Friday, 21 December 2018

Deutschland 86: German television series review


After watching the first season – Deutschland 83 – I was excited to see the second season available on Netflix. Compared to Deutschland 83, this season was a slight disappointment; watchable but not as binge worthy as Deutschland 83.

For those expecting more of the same Deutschland 86 will come as a surprise. Deutschland 86 moved away from its core East Germany vs West Germany Cold War premise and shifted to the Cold War battleground of South Africa.


The episodes didn't flow seamlessly, i.e. the stories seemed jumpy and often only loosely connected. While there was continuity with main characters, e.g. Martin Rauch, Lenora Rauch, et. al. many new persons were introduced and made the story more complicated to follow.

In a nutshell, the plot goes as follows. The Soviet Union is near bankruptcy. Gorbachev is implementing reforms which include cutting financial aid to Warsaw Pact countries like East Germany. In the new environment, East Germany's government is forced to scramble for hard currencies like the Deutsche Marks (remember the West German currency?!) by going 'capitalist.'

Many schemes, legal and illegal but all surreptitious, are concocted by East German leaders. East German blood is sold across the border. East German citizens are used for (often unethical) medical trials by Western pharmaceutical companies.

However, for Deutschland 86 the focus is on smuggling weapons. Not just routine arms smuggling but violating a UN arms embargo against South Africa's white supremacist Apartheid regime (remember black people were legally subhuman until the late 1980s in South Africa?!).

Yes, communist East Germany was selling weapons to 'Free / Capitalist South Africa' so it could suppress Mandela's communist African National Congress (ANC) armed insurgency … to generate money to keep the Socialist dream alive! Ironic but true. Much of Deutschland 86 revolves around the adventures related to selling arms to South Africa and the shenanigans required to circumvent UN sanctions and hoodwink ordinary communist East Germans.

Deutschland 86 is eminently watchable. Not as tightly knit as the first season of Deutschland. Nonetheless, it reveals important insights into the demise of the East Bloc's communist regimes while still entertaining viewers. For social scientists, Deutschland 86 underscores the importance of pragmatism over ideology.

NB: At the time of writing Deutschland 86 is available on Netflix in multiple jurisdictions.
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Imran is a Singapore based Tour Guide with a special interest in arts and history. Imran has lived and worked in several countries during his career as an international banker. He enjoys traveling, especially by train, as a way to feed his curiosity about the world and nurture his interest in photography. He is available on twitter (@grandmoofti); Instagram(@imranahmedsg) and can be contacted at imran.ahmed.sg@gmail.com.

Thursday, 13 December 2018

Occupied: Norwegian television series a review



Occupied is a Norwegian television series which tells the story of a series of political events leading to the Russian military occupation of Norway.


A Russian military occupation of Norway may sound unrealistic but the series plays out in such a manner that it's almost believable. After a few episodes it doesn't really matter as the plot fully draws in the viewer. The intricate plot blends love, political intrigue, action and European politics in a believable fashion.

The military intervention was all about Norway's enormous oil and gas reserves.

Yes, the geopolitics of oil and gas are intense. After all, wasn't the US intervention in Iraq all about oil? So why should one be so surprised something similar could happen in the heart of Europe with Russia as the antagonist?

Occupied is watchable despite the acting. At times, the acting leaves a lot to be desired. It is wooden with characters seeming to simply 'go through the motions.' The depth in characters is therefore missing.

Nonetheless, Occupied is a must watch for anyone interested in political thrillers. It builds a credible story based on plausible situations. The gaps in the plot are forgivable given the entertainment value of the series.

Note: At the the time of writing, two season of Occupied are available on Netflix in many jurisdiction.
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Imran is an adventurer, blogger, consultant, guide, photographer, speaker, traveler and a banker in his previous life. He is available on twitter (@grandmoofti); Instagram (@imranahmedsg) and can be contacted at imran.ahmed.sg@gmail.com.

Wednesday, 28 November 2018

The Art of Doing Good: Where Passion Meets Action - a book review


For anyone wishing to do good - and who doesn't - this is a wonderful book! 

