Celebrating and upholding the diversity of Malaysia 🇲🇾

What makes Malaysia Malaysia is our racial, religious and cultural diversity unseen (almost) anywhere else in the world.

While other coutries may also be diverse (USA and UK to some extent), some distinctions have to be noted.

One, immigrations into these countries are relatively new. So fresh in fact that the first generation of the immigrants may still be alive.

Second, the pressure to assimilate is strong in these countries that the second generation of immigrants have likely transitioned to speak in English as the primary language. By the third generation, the ability to converse in mother tongue has likely deteriorated significantly.

Malaysia experiences immigrations in waves and waves upon centuries. Archeological evidences have shown that the old Malay state of Kedah saw it exporting irons for over ~2500 years, proven through excavation of merchant ships and smelting plants in Sungai Batu, Kedah.

For thousands of years, we have traders all over the world setting foot. European, Arabian, Indian, Chinese, boatloads of us stepping ashore on top of natural immigration from neighbouring countries in Southeast Asia.

Instead of diminishing, the cultures in Malaysia flourished and evolved with new inputs. Ask any mainland Chinese (from China I mean) of their thoughts on the Chinese culture in Malaysia, I guarantee you will be surprised to hear that these mainland Chinese consider our celebration of Chinese traditions and customs are much more elaborate.

Evolution of the Indian culture in Malaysia is no less dissimilar from those of Chinese Malaysians. Our celebrations of Hinduism is as elaborate, as festive, and as intricate as those in India. The second tallest statue of Lord Murugan in the world stands proudly in our country.

What makes Malaysia unique is two fold.

As a start, cultures of our past generations are not lost. Traditions and beliefs of our forefathers are still strongly observed and actively, diligently kept alive with our own unique flavors.

Next, century-long interactions between the races in Malaysia have resulted in numerous products. We learned to infuse recipes with new ingredients & techniques, we intermingled and created offsprings with stronger DNAs, we grew our vocabulary and created new lingos, we learn to be one.

This diversity should be celebrated and upheld.

Being multi-cultural is a great strategic advantage to the country as a whole; it puts us on a great economic path globally. Thus efforts to discount, diminish or worse demonise other cultures must not be allowed to happen in Malaysia.

Malaysians when together in a room are able to speak languages and dialects of the Nusantara, Southern India and Eastern China. Collectively these are languages spoken by over half of the world population.

A Malaysian company filled with a Chinese, an Indian and a Malay could be exporting their services & products to billions of potential customers by working together, riding on each other’s strength.

We have the right ingredients, now its up to the new government to cook up a recipe for it. 🇲🇾

Fuel subsidy is the sugar that is sweet, but kills

An Electric Vehicle #EV is most efficient in slow moving & stop-go traffic, which makes it perfect for urban use. Driving an EV on highways (above 100km/h hour) is the most inefficient use of energy in an EV.

Compare this to a regular fossil-burning vehicle.

Urban traffic is where a fossil-fuel vehicle is most inefficient; the engine keep on running while in slow traffic, burning your money away for minimal travel. A fossil-fuel car on the other hand, is most efficient at highway speeds, where the RPM is low running on a single gear (4th or 5th).

Consider the fact that Malaysian Government is expected to spend ~RM47billion in fuel subsidy this year.

To give you a sense of the scale, the MRT3 construction cost is RM34 billion (the entire project including land acquisition & project management is RM50 billion).

EVERY year, we could have:

  • Built 1 more MRT3
  • Built 33 hospitals with 1000 beds
  • Funded healthcare for Ministry of Health 1.5 times on top of existing RM32bil budget for healthcare
  • Funded Education Ministry 1 time over existing budget
  • Funded Higher Education Ministry 4 times over existing budget

We are so rich that we can afford to burn so much money year after year. In another perspective, we are so fossil-fuel & car-dependent that we balk at ‘expensive’ public-transportation projects while no one bats an eye when our ANNUAL fuel subsidy is on par.

At prevailing fuel prices, it is not surprising to expect for every RM2.05 you spend per liter of fuel, the Malaysian Government (us really, the tax payers) is also spending another RM1.80-RM2.00 as fuel subsidy. This means, if you are refuelling for RM100 for a full tank, the government is also forking our RM100 for your tank.

Imagine how much of that subsidy is gone in mere traffic jams.

Yes, it is this fuel subsidy that helps Malaysia to have one of the lowest inflation GLOBALLY. It keep the fuel cost low for transportation, construction, food production and so many other industries.

