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31 March 2009

Cheap Shot, Chip Tsao

A HITHERTO unknown Hong Kong-based columnist has given himself 15 minutes of fame by enraging Filipinos this weekend with a tasteless and idiotic allegation that appeared in last Friday's HK Magazine. In what his publisher, Asia City Publishing Group, apologetically calls a "satirical" article, a certain Chip Tsao reproves the Filipinos, who are a "nation of servants", for "(flexing) muscles at your master, from whom you earn most of your bread and butter." This is in reference to the Philippines' long-standing claim to the Spratly Islands, which China believes is theirs and theirs alone.

The Russians sank a Hong Kong freighter last month, killing the seven Chinese seamen on board. We can live with that-Lenin and Stalin were once the ideological mentors of all Chinese people. The Japanese planted a flag on Diàoyú Island. That’s no big problem-we Hong Kong Chinese love Japanese cartoons, Hello Kitty, and shopping in Shinjuku, let alone our round-the-clock obsession with karaoke.

But hold on-even the Filipinos? Manila has just claimed sovereignty over the scattered rocks in the South China Sea called the Spratly Islands, complete with a blatant threat from its congress to send gunboats to the South China Sea to defend the islands from China if necessary. This is beyond reproach. The reason: there are more than 130,000 Filipina maids working as $3,580-a-month cheap labor in Hong Kong. As a nation of servants, you don’t flex your muscles at your master, from whom you earn most of your bread and butter.

As a patriotic Chinese man, the news has made my blood boil. I summoned Louisa, my domestic assistant who holds a degree in international politics from the University of Manila, hung a map on the wall, and gave her a harsh lecture. I sternly warned her that if she wants her wages increased next year, she had better tell every one of her compatriots in Statue Square on Sunday that the entirety of the Spratly Islands belongs to China.

Grimly, I told her that if war breaks out between the Philippines and China, I would have to end her employment and send her straight home, because I would not risk the crime of treason for sponsoring an enemy of the state by paying her to wash my toilet and clean my windows 16 hours a day. With that money, she would pay taxes to her government, and they would fund a navy to invade our motherland and deeply hurt my feelings.

Oh yes. The government of the Philippines would certainly be wrong if they think we Chinese are prepared to swallow their insult and sit back and lose a Falkland Islands War in the Far East. They may have Barack Obama and the hawkish American military behind them, but we have a hostage in each of our homes in the Mid-Levels or higher. Some of my friends told me they have already declared a state of emergency at home. Their maids have been made to shout “China, Madam/Sir” loudly whenever they hear the word “Spratly.” They say the indoctrination is working as wonderfully as when we used to shout, “Long live Chairman Mao!” at the sight of a portrait of our Great Leader during the Cultural Revolution. I’m not sure if that’s going a bit too far, at least for the time being.

Me, I'm more amused than offended that this Chip Tsao has taken all these years to even mention the Spratlys controversy. It's an old, unresolved, unresolvable issue, having been there since my own grade school days way way back in the seventies. I remember how our Social Studies class debated the virtues of oil that the Philippines discovered in disputed territory off Palawan Island.

Perhaps this Chip Tsao is unconsolably livid after realizing that his better-educated Filipino domestic servant did not him teach about the Spratlys while tutoring him on Asian Contemporaneous Events.

At least he's got 15 minutes of fame now.


Now playing: Emma Bunton - Free Me [Full Intention Freed Up Remix] via FoxyTunes

25 March 2009

The Indian Express on Naw-Rúz

THE INDIAN Express has written about the Bahá’ís of Delhi, in a brilliant article about Naw-Rúz that appeared on last Sunday's print edition. Read about it on "A New Light".

The writer, Shoba, approached me about the writeup--she wrote briefly about my blog earlier this month on "The Expat Blog About Town"--and I passed her onto the external affairs group of the Bahá’ís in New Delhi. It's remarkable how she went out of her way to locate and interview the Bahá’ís in the story. And I love the way that she ended the story with the following sentence:

It is this Tabernacle of Unity that is the essence of the Bahá’í faith, where the waters of disharmony are not permitted to eddy into the peace of mankind.

That, my friends, is the truth. I hope you enjoy reading the rest of Shoba's story!

NOW PLAYING: Tal Bachman - She's So High via FoxyTunes

21 March 2009

We won!

SPENCER'S RETAIL has been named the "Most Admired F&G Retailer of the Year" amongst convenience and express formats in India. Given this weekend at the Food Forum India 2009 convention in Mumbai, the award is one of 12 that comprise the Coca Cola Golden Spoon Awards for excellence in food retailing. It's one of the most eagerly anticipated awards in the Indian food industry.

The winners were based on votes from consumers through a national survey and from experts in food and grocery retail. This latest recognition for Spencer's Retail is yet another reason to be proud of the company I work with. It's darn good.

To give you an idea how our larger stores look like, pictured below are displays that we created in relaunching our hypermarket in Gurgaon in northern India.

Image source: Paul Ancheta at Flickr

Happy Naw-Rúz!