Let me clarify, this book is not a standard 'self-help' book. It is a practical manual for those who wish to start (or are already involved with) a non-profit organization. The book provides useful tips peppered with personal anecdotes from practitioners which promise to make the life of any social entrepreneur easier and, hopefully, more successful. 


Social entrepreneurship or starting / managing a voluntary welfare organization is complicated. There are no hard and fast rules. Much has to be learnt 'on the fly.' Nonetheless, the author's have done well to provide readers with some basic principles in starting, managing and growing such organizations. 

The Art of Doing Good is a specialized work, not for everyone. For those who wish to get into the field of social entrepreneurship this book is an excellent place to start the journey. 
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Imran is a former banker and has lived and worked in several countries during his international banking career. He enjoys traveling, especially by train, as a way to feed his curiosity about the world and nurture his interest in photography. He is a licensed freelance tour guide in Singapore. He is available on twitter (@grandmoofti); Instagram (@imranahmedsg) and can be contacted at imran.ahmed.sg@gmail.com

Saturday, 20 October 2018

Of riots, immigrants and Singapore’s Global Migrant Festival



Since the refugee crisis hit Europe issues pertaining to migration and population flows have moved up the global agenda. Back home in Singapore, the Little India Riot in 2013 was a shocker (riots in Singapore!) but also a wake-up call about the countries large but often unnoticed pool of low skilled labor.

One side effect of the renewed focus is the establishment of the Global Migrant Festival which takes place in Singapore in December 2018. As part of his research for an article on the festival for a Hong Kong English daily I received some questions from a journalist on the subject of migrants, immigration, etc.

A selection of the questions and my answers are reproduced below.

Syrian refugees at the main train station in Budapest, Hungary (source: Wikipedia)
Q. What do you think are circumstances that led to this festival? How do you see it as something different towards other cultural festival?

A. I don’t know the details of the festival other than the information listed on their website but understand it is geared towards an otherwise culturally neglected demographic of Singapore’s society, i.e. low income foreign workers. In many ways, this is a ‘local’ Singapore festival which hopefully over time will come to encompass the aspirations and talents of an often forgotten segment of immigrant communities. In coming years, as the festival becomes established, festival Organizers will have to walk a fine line between commercialization and maintaining the ‘grassroots’ spirit / intent of the founders.

Q. What problems are they trying to remedy or at least articulate/engage with?

A. Humanizing a demographic of society which is often seen but almost never heard. Without this community many cities, including Singapore, would grind to a standstill. Additionally, I am sure there are lots of hidden talents among festival participants so bringing these talents out will be a service to not only the individuals but also the entire arts community.

Q. Singapore had a setback with the Little India race riots in 2013. How do you think things have changed (or not) since then? 

A. The wording of your question is interesting. Not everyone will refer to the 2013 Little India riots as a race riot. The riot was a seminal moment for Singapore in that it highlighted to broader Singaporean society the need to focus on a minimum quality of life for *all* residents of Singapore, not only Singaporeans and top end foreign talent. Much has been achieved since then because of this focus on the lower paid foreign workers by the government as well as a burgeoning NGO sector. Arguably, this festival itself is a by-product of the 2013 Little India riots.

Q. What do you think can be done to encourage more discussion and community engagement with migrant/immigration issues? Is there anything particularly that requires a shift in debate?

A. It’s a sad testament to the modern world but it took large waves of uncontrolled refugee migration to the developed Europe, especially from Iraq and Syria, for the international community to realize immigration issues are real and must be studied for greater understanding. Poorer countries have faced refugee crises for many decades since in the post-war period, most notably three million plus Afghani refugees in Pakistan during the first Afghan war and many parts of Africa. 

‘Humanizing’ migrant workers and introducing them as real people with hopes, wants, fears, etc. through literature and the arts is a great starting point. Given that foreigners – of all skill levels – comprise approximately 30 percent of our population including sections on such migrant communities in academic courses / syllabi at various levels of learning in our educational institutions should be considered.