Fuel subsidy indeed help keep our cost of living low compared to peers in the region.

However as for inflation, in my untrained mind, is not because of the subsidy per-se.

Our inflation is low because of us pegging the fuel price to RM2.05, which means we (the rakyat) are relatively cushioned against global events while the government faces the brunt of raising fuel prices.

The pegged fuel price allows businesses continue to operate with certainty that the cost will not shift drastically, hence limiting price adjustments month-over-month.

In other fuel-producing countries, the raise in global fuel price is a boon because fatter profit. However in Malaysia, it is a bane because the government has to spend more to subsidise.

What a conundrum.

Fuel subsidy is akin to sugar. It tastes sweet, people easily get hooked and wont let go of it.

Tomorrow is the celebration of Malaysia’s formation.

For our own future, let us support and vote for politicians who are brave enough to reduce our dependencies on fuel subsidies.

Arts, Culture and Patin Tempoyak

On weekends, I derive pleasure by introducing tourists to local restaurants in places off the beaten path.

Two weeks ago, I met Mario and Olivia of @travel_on_toast (in Youtube and Instagram). It was a fun driving them around KL and the suburbs.

We went to Rimbun Dahan to visit my friends art exhibition, showing them a reconstructed traditional Malay house there. We were super lucky to have also met Angela Hijjas, the owner of Rimbun Dahan and considered a prime mover in Malaysian art industry.

We discovered early that Mario and I are history buffs. This led us to some exciting chats on Sumerian/Indus/Aztec civilisations, and how the population of the Aztec was decimated by plagues introduced by explorers coming from the old world.

Knowing Mario is part-Lithuanian (Marius is a common Lithuanian name), I told him of the wonderful places in Vilnius I visited on business trips a few years ago. Of the castles, the churches, and warm shady parks during spring time.

His eyes sparkled 🤩

He later showed me his tattoos of old beliefs prior to Christianity in Lithuania, how paganism is still observed in some parts of the country.

I responded with examples of animism and remnants of Hinduism that permeates the Malaysian cultural fabric even after Islam landed on the shores in the region. Told him that in Kedah, archealogical evidence in Sungai Batu showed that the old state was smelting and exporting iron ores for over 2000 years.

We started to talk about superstitious beliefs.

Mario was intrigued to know that Malaysians are full-on, hardcore believer of the mystics.

One quick example is how number 4 and 14 are considered bad luck in fellow Chinese Malaysian culture, hence the designation of 3A and 13A instead of 4 and 14 in numbering floors.

Great company to have while sipping Patin tempoyak (silver catfish in fermented durian broth) watching planes landing and taking off.

Do things that make you happy

I envy our youngsters for having access to wealth of knowledge in just a few taps of the fingertips.

When I was a kid, around 10-11 years old, learning a new software (Photoshop 4.0/4.5 in this case, circa 1997-1999) means I had to open up a ~200 pages thick guide book, flip the pages and try to make sense of the written instructions. So much harder considering my command of English vocabulary was near non-existent back then. Naturally I also had a thick Oxford dictionary to help me out.

My vocabulary grew by leaps and bounds. Lasso, marquee, smudge, dodge, gradients… these words were foreign just a few months prior.

Just now I had trouble understanding commands on Figma (a vector-based collaborative design tool used by product managers & designers). A quick Google and verbatim use of the keywords, viola! – Got my answer in the first result, presented visually in an embedded Youtube video.

I envy you, youngsters.

Time flies, use your youthful energy to learn and explore things.

Take advantage of the easy access to knowledge.

Try everything that makes you happy.

Do some things that push you beyond your comfort.

Dont be scared to take some risk.

And lastly, be happy, for this is the only life we have.

Tempoyak hot sauce, anyone?

As Malaysia has reopened its borders, tourists are coming back in droves. On weekends, I like to drive them around and show what Malaysia has to offer, sharing our culinary delights away from the tourist traps, and promote other must-see places and must-eat foods beyond whats available in Kuala Lumpur.

I love doing this because it is a two-way exchange. One with me sharing what locals do, second with them sharing their wonderful observations of Malaysia. This is as much a learning experience for them as for me.

It is a delight, and in an age where everything seemingly on the decline, there are actually plenty of things that we Malaysians do right.