Kolkata Bahá'ís

Bahá'ís of Kolkata celebrating Naw-Rúz at the Bahá'í Center, 20 March
Image source: Paul Ancheta

TODAY IS the first day of a brand new year for Bahá’ís around the world. Called "Naw-Rúz", which means "New Day" in Persian, it is one of the nine holy days of the year, a joyous celebration that also welcomes the first day of spring.

Traditionally, Nowrūz is the Iránian new year, commemorated particularly by the Zoroastrians and Sufists. It is also celebrated by Muslims throughout the Middle East and Central Asia as Navroz. Abdu'l-Bahá, Son of the Founder of the Bahá'í Faith, has said of Naw-Rúz:

The rising of the sun at the equinox is the symbol of life and the human reality is revivified; our thoughts are transformed and our intelligence is quickened. The sun of truth bestows eternal life, just as the solar sun is the cause of terrestrial life.

Here's wishing all of you the joys and good health that spring brings! May they last through summer, fall, & winter . . . and may the light of His Divine mercy & protection surround you and your loved ones!

RELATED SITE: Naw-Rúz Greetings from the New York Bahá’ís

NOW PLAYING: Lincoln Mayorga - Mayorga : "Bluefields" via FoxyTunes

11 March 2009

Festival of Holi


Holified at last year's Holi party at the office

COLOR AND laughter splash all over India today, as the subcontinent celebrates Holi. It's that day of the year when you get doused in this powdery colorful concoction called abir, and you're supposed to look funny in all those shades of red, yellow, and monstrous green.P>And all for the sake of fun and fellowship. There's no direct religious meaning to Holi, although a friend mentioned yesterday that it had medical connotations in the olden days when cholera was widespread (abir is supposed cool the body). It's possibly the least expensive of all Indian festivals, which ensures its popularity in the present financial climate. All that's needed are abir, pichkari (water gun), old white clothes, and TONS OF HUMOR.

Yup, humor. Who needs to be serious about being thrown hideous green powder in a white Pierre Cardin shirt, when there's nothing much you can do about it anyway? (That, by the way, happened to me last year, despite me cautiously avoiding anyone.)

Happy Holi!


Applying abir on a colleague

Now playing: Tom Jobim, Chico Buarque, Caetano Veloso - Águas de Março via FoxyTunes

08 March 2009

EPITAPH : Vicente Samaniego (1930-2009)

MY BROTHER Royce's beeping text message from Manila woke me up yesterday morning and told me about it. Rushing to my PC, I saw Raphael's e-mail: "Tito Paul, Lolo Vic just passed away, around 2am in the Philippines."

Mr. Vicente Samaniego, staunch servant of Bahá'u'lláh, well-loved member of the Asian Bahá'í community, gentle spiritual beacon to my family, and doting father-in-law of my brother Allan, has moved on to the next world after a swift but painful illness. He is now in the company of those he had ever loved in his shining life here on earth.

What a bounty for me to have been touched by you, Tito Vic. I will always remember you and your rich life of service!

02 March 2009

The Bahá'í Fast

STARTING TODAY until 20 March, Bahá'ís around the globe rise before the sun does, eat a nourishing breakfast, pray . . . and then take their next meal after the sun sets. It's the annual season of the Fast, and the time has come once again for Bahá'ís to prepare and rejuvenate their spirits for Naw-Rúz, the Bahá'í new year, on 21 March.

My first day of Fast started well, having rehearsed my cook to prepare breakfast at 5:00 AM. This is my ninth year of fasting (I missed last year since I was traveling extensively). It's the only time of the year when I consciously make the truest effort to detach from material passions and desires, as mandated by Bahá’u’lláh, the Prophet-Founder of the Bahá'í Faith. A friend told me recently that the industry I work for—retail industry—is the first to encourage such materialism. So true, and so lucky am I. There will be tests at work in the next 18 days, and I look forward to winning those challenges through the Fast!

01 March 2009



RPG Day at Nicco Park, Kolkata
Image source: Paul Ancheta

INDUSTRIALIST RAMA Prasad Goenka, founder and chairman emeritus of RPG Enterprises, celebrated his birthday today. It's been customary for the RPG Enterprises, a 30-year-old industrial conglomerate that includes Spencer's Retail (my employer), to celebrate his birthday with "RPG Day", and today's bash in Kolkata is possibly the most austere one ever. Held tonight at the suburban Nicco Water Park on the eastern fringes of the city, the celebration highlighted the group's corporate social responsibility (CSR) thrusts through a remarkable photographic exhibit. I'm actually impressed, never realizing the extent of the company's CSR endeavors. In these frugal, precarious days, it's superbly reassuring to once again see the buoyancy of RPG Enterprises.

The picture below shows the booth that the visual merchandising team created for the Spencer's private label brands, as part of the product exhibit showcasing RPG's various enterprises. Tonight's entertainment program promised to be fun, but I was so bushed from attending to the day's activities that I had to do a rain check and leave my colleagues to enjoy the promising evening.

Happy birthday, Mr. Goenka. It's an honor working with the group!


Spencer's Retail booths
Image source: Paul Ancheta