I hope we will see more high quality literature and visual arts emerge on the experiences of migrant populations as a result of this increased focus. This festival is a step in the right direction.

Q. How can awareness of these issues help drive change and inclusion in the following sectors? Education, art and culture, employment

A. As I mentioned earlier, including sections on the role of migrant workers in keeping Singapore running smoothly may be included in school syllabi. Additionally, the government may allocate more funding to academic efforts to understand the challenges faced by new citizens and / or migrant workers. Increased funding will lead to more and better research and, hence, greater understanding.

A broad debate on making Mandarin a compulsory subject in school for all Singaporeans until, say, P6 should be initiated. In a majority Chinese society where Mandarin is the lingua franca of the bulk of the population, not speaking Mandarin acts as a glass ceiling as well as a hidden barrier for integration.

Q. Some of the key social issues include concerns of immigrants taking up white-collar jobs, driving property prices up and occupying places in schools and hospitals. How do you think these concerns can be better addressed by the government and individuals?

A. This is a broad policy debate and pertains to Singapore’s historic economic growth model pursued over the last few decades, i.e. grow the population to sustain economic growth. We have gone from approximately three million residents in 2000 to 5.6 million today. That’s a big jump and brings with it not only economic growth but a multitude of ancillary social issues – intended and unintended.

Growth is not an end in itself. A blind focus on generating economic growth misses the point. Economic growth is a means to a fairer, more just and happier society.

As Singapore has achieved levels of affluence comparable to the likes of Switzerland and Austria, Singaporeans must now shift their focus to other aspects of social maturation. These are difficult questions relating to distribution of wealth, taxation structures, provision and subsidies of medical services and so on.

The question of immigration is part of a larger rethink which Singaporeans must undertake about the future priorities of our society.

Q. Cultural identity is always ridiculed or dismissed as being diluted in Singapore. What can be done to discourage this mindset and see more proactiveness from Singaporeans to articulate or develop this 'identity'?

A. National identity is not static. Nor is at an end point a society must achieve. National identity is dynamic. Like any vibrant society, Singapore’s identity is also constantly evolving over time.

Openness to new ideas is necessary for society to thrive, especially in today’s fast paced world. Foreigners – whether immigrants or transient – are a historic part of Singapore’s population landscape and contribute significantly to our melting pot of ideas.

I don’t accept the idea that Singapore’s identity is diluted by immigration or migrant workers. On the contrary, over the course of time, Singapore’s identity is strengthened by new and diverse population groups.

Take Hainanese chicken rice and roti prata, two quintessential markers of modern Singaporean identity. These dishes did not develop in a cultural vacuum. They developed through the interaction of various different immigrant populations on this Little Red Dot.
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Note: Imran is a former banker and has lived and worked in several countries during his international banking career. He enjoys traveling, especially by train, as a way to feed his curiosity about the world and nurture his interest in photography. He is a licensed freelance tour guide in Singapore. He is available on twitter (@grandmoofti); Instagram (@imranahmedsg) and can be contacted at imran.ahmed.sg@gmail.com


Thursday, 27 September 2018

The Peculiar Life of a Lonely Postman by Denis Theriault: a book review



It has been a long time since I have read an entire novel from start to end in one sitting. A few days ago I did exactly that with Theriault’s book, The Peculiar Life of a Lonely Postman.

That fact in itself makes several statements about the book.


Firstly, it’s an intriguing book that keeps the reader engrossed. Secondly, at 137 pages it’s not a long work. Above all, the author’s curious blend of language with a ‘realist fantasy’ story composed about a seemingly boring, everyday character makes Theriault’s novel difficult to put down.

The plot concerns an introverted postman – Bilodo - who becomes a voyeur of sorts by reading others personal letters. During this process he comes across regular correspondence between a man and a woman done entirely in haiku, a Japanese form of poetry. He becomes so immersed in this vicarious relationship that it takes over his life, much like alcohol takes over an alcoholic’s life.