Last week I met Crissy, an American nurse and her husband, Alvin. They have been to South East Asia numerous times; Malaysia though has a place in their hearts as this is the 4th time coming here, now for 3 months.

I brought them to local kopitiams (Capitol in Bukit Bintang) where we had toasted bread with the customary hot coffee and soft-boiled eggs.

Seeing that the couple was rather adventurous food-wise, naturally I introduced the pièce de résistance of Malay cuisines, which is the Patin Tempoyak (which if you are not familiar, is a type of catfish cooked in fermented durian). Its thick in spice, hot, and worse, durian.

Crissy and Alvin were champs. They love it. The rich durian broth opens up a new sensation, a palate never thought possible in their American food lingo.

“Syed, I have a feeling if we turn this (tempoyak broth) into some kind of habanero sauce (hot sauce akin to Tabasco) for BBQ, Americans would love it.”, mutters Alvin.

Crissy & Alvin, wish you both a pleasant, fun & safe trip to Ipoh, Kota Bharu, Kuantan and Malacca.

🙂

Great success is built on failures. Embrace failures.

While our government’s effort to encourage entrepreneurship deserves an applause, it is when we look at the detail things start to falter.

Having experienced raising funds (grants, equity, mix of equity and debt) from government agencies and related entities (government-linked venture capitals), I came to the impression that raising capital from government-backed agencies (in Malaysia) is not conducive in getting more people to embrace entrepreneurship.

Entrepreneurs are resilient, we are quick to pivot, a master at finding opportunities and monetize it.

But this is not all.

Successful business ventures are often built upon numerous failures.

Failures serve as a great teaching, humbling moment for entrepreneurs to grow.

We grow from failures. We embrace the opportunity to learn, and do better.

In Malaysia, raising funds from government-backed agencies means you are not allowed in any manner to fail.

To make matters worse, getting funds from these agencies would require director’s guarantee and a plethora of other forms of obligations to the fund. In simple terms, if you fail = you are personally responsible to repay.

There is no room to allow a budding company to fail gracefully. In current funding environment, if you fail = you are on the hook for likely 5-10 years to pay back the fund.

There is no opportunity to take a step back and say “Hey, we have done our best. The market/timing/etc is simply against us. Let us close shop, and try out new ideas.”

In Malaysia, especially dealing with government-backed funds, one will have the impression that out of 100 companies receiving the fund, all 100 are expected to be successful.

This should not be the case. Nor expected to be the case.

High risk ideas are prone to failure. But if one takes off, the benefit to the economy significantly outweighs all the other unsuccessful ventures.

To spur the digital economy, our government need to realize that the funds allocated for startups need to have some leeway – an expectation that maybe only 1-2% of the companies will make it big. 10% will do ok, and the rest might falter.

Allow those that falter to stand up, recover and try out new enterprise.

Allow entrepreneurs to attempt wicked, high risk ideas.

Let them learn.

Let them attempt to do things differently.

Let them to also FAIL gracefully.

Do not make them pay (in literal and figurative manner of speaking) for the failure (except if there is a clear negligence or abuse of the funds).

A society that embraces failures is bound to discover greatness.

Electric Vehicle sales doubling every 18 months

“No question about it. Internal combustion engine (ICE) is done.”, said my confidante and mentor when I shared to him this graph.

The current sales trend of Electric Vehicles (EV) paints a clear picture: The volume of EV sales doubles every 18 months…

In 2016, British Petroleum (BP) expected 71 million EVs on the road by 2035. Latest sales data shows that we will reach that volume by 2025. Full decade ahead of schedule.

As the pace of energy transition hastens, so does the gap between countries/regions that adopt EVs early versus those who are laggards.

Early adopters are ahead of the curve; these countries/regions tend to gain experience and matures fast.

Top of my head the benefits are:

  1. Experimentation of public policies in balancing the interest of greener future against existing interests in fossil fuels (For example Norway)
  2. Introduction of new supporting services & business models around EVs; enabling budding entrepreneurs to try out new ideas. For example EV leasing to battery recycling to introduction of new digital services. Or perhaps someone would buy up all the parking spaces and convert them to EV charging space.
  3. Smoother transition when these countries/regions finally decide to cut off fossil fuel entirely (at least on the use of fossil fuel for personal mobility).
  4. It is smoother since they are at the forefront of EV adoptions, they have full control on the pace of change (for example, deciding on policy level how many EVs should be manufactured by certain year).
  5. Compare this to laggards (countries that adopt EVs late) – These laggards will be literally choked with old inefficient ICE cars > more dependence on fossil fuels > high susceptibility to global fuel fluctuations. Current Ukraine War has only sped up European Unions effort to ditch Russian oil.
  6. As global car manufacturers switch to EVs, one can expect countries/regions yet to adopt EVs to be the dumping ground of inefficient ICE cars. Again, the same cycle persists > more dependence on fossil fuels > spending more on healthcare and little control over public expenditure.

