What? Test-lah

WhatsApp Image 2018-07-16 at 19.35.29A group of 12 teenage Thai boys and their young coach were lost deep in a cave system in Thailand due to unknown reasons. After close to 10 days, they were found by a British rescuer. Rescuing them out of the cave system was not an easy task as the cave was narrow, little known and it was badly flooded by the heavy monsoon rain.

With some extraordinary effort, resources and a race against the next heavy duty rainfall, the Thai government, foreign expert divers, and Navy SEALS together with a great team of volunteers eventually managed to rescue the soccer team. Sadly one of the elite Thai divers lost his life. True heroism! All of them are true heroes. A great story to celebrate. A victory of humanity.

Singapore has a unique language called Singlish. Singlish is not a complicated language as it is mainly English with a local accent incorporating a few local dialects of various ethnic origins. Sometimes it can be confusing for the newcomers or those who are less in tune with the languages involved. For example, at local coffee shops, ordering a tea with milk, ‘Teh-C-Kosong’ is an international affair – it is a combination of tea (“Teh” in Chinese dialect), milk (evaporated milk, commonly under the brand ‘Carnation’) with no sugar (“Kosong” is zero, or nothing in the Malay language). Such colourful and cute combination of languages has been in the Singapore and Malaysia community for a long time. Sometimes, a Singlish phrase may be a simple addition of the Chinese word ‘lah’. For example, “Let us go” and “Let us eat” would be “Let us go, lah” or “Let us eat, lah.” The examples are almost endless and some examples can be found in the Oxford dictionary now!

The conclusion of the soccer team rescue in Thailand, in Singlish probably would be, “Power lah!” (pronounced as ‘Bau-wah-lah’), which may be loosely translated into “‘Great!” or “Fantastic”. Even though personally, I do not have the talent to speak Singlish, I can’t help but always be very fond of it as it is a reflection of the beautiful historical roots of this melting pot.

In the middle of the life and death rescue of the Thai boys, there came Elon Musk (EM), the guy who is best known for the car company pronounced locally as “Test-lah.” EM announced that he (he never mentioned his company) was bringing a mini-submarine to Thailand to help in rescuing the trapped boys. Upon arrival at the site, another news was that the rescue team declined his gadget.

I believe it was mainly because the cave where the victims were trapped in was a little too tiny and too intricate for the so called mini- but still relatively oversized gadget. The next thing that shocked me was that EM commented on the media that the Thai chief of rescue, Mr Narongsak Osatanakorn, the Governor of Chiang Nai, was not a subject matter expert in such a rescue, i.e. that the Governor should have used that EM gadget submarine in the rescue.

EM went to an Ivy League school and received an economics degree and a physics degree after he conveniently avoided mandatory national service in his home, South Africa. The internet boom was the platform for EM to prosper economically. In contrast, Mr Narongsak Osatanakorn was a long term government official in Thailand with double degrees in geology and engineering. IMHO, Mr Narongsak Osatanakorn was almost perfectly fitting to lead the rescue – he had great professional training and his roots were in Thailand. He would have to face his king and bear the consequence with his neck! It was not like he was flown in from afar and pretended to have vast interests. He was tasked with his job by his country to save his very own local people!

EM got it all wrong! The end result of the rescue was proof that the right man and his people got the job done. A victory of humanity but not gadgetry!

This past May, Mr Warren Buffett and Mr Charlie Munger quipped in their company’s annual general meeting that one of their subsidiaries, See’s Candies, had such wonderful business economics and branding that it is absolutely difficult for any amount of smartness to out-gun it, not even EM. The next thing showed up on the media was that EM wanted to prove them wrong by starting a candy business and give Sees’ Candies a candy crush.

WhatsApp Image 2018-07-16 at 19.35.48What is the commonality between the Thai soccer team rescue and the candy story? An oversized ego in EM!! Oversized!

With some effort, it is easy to name successful individuals among us. After all, success can be measured in various currencies such as joy, freedom, grace, health, happiness, how many people love him/her, etc. Monetary figures and consumption levels are commonly, by terrible wrong understanding, widely regarded as a reflection of one’s success. The last two attributes, IMHO are just the lowest common denominators.

My uncle Tom once told me- the worst kind of currency to finance a business is ego because our capitalistic system would punish such behaviour in cash! EM may want to create his own brand of candies and I wish him luck.

My family and I share the blessing of love and enjoy a little bit of See’s Candies, which matters more. EM can keep his. Did I mention uncle Tom is right – Ego is the dumbest currency!!

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