The postman himself is a sad, forlorn character. The reader empathizes with him more and more as the story develops. Bilodo’s desire for ideal love; his social awkwardness and even the way he finds himself metamorphosizing into another character all make the reader feel for him.

The author’s language is poetic, simple yet descriptive. It evokes emotions of calmness and being in the moment. The words flow like a long poem, reminiscent of reading The Four Quartets by TS Elliot during my student days.

This is a book which can be read at various levels. It has a Kafkaesque feel to it. The book is reality and fantasy set in our contemporary wired society. The ‘unreal’ bits make a social statement. The novel will surely make it into university literature curriculums in the coming years.

The Peculiar Life of a Lonely Postman is a book which will resonate with a wide range of audiences. It has philosophical undertones and yet its greatest appeal lies in its simplicity. It is an elegant book deserving of much more than the few hours required to complete it.
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Imran is a Singapore based Tour Guide with a special interest in arts and history. Imran has lived and worked in several countries during his past career as an international banker. He enjoys traveling, especially by train, as a way to feed his curiosity about the world and nurture his interest in photography. He is available on twitter (@grandmoofti); Instagram (@imranahmedsg) and can be contacted at imran.ahmed.sg@gmail.com

Monday, 24 September 2018

Secrets of State by Matthew Palmer: a book review



Secrets of State, a novel written by former US diplomat Matthew Palmer, is a sophisticated work of fiction. In his book Palmer weaves together a believable plot involving an US and Indian ‘deep state’ conspiracy to militarily destroy Pakistan. The story involves some classy character development, beginning with the main protagonist Sam Trainor.


The plot has ultra-nationalist patriots in the US and Indian collaborate to launch a (false flag?) nuclear attack on an Indian city in order to provoke an Indian military attack aimed at destroying Pakistan (once and for all). For the Americans, the motive is to ‘protect’ the world by preventing Pakistani nukes from following into the wrong hands, i.e. Islamic extremist terrorists.

Through chance, coincidence or synchronicity a retired US South Asia specialist, Sam Trainor, gets a whiff of the plot and starts investigating through his network of Washington contacts. Pretty soon Trainor finds himself in hot waters and realizes he is onto something big.  

Meanwhile, his clandestine love interest – an Indian diplomat at her country’s US mission – and his daughter – a do-gooder, socially conscious, young half-Indian woman doing development work in the slums of Mumbai – both find themselves sucked into the terrorist plot.

Despite what appears to be a far-fetched series of events, Palmer does a good job piecing the story together. He even adds some historical ‘make believe’ stories from time to time to give the novel greater believability. It works.

Events in Secrets of State move quickly. The reader is kept in suspense and will hardly notice the length (437 pages) of the novel. 

To be sure, the author cashed in on post 9/11 conventional wisdom which conveniently placed every international terrorist incident at Pakistan’s doorstep.[i] Nonetheless, Secrets of State is more nuanced than many post 9/11 ‘terrorist’ thrillers. Palmer’s fiction is a good addition to the genre. Anyone who enjoys a good geo-political thriller will find Secrets of State a good read.


[i] In the aftermath of 9/11, if an American in Washington DC caught the flu, it must have been a conspiracy involving biological weapons hatched in Pakistan’s governed tribal areas! Likewise, if a firecracker exploded unannounced on the streets of London it was an Islamic extremist attack planned and plotted by Pakistanis!

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Imran is a Singapore based Tour Guide with a special interest in arts and history. Imran has lived and worked in several countries during his past career as an international banker. He enjoys traveling, especially by train, as a way to feed his curiosity about the world and nurture his interest in photography. He is available on twitter (@grandmoofti); Instagram (@imranahmedsg) and can be contacted at imran.ahmed.sg@gmail.com

Wednesday, 12 September 2018

Gato Negro: a film review



I watched Gato Negro hoping to get an idea of post-war Argentine society. Instead, I got a blend of a period drama, thriller, crime and social piece woven into one slow moving film.

Unfortunately, the Argentine film didn’t work well in any of the genres. The Director tried doing too much and lost focus. A classic case of ‘jack of all trades and master of none.’


