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from Global News Journal:

The Fire Next Time in Thailand

(Thai firefighters douse the Central World shopping mall building that was set on fire by anti-government "red shirt" protesters in Bangkok May 19, 2010.  REUTERS/Yannis Behrakis)

THAILAND/We were walking down Sukhumvit road in downtown Bangkok just after the 9 p.m. curfew  –  down the MIDDLE of a road that on any other Friday night would have been filled with honking vehicles,  hawkers, tourists and touts. We were escorting a colleague home from the temporary newsroom in that Reuters had set up at the Westin Hotel after we were chased out of our office near the red shirt encampment in central Bangkok. Not a creature was stirring. But what was that sound we kept hearing? Squeak, squeak, squeak.Then we saw them. Rats. Thousands of them.  Scurrying along in packs on the sidewalks, the streets, the closed-down Skytrain overhead, at the entrances to shuttered shops, around piles of garbage that had mounted in the Thai capital since the May 19th riots. It was like a movie about an urban apocalyptic event where humans are wiped out and the vermin are triumphant.

We walked past darkened Soi Cowboy, whose raucous go-go bars should have been crammed with visitors. “You know, it’s serious when Soi Cowboy is closed,” my colleague said. “Soi Cowboy never closes.”

What happened in Bangkok last week was, indeed, unprecedented. The worst eruption of political violence, rioting, arson and general mayhem in modern Thai history.  An initially peaceful, if not festive, protest movement ended up in an orgy of violence that killed 85 people and wounded  more than 1,400, according to official figures.  Almost 40 buildings were set ablaze, including the stock exchange and Central World, Southeast Asia’s largest  shopping mall. The targets of the arson attack – symbols of wealth and privilege – were probably no accident.

Thailand is undergoing, what in some respects, appears to be a 19th century style revolution: peasant and proletariat (the red shirts) versus the aristocrats -- family business dynasties, military brass, members of the educated middle class and a royalist establishment (the yellow shirts).

from Global News Journal:

‘Stop me before I bet again in Singapore’

A performer holds over-sized deck cards in front of the Resorts World Sentosa casino Feb. 14 (REUTERS/Pablo Sanchez)

SINGAPORE-CASINO/At least 264 people in Singapore have asked to be put on a list that would prevent them from entering the city state's newly opened casino. Except for nine housewives and 19 unemployed people, the rest had jobs and probably families that they did not want to hurt with a gambling problem. Family members who think a relative might have a gambling problem can also apply to have them banned.

 The $4.7 billion Resorts World Sentosa opened on Feb. 14, Valentines Day and the first day of the Chinese New Year, which was considered auspicious. It is the first of two casinos resorts (and a Universal Studios theme park) that is meant to help transform Singapore from a manufacturing and shipping center to a global hub city built on financial services and a playground for wealthy visitors. This is quite a change for a country often called the "nanny state" because of its many prescriptions and prohibitions, famously for instance, banning chewing gum for its irksome tendency to land up on sidewalks and onto people's shoes.

from Global News Journal:

Giving in to Ali Baba

I once paid a cop 30 ringgit (about $10 then) for making an apparently illegal left-hand turn in Kuala Lumpur. Scores of drivers in front of me were also handing over their "instant fines", discreetly enclosed within the policeman's ticketing folder. It was days ahead of a major holiday and the cops were collecting their holiday bonus from the public.

Malaysia opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim holds a disc he says contains evidence of judge-fixing in Malaysia 

I felt bad about this, of course. What I was doing was illegal, immoral and perpetuating an insidious culture that goes by many names in the East -- "baksheesh" in India, "Ali Baba" (and his 40 thieves) in Malaysia, "swap" in Indonesia (means "to feed").  But the policeman pointed out I would have to take off the good part of a day to go to court and pay 10 times as much to the judge. So I rationalised: "When in Rome..."