008

The Way of the General - Part VI

Cultivating Oneself

The practice of a cultivated man is to refine himself by quietude and develop virtue by frugality.

Without detachment, there is no way to clarify the will; without serenity, there is no way to get far.

Study requires calm, talent requires study. Without study there is no way to expand talent; without calm there is no way to accomplish study.

If you are lazy, you cannot do thorough research; if you are impulsive, you cannot govern your nature.

The years run off with the hours, aspirations flee with the years. Eventually one ages and collapses.

What good will it do to lament over poverty?

Cao Cao’s disastrous defeat at the Battle of Red Cliff was a huge setback for the Wei Kingdom.The burden to reunite the Han Empire would lie with Cao Cao’s successor as such a monumental task would take decades to achieve.

The Foremost
Of all of Cao Cao’s progeny, Cao Chong could be called the foremost. Cao Chong’s benevolence, humane kindness and recognizable intelligence was unsurpassed. Often, Cao Chong would review cases of indicted criminals for any injustice. At a tender age of five, his thoughts were already extensive and full of wisdom. Impressed by his exploits, Cao Cao had on many occasions expressed to his ministers, his desire to appoint Cao Chong as his successor.

An Elephant and Archimedes
After the end of the Battle of Red Cliff, the Three Kingdoms were in a stalemate. During this time, Cao Cao received tribute from Sun Quan in the form of an elephant. The people of Wei had never seen such an animal before and were amazed at its’ size. Cao Cao was curious as to the weight of the animal. However, none of his ministers were able to propose a solution on how to weigh the animal.

Cao Chong, then merely five, offered the following solution. He asked for a boat and made a mark on the water line of the boat. He then asked that the elephant be taken onto the boat. With the additional weight of the elephant, the boat submerged further into the water. A second mark was made. The elephant was then replaced with smaller weighable objects until the boat was submerged to the same level as indicated by the second mark. The weight of the elephant could then be found out by summing up the weights of all the objects.

A Rat & a Ruse
In another incident, Cao Cao's saddle was chewed through by rats. The storekeepers were in great fear for their lives as laws were strict during those times of war.

When Cao Chong learnt of their plight, he took a knife and cut holes in his clothes as if rats had bitten through them. He then went to see his father and complained that he feared ill luck brought by the rat bites. Cao Cao consoled him, saying it was only a superstition.

Soon after, the storekeepers came to report the rat bites in Cao Cao’s saddle. Laughing, Cao Cao pardoned the storekeepers, saying thus:

‘Even when my son's clothings were just by his side, they could not be spared from the rats, let alone the saddle in the store.’

Life Is Uncertain
Alas! In AD208, Cao Chong died of illness at the age of thirteen, causing Cao Cao to lament and grieve. When Cao Pi tried to console his father, Cao Cao replied thus to his ultimate successor:

‘This is my misfortune but your good fortune!’

Cao Chong, at the mere age of thirteen, had achieved much. Yet, I have lived almost thrice at long. What have I achieved?

Beneath the starry night and bright moon, as I look at the expansive sky and reflect on my purpose in life, I realize that the number of days that I have too, is limited. If I do not make full use of every day, shall it not be a priceless gift that I have wasted forevermore? What use is it for me to seek fame and gain, if all the treasures and wealth in the world cannot procure a single minute of my life?

Friday, August 8, 2008

Philosophical Musings - Part III

The Roots of Wisdom

As I watched Christopher Nolan’s ‘The Dark Knight’, I found myself reflecting deeply on the vastly opposing philosophy of Batman vs. The Joker. Is it truly inevitable that the existence of Batman would bring about its’ polar opposite, The Joker? Will we forever be rooted in the concept of duality or can we move beyond opposites?

Thousands of years earlier, Hong Yingming (author of the book ‘The Roots of Wisdom’) pondered on the concept of dualities and this was the result:

Beyond Opposites

If Radiant Beauty exists
The Ugly will necessarily subsist to oppose it

And if I do not take pride in Beauty
Who will be able to consider me Ugly?

If Immaculate Purity exists
The Flithy will necessarily subsist to counter it

If I am not attaced to Purity
Who will be able to Taint me?

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Financial Intelligence - Part IX

Rumble in the Bronx: Consumerism vs. Frugality

Step right up folks, this is it! . Come one and come all and watch the Greatest Battle about to be fought in the Arena. That’s right! It’s the Rumble in the Bronx, the match you have all been waiting for.