Yes, I did get a glimpse into Argentine society: a dry and limited glimpse without any color provided by the filmmaker though not enough to redeem the movie as an ‘intellectually stimulating foreign film!’

The story started well enough by introducing the main character, Tito, as a boy destined for something more than life in his rural village hometown. Sure enough, the film follows Tito grow into a wealthy businessman of dubious character and shady deals. (I guess that’s business in Argentina?)

Along the way he meets – and forgets – many characters. However, his hometown of Tucuman keeps nagging at him through different ways, e.g. family, former lover, etc. He just can’t seem to shake off his history with Tucuman even after becoming a wealthy international businessman.

I can’t (and won’t) say much more of the plot so as to not give away too much.
Although not a ‘screaming buy,’ Gato Negro is a good effort by director Gaston Gallo. I will keep on the lookout for more films by Gallo. He is bound to direct a gem at some stage.

Note: Gato Negro is available on Netflix as at September 2018.

Monday, 10 September 2018

PTI’s Khan panders to Islamists and Mr Chief Justice I can’t hear you now?


Imran Khan's Pakistan Tehrik-Insaf (PTI) government's recent collapse in facing down Islamist radicals over the appointment of Pakistani Princeton University economist - who happens to be Qadiani - to a government advisory panel, is shameful.
Even more shameful is that Imran Khan did not use even one iota of his considerable political capital to support Atif Mian. There was no public statement from King Khan himself, only official comments by his minions.
Source: Wikipedia
Is this the Naya Pakistan for which Pakistanis voted?
Apart from the fact that the government's behavior is illegal - Pakistan's Constitution is unambiguous on the subject – it sets a dangerous precedent for the State's future. 

PTI's surrender places in doubt Khan's ability to follow through with his ambitious reform program in the face of protest. Economic reform requires tough decisions and if the government is only capable or willing to implement populist policies then whence the reform?
The incident underscores  the recent disintegration of Imran Khan's principles at the altar of political expediency – following on from his decision to appoint 'lotas' (aka electables) in a hitherto principled political party.
Undoubtedly, we cannot bury the notion of Naya Pakistan until the PTI's five year term is complete. However, the PTI has not had an auspicious start and the omens don't look good, especially for women and non-Muslim minorities.
Before one gives up all hope, perhaps one can give a shout out to the otherwise activist 'Suo Moto' Chief Justice? Yes, we appreciate your efforts in building dams Mr Chief Justice but can we request you also focus on your day job and dutifully enforce Pakistan's Constitution in Atif Mian's case?

[i] No citizen otherwise qualified for appointment in the service of Pakistan shall be discriminated against in respect of any such appointment on the ground only of race, religion, caste, sex, residence or place of birth. Pakistan Constitution, Article 27 (1)
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Imran is a former banker and  has lived and worked in several countries during his international banking career. He enjoys traveling, especially by train, as a way to feed his curiosity about the world and nurture his interest in photography. He is available on twitter (@grandmoofti); Instagram (@imranahmedsg) and can be contacted at imran.ahmed.sg@gmail.com

Wednesday, 22 August 2018

The Art of Social Media by Guy Kawasaki and Peg Fitzpatrick: a book review



The Art of Social Media is an easy read. The book is organized using clear headings and subheadings allowing readers to skip sections not relevant to their interests. The book is aimed at sophisticated social media users with a general grasp of most social media platforms. Nonetheless, it is worthwhile even for novices who wish to improve their social media footprint.


Like many such books, this one provides lots of referrals to applications and sites which help to optimize one’s usage of specific platforms. The e-book uses links though I read a hard copy borrowed from my local library. These referrals vary in usefulness but are necessary for any book claiming to be a handbook about social media.

