Saturday, April 22, 2006

Yoda's Adventure

I was in Singapore this week attending a conference internal to the bank. I flew out on tuesday rather reluctantly since our cat, Yoda, was very pregnant and I had this suspicous that the kitten were due this week. We knew most likely that she would require an operation. Then on Friday, the last day of the conference, Martina suddenly texted me and said Yoda will have babies that day!! Then the Vet called me frantically trying to get hold of Martina, who was unreachable at time. Ten minutes later I managed to got hold of my girlfriend and she said she has just taken Yoda to the Vet for an emergency operation as she suddenly realised Yoda was probably in labour for the last 12 hours, the Vet said the babies were likely to have died of suffocation and that is no guranteed that the mother is gonna live. Fortunately news after two hours of operation announced both the mum and the kids were fine. And hence I returned to Hong Kong into a whole new world.
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Friday, April 14, 2006

The Savage Beauty of the Sahara - Christian's adventure continues

Just read a dramatic piece of travelogue by Christian. An airlift rescue of his fellow traveller in the Sahara dessert. Well done Christian, for your part of the rescue efforts.


Thursday, April 13, 2006

Development in defiance of the Washington consensus

For those who had followed the news round the clock during the Tiannmen Square Protest in 1989, it would be hard to shake off the 'evil' image of the mainland government ever since. But the twenty years that follow saw China rose to be the economic giant in Asia Pacific, but in the meantime we never cease to hear about the negative comments about Chinese government and its policies. US always fancy a go on China's human right records, suppression of religious freedom. Hong Kong's once blue sky is constant at sieged by the pollution emitted by Guangdong factories. And it you ever come across the book 'Investigation of Chinese Farmer ', you would know that rural China is very different world to the rising coastal cities.

Despite all that, I actually have good feeling about the current leadership of the Chinese governement. It seems they do put issues of environment, rural livelihood and income inequality on the agenda. Deng Xiaping had famously said once to let just part of the people (in China) get rich first. That had been a worrying neo-liberal capitalistic statement, a policy that is bound to divide the country into two rich coastal region its poor rural brother. Far from making empty promises, Den in the meantime had been preparing Hu and Wen, who were working in the poorest provinces of China, as the future leaders. Now it seems the urban bias growth strategy is very much the policy of the past; in the recent announce 11th five year plan, there were full of social conscious agenda items, such as fuel tax and rural public spending etc.

I have shared this view with a few people but I mostly met scepticism. Then I come across an article written by Joseph Stiglitz, a Nobel laureat economist, who is also very positive about China's new development policy. I particular like the way he compare China's development with other developing countries, the latter bought in a capitalistic package (Washington Consensus) and resulted in economic growth at the expense of enviromental degradation and widening income inequality. China is taking a middle ground, growing at 10% GDP increase a year but not at the expense of the next generation. China's has already achieved an economical miracle in the past decade, if it can also demonstrate it's ability to care for the less fortunate and care for the future, it would be a development story to be proud of.


Sunday, April 02, 2006

Explore Beijing

Martina and I have also taken the week to explore Beijing. It is a huge city, most part are the product of boring communist city planning but in bits and places, you will find some surprises. Like the 798 art district, a collection studio in a remote factory warehouse. Gabrielle's husband Dave also owns a place there which he converted into a surreal penthouse.
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The Great Wall was great, even though we only did the commercial Badaling and didn't do the one day hike in unrestored nature part of the wall.
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And finally there were some real good food in Beijing, the duck sucks but the regional cuisine are great.
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Beijing Inspiration

I have finally got back from Beijing and had a couple of meetings with Gabrielle Harris, the Executive Director of Planet Finance-China. Before turning up at the capital, I had little ideas of how this shall progress, all I know is I wanted to work on something meaningful for my lives and the I need to keep on exploring opportunites. My expectation was by meeting this organisation, it will lead to a job with them or some other organisations related to Microfinance eventually. Though deep down I always know that the salary an NGO can afford will be a hurdle that I properly cannot overcome.

Our first meeting took place over lunch in a English book club-restaurant called 'Book Worm'. Rightaway, Gabrielle pass me lots of contacts collected from the recent "Asia Microfinance Forum", ranging from commercial banks, investment banks and established large microfinance institutions in asia. It was like she was trying to persuade me to look else where, which was kind of strange. Couple of days later, we visited their office and meet the crew of PF China, who were very interesting people to speak to. The chief manager Mr Gao has set up one of the most successful MF operation in China, others are also working on some interesting projects. Though I can see little of my banking experience that can be applied directly to their operations.

It was at the final chat with Gabrielle that things fall in place for me. Bascially, she reckoned the tour de force of MF in future are the commercial banks. I can join an NGO like Planet Finance but with limited funding at the moment, the impact will be modest. The days will come when medium size banks in China will downsize their operation to enter the MF market and work with establish NGOs with track record of poverty alleviation, that is where she see MF will become a great poverty alleviation tools. Hence working in an international bank right now, I am at good poisition to shape the future of MF in China.

This has been quite a revelation for me. So instead of giving up my job and be exiled to the NGO world, the next stage of this 'project dream life' will be to work within Standard Chartered to promote microfinance and get the training I need. Failing that, there are plenty other banks who have shown more sincereity in supporting the development of MF.
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