On the left, we have Master of the Universe: Emperor Consumerism, a 800 pound, hairy gorrila with vast financial resources and the global economy backing him. Not only does he have the brawn, he’s a genius as well. Oh, did I mention he also bribed the referee, the judges and the audience. Give a loud applause to Emperor Consumerism!

On my right, we have Lord of the Yesteryears: Mr. Frugality. This puny spectacle of a human is both scrawny and skinny. Heck, he doesn’t even have his own coach. Are those his supporters, I see? One, two & three… Haha, out of millions watching, he has only a handful of supporters.

Round 1: ‘I feel like enjoying myself’

Emperor Consumerism roars:
That’s right you yokels. Enjoy yourself, splurge and spend like there’s no tomorrow. There’s no harm in enjoying yourself on my overpriced goods and services. You’ve worked so hard to save some money. Why don’t you go on a vacation at a luxurious hotel and enjoy yourself whilst I help myself to your hard earned money?

Mr. Frugality timidly speaks:
But Mighty Emperor, sir… what about in our old age. If we spend now, we won’t have enough to last us whilst we are old and sickly. With no income and if our children don’t support us, what are we going to eat?

Round 2: ‘I feel like doing more with my phone’

The mighty Emperor thunderous voice fills the Arena:
You must be truly unhappy where you are slaving, oops, I mean working right now. How long and hard must be you work, to earn those meagre sums of pennies? Why not spend all that hard earned money on the most latest and expensive gadgets. Even though you won’t use 99% of the latest features, doesn’t it feel sooo… gooooooodddd… to show off?

Mr. Frugality cowers and says:
Err…mighty Pharoah, the only reason we’re slaving 9 to 5 is for money. If we spend it all on an overpriced handphone and other expensive gadgets, wouldn’t be have to work for an even longer period at our company? Isn't this just going to increase my period of servitude at my company?

Round 3: ‘I’d love a great meal’

Emperor Consumerism, Master of the Universe burps whilst gorging himself on his feast and intonates:
Food! Ah, one of the many great pleasures of life. Who cares if overeating and feasting will give you high cholesterol, make you fat and unhealthy? I need more people coming to my restaurants so I can fatten them whilst relieving them of their money… Err wait… I mean, so that they can feast on my delicious, yummy foods whilst enjoying themselves.

Fidgeting, Mr. Frugality interjects:
Emperor Consumerism.. isn’t going out for a great meal at those posh and expensive restaurants a little too pricy? Most people would need to slave for many hours to afford such delights. Wouldn’t it be better for them to cook a nice and nutritious meal at home?

Round 4: ‘I’m up for some pampering’

Wobbling over, the Emperor Consumerism looks at himself in the mirror and remarks:
… Hmmm seem to be gaining weight. No matter… Time to pamper myself by going to a beauty salon for some slim wrap. Might as well go to the sauna and massage. Ooo… after that, I need some cosmetics and bodycare products to look good. Why don’t you in the audience join me?

Looking abysmal, Mr. Frugality murmurs:
Sigh… most people spend large sums of money by dining out. Then after overeating, they realize they are a bit overweight. What do they do? Instead of reducing the number of outside meals and exercising, they go to a beauty salon and spend more money trying to lose weight.

Round 5: ‘I’m longing for some retail therapy’

Emperor Consumerism looks at himself and reflects:
Oooh’ I’m not:
1. Hairy;
2. White;
3. Slim;
4. Handsome;
5. Wealthy;
6.[Add your desire here]

Crap, I need to spend my money buying things I neither need or want, so that I won’t feel unhappy. Although it’s not going to make me really happy, at least it’ll get my mind off my Dis-Ease. I call it retail therapy.

Holding up his hands as a sign of defeat, Mr. Frugalty notes:
Yes, but why are we unhappy? Isn’t it because we are bombarded by advertisements everday telling us that we aren’t good enough? Why should we listen to these advertisers? They just want to make us unhappy. Then, they’ll flash their latest products promising that it will bring us happiness. I say, contentment is the highest form of happiness.

Emperor Consumerism delivers punishing blows, one after another at Mr. Frugality whilst the crowd roars in approval. Bloody and blackened, Mr. Frugality has no recourse and retreats into the corner. At Round 5, the referree calls to a stop.

The Master of the Universe, Emperor Consumerism is declared the unanimous winner, 100 points to NIL. Mr. Frugality slumps into the corner. It was an exercise in futility to try to go against the Emperor... Still, he tried to prove his point. Perhaps one out a million in the crowd would heed his advice…

Monday, August 4, 2008

The Way of the General - Part V

The Authority of the Military Leadership

Military authority, directing the armed forces, is the matter of the authoritative power of the leading general.