In the New Economy social media is a segment all on its own. Many jobs and vocations include the term, Social Media Manager, etc. The Art of Social Media is best suited for those whose livelihoods are directly related to social media. For most social media is something used for, well, social reasons. For this segment, Kawasaki and Patrick’s book is over the top. Unless one spends a good portion of one’s day focused only on social media the book is probably not for you.
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Imran is a Singapore based Tour Guide with a special interest in arts and history. Imran has lived and worked in several countries during his past career as an international banker. He enjoys traveling, especially by train, as a way to feed his curiosity about the world and nurture his interest in photography. He is available on twitter (@grandmoofti); Instagram (@imranahmedsg) and can be contacted at imran.ahmed.sg@gmail.com

Friday, 17 August 2018

Note to Pakistan’s economic managers: reforming tax collection techniques



As the euphoria surrounding former cricket star Imran Khan’s election victory begins to fade in Pakistan, the country’s economic managers must deal with the hard tasks ahead. Immediately improving foreign currency reserves is simply a tactical necessity. The real challenges are strategic.

If Pakistan approaches the International Monetary Fund (IMF) for economic support – as is widely predicted by most analysts – then the IMF will remind Pakistan’s new Finance Minister of at least two priorities: increasing revenue and reducing expenses.


In order to achieve these two objectives there is a need to move away from the simple solution of imposing additional withholding taxes on an already excessively used taxation technique. To date, this method has only resulted in mixed success.

Presently, virtually any financial transaction in Pakistan’s organized sector, i.e. a documented transaction and not in cash, requires the collection of withholding tax. For example, registering a car or paying motor vehicle tax; registering a property; cash dividend payments made by listed corporations to individuals; and banking transactions such as preparing a bank draft all require collection / payment of a withholding tax. 

In theory, this tax payment is an advance tax and may be adjusted against future corporate or individual tax liabilities. In practice, few individual taxpayers make the effort to reduce their tax liability by the advance tax amount. For corporations, except maybe for top tier multinational and local institutions, increased bookkeeping coupled with a weak and often corrupt tax collection infrastructure reduce the incentive to claim advance tax. In other words, other than a few large corporations with sufficient resources to devote to copious bookkeeping, few businesses ever see the benefits of any ‘advance tax’ collected on their behalf.

Sure, it will be easy to continue and ‘widen’ Pakistan’s tax base by implementing additional presumptive tax on more transactions – or increasing percentages on existing advance tax payments - especially as these tax collections will likely be booked under the Direct Income Tax category and (falsely) boost the government’s claim of broadening the tax net.  Nevertheless, such taxes will only make Pakistan’s economy more inefficient by pushing up the cost of doing business, especially for Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs), a backbone of the country’s economy.


Improving Pakistan’s tax collection infrastructure through reforming the operations of Federal Board of Revenue (FBR) is a prerequisite for success. It should be noted that reforming the FBR is a necessary though not sufficient condition for enhancing the country’s tax revenue.

One means of increasing FBR’s operational efficiencies is to reduce unnecessary human touch points. Corporate and individual tax payers should have as little interaction with humans as possible. Basic tax transactions must be simplified. More transactions should be shifted online. Online transactions reduce the possibility of corruption, improve speed and result in simplicity - an all round elegant solution.

To the naysayers who believe serious reform of the FBR is impossible only need look at the successes of NADRA and even the Election Commission. Both these government agencies have adopted new technologies and greatly simplified the lives of many Pakistanis as a result. Transactions which took weeks, months or even longer and were impossible without several unproductive visits to government departments are now routinely completed using a few clicks on a keyboard. Smart solutions are the way forward for the FBR.

Undoubtedly, increasing revenue and reducing expenses lie at the heart of any economic restructuring be it national, corporate or individual. Unfortunately, converting these two principles into effective policy decisions is a complicated process fraught with political minefields. Nonetheless, Imran Khan’s Justice Party (PTI) has a real opportunity to lay the foundation for genuine reform.