What are your thoughts? How can Malaysia transition to be an adopter of EV while balancing its interest in the lucrative oil resource?

Understanding the needs of EV-owners

Of all the EV-charger equipped petrol stations in Klang Valley, this BHP station in TTDI is the only one that makes sense. It is smack in the middle of business areas, making it easy for EV/PHEV owners to park, charge and continue their business nearby for one or two hours.

It is also in a sweet spot for my daily hike in Kiara Hill Trail nearby. I would typically hike at 6am and return at 8am (7-10km hike) to find the car fully charged; sufficient for one day of movement with no fuel used. Do this daily, at times I would only spend RM80/month for fuel. Thats 75% lesser than the average consumer fuel-spent.

The rest of EV-equipped petrol stations are not positioned optimally to meet the behaviour of EV owners. No one wants to wait at a petrol station for hours just to charge their car.

When EVs become commonplace, petrol stations that are centrally located to housing and business areas have the best chance of being converted to EV stations…

… provided power utility companies (TNB, SESB) do not disrupt energy delivery by equipping regular parking spots with EV chargers using power from light/electric poles first.

With EVs, energy delivery to power our mobility is now democratised and decentralised. There is no need for expensive petrol stations with its strict HSE policies to built, maintain & run; now everyone can juice up their EV cars at home or at the car parks.

Why are petrol stations in close proximity to one another?

Why are petrol stations in close proximity to one another?

As we had plenty of free time during last year’s lockdown period, we did a quick analysis of petrol station clustering in Malaysia. Methodology was simple; consider the stations are in a cluster if they are within 500 meters of each other. Data was scrapped from map providers.

We discovered that Shell and Petronas (the two largest O&G companies) is the most popular pair of petrol stations in close proximity with one another.

If you are at a Shell station, you will have a 30% chance of seeing a Petronas station. If you are at a Caltex station, there’s only 17% chance of seeing a Petronas station.

So why do competitors tend to cluster together?

Well this boils down a theory called Hotelling’s Model of Spatial Competition (Google it to find an excellent video on TedEd):

  • A commercial area with many competing businesses attracts more customers than an area with a single business.
  • If competing businesses are spread evenly across a large area, customers need to visit each business to get what they are searching for. This would be inconvenient to the customers because they may or may not find the item in the first one or two providers. The customer might even get frustrated/exhausted and decided not to purchase at all.
  • Having competing businesses in close proximity allows customers to ‘shop around’ and ensures customers will at least buy something.
  • Naturally new competing business will open nearby because the crowd is there. The business wont have to spend much for marketing for customer discovery because it could just ride on existing marketing and customer base of their competitors.

Now you would argue that this scenario is moot for petrol stations as they are selling regulated products (fuel price is capped). Well, do you know that petrol stations value foot-fall into their retail stores? This also explains why stations nowadays are mini-malls; they sell anything from chicken rice, to fast food and car wash.

So dont be mad on having competitors. They help the market to grow.

Internship

Two interns reported for duty today.

One is Zhen Yang, a UTAR student and an aspiring data scientist. Hailing from Ipoh, he rented a house near to our office for the next few months as he goes through our rather rigorous, industry-driven internship.

Zheng Yang will be looking at massive vehicle-sensor data available on the KATSANA Platform under the guidance of Engineering Head. We don’t allocate enough manpower to data science due to other priorities, thus having new talents in this area is very much welcomed.

Another intern is Aiman, a tall 18-year old post-high school student, whose drive and conviction to be a software engineer led me to write a rather popular LinkedIn post last week.

Aiman has no formal education in Software Engineering, yet has the drive to soak up knowledge that I haven’t seen in graduates much older than him. He made the calculated risky decision to let go of university education for a few years to be trained in an actual tech company much early on. This young man is brave.

This means we carry a huge responsibility to make sure they become good scientists & engineers. Beyond technical competency, we aim to imbue in them, good communication skills and managerial capabilities.

Wish us luck.