If the general can hold the authority of the military and operate its power, he oversees his subordinates like a fierce tiger with wings, flying over the four seas, going into action whenever there is an encounter.

If the general loses his authority and cannot control the power, he is like a dragon cast into a lake, he may seek the freedom of the high sea, but how can he get there?


Man from Nobility, Grand Administrator of Bohai
Yuan Shao was last great rival of Cao Cao in Northern China. He was a classic example of the Man from Nobility. Prior to the fall of the Han Empire, the Yuan family had held the highest offices of state for generations and their network of allies and clients extended across the empire. He held immense authority and prestige, and would prove to be one of Cao Cao’s greatest nemesis.

The Guandong Coalition
In AD190, after Dong Zhuo seized power and controlled the Han Empire, his tyrannical ways angered many officials throughout the Empire. In response, many regional warlords formed the Guandong Coalition, 關東聯軍. There were numerous participating warlords in the Coalition including Sun Jian, Cao Cao, Zhang Miao, Yuan Shu and Han Fu.

As the regional warlords gathered, they had to choose a chief to lead them. Here, Cao Cao spoke ‘For four generations, the highers offices of state have been filed by members of the Yuan family and their clients and supporters are everywhere. As a descendant of ancient ministers of Han, Yuan Shao is a suitable man to be our chief lord.’

Thus was Yuan Shao elected as the chief of the Guandong Coalition.

Battle of River Si Pass
Sun Jian, the then Governor of Changsha offered to lead his army of 20,000 men and challenge Dong Zhuo's forces at River Si Pass. Upon realizing the peril he faced, Dong Zhuo sent Hua Xiong, commanding approximately 10,000 men to do battle with Sun Jian.

Sun Jian was a valiant warrior and assisted by his capable generals, Huang Gai, Cheng Pu, Hang Dang and Zu Mao, they overwhelmed and forced Dong Zhuo’s forces to retreat back to the River Si Pass. Here, Dong Zhuo’s men led by Hua Xiong were too well entrenched and attacked via arrows and hail of stones which forced Sun Jian’s army to retreat back to their camp at Liangdong.

A report of victory was sent back to Yuan Shu, who was responsible for supplying food to the Coalition. With sufficient supplies, it would only be a matter of time before Sun Jian crushed Dong Zhuo’s army at River Si Pass and head directly for Luo Yang.

Alas! At this very moment, a counselor said to Yuan Shu, ‘This Sun Jian is a veritable tiger in the east. Should he take the capital and destroy Dong Zhuo, we should have a tiger in place of a wolf. Do not send him grain. Starve his troops, and that will decide the fate of that army.

Yuan Shu, jealous of the Sun Jian's achievements gave ears to the detractor and sent neither grain nor forage.

Without food, Sun Jian’s starving army was disgruntled and morale diminished rapidly. Taking advantage of this, Hua Xiong led his men and ambushed Sun Jian’s camp at night. Taken by surprise, Sun Jian’s army was thrown into confusion and fled in disorder. Although Sun Jian escaped with his very life, the Coalition had lost a golden opportunity to defeat Dong Zhuo.

Yuan Shao was the overall leader of the Coalition. Yet, he failed in the simplest of task, by appointing his incompetent brother, Yuan Shu as Chief of the Commissariat. His failure in choosing the right person for the job was the decisive factor in the Coalition's defeat at the River Si Pass. A golden opportunity to defeat Dong Zhuo and restore the Han Empire was forever lost, merely due to petty squabbles and internal rivalry.

Friday, August 1, 2008

Philosophical Musings - Part II

The Roots of Wisdom

Today, I would like to share with you a simple poem by an ancient Chinese philosopher, Hong Yingming, author of the book 'The Roots of Wisdom'. He lived during the twilight years of the Ming Dynasty. The following is an English translation of his poem by Tsai Chih Chung, published by AsiaPac Books.

The Celebration of Life

People of this world put themselves in Chains
For the sake of Gain and Fame
Then talk of the World of Dust
The Sea of Bitterness

They do not know that:

Clouds are white
Mountains green
Rivers run
Rocks stand erect

Blossoms invite
Birds chirp merrily
The valley responds
The woodcutters sing

This World, again
Is not of Dust
The Sea, again
Is not Bitter

It is only that
On their own
They put the Dust and Bitterness
In their Hearts

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