In my next post, I will discuss the necessity of approaching the ‘Filer’ and ‘Non-Filer’ distinction with greater finesse. ‘Non-Filers’ are not synonymous with tax evaders. Hence, throwing all ‘Non-Filers’ into a ‘penalize by paying more tax’ bucket is an unfair use of state powers. The policy must be improved to make it more equitable. Stay tuned.
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Imran is a Singapore based Tour Guide with a special interest in arts and history. Imran has lived and worked in several countries during his past career as an international banker. He enjoys traveling, especially by train, as a way to feed his curiosity about the world and nurture his interest in photography. He is available on twitter (@grandmoofti); Instagram (@imranahmedsg) and can be contacted at imran.ahmed.sg@gmail.com

Saturday, 4 August 2018

State of Emergency by Jeremy Tiang: a book review



State of Emergency by Jeremy Tiang is that new breed of Singapore novel which treads gently into areas which have hitherto remained untouched, perhaps because of the country's so called Out of Bound Markers (Subjects and government policies which are too sensitive to be debated by the general public).


As the title suggests, this novel is mostly set during the years of the Malayan Emergency of 1948 – 1960. During those years an active Communist insurgency was playing out in the jungles of Malaya (today's Malaysia) though the troubles reached as far south as Singapore itself.

Through the characters, which include a British journalist, a communist rebel fighter and her family, Tiang takes us through the reality of a divided nation fighting its own government. The author does not hold back in describing the often brutal tactics used by the British colonial regime – the Malayan Emergency was fought against the colonial authorities – to control and finally subdue the armed insurrection.

Among the tools used were torture, concentration camps and other harsh tactics used by authorities around the world to crush similar ideologically motivated armed uprisings. While these methods are 'geography-neutral,' i.e. they may be used by any country against any uprising, the harsh impact on humans varies subject to place and time. Tiang's novel highlights the repercussions of such extreme and brutal tactics on Singaporeans and their families.

Although fiction, State of Emergency is generally factually true to historic events. It shines a light on a dark segment of Malayan / Singapore history. And none too soon. It is hoped the novel is the first of many more such works revisiting a difficult period of Singapore's history. Surely, there are more stories about the Emergency buried in the concsiousness of Singaporeans and Malaysians which deserve to be heard by the general public?


Imran is a Singapore based Tour Guide with a special interest in arts and history. Imran has lived and worked in several countries during his career as an international banker. He enjoys traveling, especially by train, as a way to feed his curiosity about the world and nurture his interest in photography. He is available on twitter (@grandmoofti); Instagram(@imranahmedsg) and can be contacted at imran.ahmed.sg@gmail.com.

Monday, 23 July 2018

Burning Country: Syrians in Revolution and War - a book review



Think your life is complicated? Try figuring out the Syrian war. Only then can one really know what complicated means.

Burning Country: Syrians in Revolution and War, coauthored by Robin Yassin-Kassab and Leila Al-Shami, tries to lucidly dissect the state of the nation as at 2016. Sure, it's hard for academic works to keep pace with the fast changing ground realities of the country. However, Burning Country does provide a summary of events which led to Syria becoming a playground for opposing forces, including Assad, Islamic State (ISIS) and Kurdish Leftist groups.


Both authors suggest the present state of affairs is a byproduct of a home grown revolution designed only to overthrow the Assad patriarchal state. Due to the Assad regime's brutally violent counterrevolutionary response a power vacuum ensued. It's this power vacuum which has been filled by opposing domestic forces as well as the (none too invisible) hands of foreign influences.

The Gulf monarchies, Iran, Russia, Turkey and the US exercise varying degrees of influence to protect their interests. The authors' are cynical of virtually all foreign countries indicating no nation recognizes the Revolution as indigenous and none does much to address the humanitarian crisis tearing Syria apart. Indeed, the book suggests foreigners play a dirty, selfish game by maintaining a balance of power between several domestic players – as long as ISIS is kept in check.

Burning Country underscores the complexities of modern Middle Eastern politics. It's a sad book to read as the reader clearly sees the train wreck arising out of the many missteps and gradual militarization of an erstwhile civil disobedience movement. The slow destruction of a state with the consequent impact on millions of lives is apparent for all to see (refugee crisis anyone?).

Undoubtedly, Syria has now gone the way of Afghanistan (Iraq?). It ceases to be a 'normal' nation state and will be difficult, if not impossible, to fix in the coming decades. Not least because of the substantial depopulation and sectarian hatred besetting today's Syria.


Imran is a Singapore based Tour Guide with a special interest in arts and history. Imran has lived and worked in several countries during his career as an international banker. He enjoys traveling, especially by train, as a way to feed his curiosity about the world and nurture his interest in photography. He is available on twitter (@grandmoofti); Instagram(@imranahmedsg) and can be contacted at imran.ahmed.sg@gmail.com.

Sunday, 24 June 2018

Confrontation by Mohamed Latiff Mohamed: a book review



Having lived in Singapore for almost twenty years and as a licensed Singapore Tour Guide I know Singapore well. Academically and ‘in theory’ at least.

However, since I did not grow up in Singapore I don’t have the shared experiences of many Singaporeans of my age. I did not listen to stories from my parents about the ‘Konfrontasi’ period between Malaya – of which Singapore was then a part – and Sukarno’s Indonesia. I also did not grow up in a Singapore dotted with kampongs and wooden shacks. (HDB apartments became the order of the day by the late 1970s.)


For such experiences I turn to literature. There may not be a lot of it around as most Singaporeans were busy making ends meet – not much free time and hardly any disposable income. Hence, Mohamed Latiff’s book Confrontation – originally written in Malay - helps to fill some ‘memory’ gaps for me.

The story revolves around a kampong boy and his life in a mixed Chinese – Malay kampong in the 1960s. Political consciousness, the communist movement and Malay Nationalism are some of the undercurrents which flow through the book.

Nonetheless, the book has a human face to it. There are multiple (believable) characters all of whom go through the joys and sorrows of life like the rest of us. (No superheroes in this novel.) The characters make the novel worthwhile even for those not interested in Singapore’s history and social conditions during the 1960s ‘Merdeka Period.’ For those wishing to understand Singapore’s social milieu as seen from a Malay perspective Latiff’s novel Confrontation is a must.
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Imran is a Singapore based Tour Guide with a special interest in arts and history. Imran has lived and worked in several countries during his past career as an international banker. He enjoys traveling, especially by train, as a way to feed his curiosity about the world and nurture his interest in photography. He is available on twitter (@grandmoofti); Instagram (@imranahmedsg) and can be contacted at imran.ahmed.sg@gmail.com.

Monday, 23 April 2018

Pitch Perfect – How to Say it Right the First Time, Every Time: a book review



Bill McGowan and Alisa Bowman’s book is a prescription for public speaking success. It hits the mark though more so for those with some prior public speaking experience. For novices, there are likely better places to start and ‘graduate’ to Pitch Perfect.


The attempt to package McGowan’s ideas (it seems Alisa Bowman is a collaborating writer helping with copy) using catchy, easier to remember principles, e.g. the Pasta Sauce Principle, the Draper Principle, doesn’t work as well as McGowan may like to believe. They make sense while reading the chapters but is one really going to remember the Draper Principle based on the name of some television character?

Nonetheless, the book is a thoughtful ‘contemporization’ of presentation principles for the Social Media age. Public speaking is not what it used to be before the age of live streaming on social media and just because a speaker is learned and has many acronyms (Phd, MPhil, etc.) attached to his name doesn’t make her speech a must see. Indeed, academics and senior corporate types stuck in their world of jargon and knowledge delivery may benefit most from such self-help books.

For those wishing to perfect public speaking techniques Pitch Perfect will strike a chord though perhaps not too loudly. Like any good self-help book, the author has shared his expertise in the field but to benefit the reader must practice constantly by applying the principles highlighted by the author. Not always an easy thing to do, even for those with regular public speaking engagements.
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Imran is a Singapore based Tour Guide with a special interest in arts and history. Imran has lived and worked in several countries during his past career as an international banker. He enjoys traveling, especially by train, as a way to feed his curiosity about the world and nurture his interest in photography. He is available on twitter (@grandmoofti); Instagram (@imranahmedsg) and can be contacted at imran.ahmed.sg@gmail.com.