Every mug tells a story, especially after 25 years of use!

[caption id="attachment_4136" align="aligncenter" width="1017"] “The Boss” mug that served 25 years[/caption]

A simple mug that had seen usaged for 25 years helps to tell a story about time management and prioritizing.

This mug has a long history! It was a gift from one of my colleagues (Johnson Mathew Joseph) when he was one of my team members when we were academic staff of the now defunct Sepang Institute of Technology (SIT).

It was around 1997. JMJ and I learned a lot from an incident on prioritizing and time management. A director of Lion’s Group (the then owner of SIT) summoned us to see him for a project at his office at the heart of Kuala Lumpur (near Bangkok Bank). We had to travel all the way from Klang town (back then with many construction works going on, Klang-KL would take at least 90 mins to drive). As parking would be expensive and difficult to find, I managed to book a college’s car for JMJ to drive and pick me up in USJ-Subang Jaya on the way (I would drive my old car home first and wait for the pick-up).

Then JMJ arranged to pick up another staff (who hitched a ride with us, she wasn’t connected with our project). That person was late, very late by all account! Unfortunately, JMJ had decided to wait for her and as a consequence we were late in arriving for our meeting by an hour. Naturally I bored the brunt of the wrath of this director as I was the Head of the School of Sciences and JMJ’s manager. That taught us both 3 great lessons:

1. Prioritizing is a core skill…. we should have ditched the hitchhiker!

2. Time management is crucial for survival in the corporate world…. I should have “ditched” JMJ and travelled to KL by taxi! However, IMHO that director could have asked us to meet him at a more mutually convenient location.


3. As a leader, I had to be accountable for my team members’ action, but after learning the lessons we should forgive but NOT forget (in case we commit the same errors again!)

The mug was used for about 25 years and it served its last day yesterday when a bit of the top rim chipped off. JMJ and I both appreciated the joke (“The Boss”) when he gave it to me as a “peace offering”. I am glad to see JMJ doing well in his entrepreneurial endeavours and wish him great successes!

Teaching profession: held in high regards 教师:一个被尊敬的专业

Until I took up an academic position in China, it did not occur to me that the teaching profession is so respected. In fact all teaching staff, whether they are teaching primary, secondary or university students are referred to as “teachers”. For me, it felt great being addressed by my students as “teacher” when I stepped into the lecture hall at Zhaoqing University for the first time in March 2019.
当我在高校任教之前,我没有想到教师专业受到如此尊重。事实上,所有的教师,无论是教小学、中学还是大学生,都被称为“老师”。对我来说,当我2019年3月第一次走进肇庆学院的讲堂时,被学生们称为“老师”的感觉是真舒服的。

Every year during the celebration for “teachers’ day” many businesses will give special deals and gifts to teachers in China. The feature image in this post is just one of many of such signs of respect to the teaching profession. I must admit, I will miss this free gift of RMB300 worth of spectacle products this year as I am still unable to travel back to my university from Malaysia due to the COVID-19 pandemic. I have started my second semester of online teaching at the beginning of September 2020.
每年在庆祝“教师节”期间,许多企业都会向中国的教师赠送特价商品和礼物。这篇文章中的特写图片只是对教师职业表示尊重的众多标志之一。很可惜,今年我将错过这个价值¥300的免费眼镜礼品,因为COVID-19疫情关系,我仍然无法从马来西亚返校。从2020年9月我已开始第二个线上教学的学期。

It is precisely due to the respect given to teaching staff that there is a higher requirement for university teaching staff to give more attention to students’ academic performance and their well-being on campus. This is unlike the situation in Malaysia and the UK (where this author was a student for 12 years) where university students are considered as adults. Chasing after students to submit assignments and giving offenders second chances are relatively new experience to me, a veteran of the higher education sector of over two decades!
正是由于对教师的尊重,高校教师更加需关注学生的学业成绩和校园生活。这与马来西亚和英国的情况不同(作者在英国读了12年书),那里的大学生被视为成年人。追着学生提交作业,给违规者第二次机会,对我这一个在高等教育界工作了二十多年的老手来说,还是一次相对新鲜的经历!

A change in this blog’s writing.

Commentary

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They say “change is the norm” and it is true. Apart from death and taxes, nothing in life is certain. It is more so during this pandemic era.
This blog’s main author, Dr. Chow has taken up an appointment as a full time teaching staff at a government university in Guangdong Province, China since late February 2019. Hence the prolonged absence of new articles.  Dr. Chow plans to write about his life as an academic of a public Chinese institution of higher learning, his observations of life in his new home, Zhaoqing, Guangdong Province, teaching and learning and other musings.
As his academic duties take precedence, Dr. Chow’s contributions to this blog will inevitably be more sporadic than before.

The famous 仙女湖 – fairy’s lake at Zhaoqing City
Fairy's lake - 仙女湖

Among the topics that Dr. Chow is preparing to write are:

  1. It’s normal living without physical cash in China!
  2. The new norm in teaching – online delivery
  3. etc.
北岭山

Make “complete stops” at Persiaran Kewajipan T-junctions

It is the opinion of this author, a twenty three years resident of USJ that Majlis Perbandaran Subang Jaya (MPSJ) should seriously consider making all T-junctions at this township “complete stops” at the traffic lights. This may not solve the traffic congestion issue, especially at key areas of bottlenecks, it will certainly make it safer and perhaps even easier for road users turning into Persiaran Kewajipan in order to reach exits along these T-junctions.

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There are five main junctions along the USJ stretch of Persiaran Kewajipan which at most times are pretty busy. However, only two of these which are cross junctions have complete stop for all lanes when the traffic lights turn red. These are at the Persiaran Kewajipan- Persiaran Subang Permai junction (near Da Men Mall) and Persiaran Kewajipan-Jalan Damai / Jalan USJ 18/8 junctions.

For some reasons that this author could not comprehend, three major T-junctions along the USJ side of Persiaran Kewajipan  do not have complete stops for all lanes on Persiaran Kewajipan when the traffic lights on either direction on this major road turn red.

No total stop at the Persiaran Kewajipan-Persiaran Perpaduan junction (near Taipan LRT station)


(Click this link to view this on Google Maps: https://www.google.com/maps/@3.0469696,101.5889564,17.75z)

Traffic on Persiaran Kewajipan travelling towards USJ 21 direction (blue arrow) need not stop at the Persiaran Perpaduan junction. This makes it very dangerous and difficult for Persiaran Perpaduan traffic (red arrow) turning right at this junction as they have to filter into the main flow on Persiaran Kewajipan, often making it very dangerous for the road users who want to turn into USJ Police station or even further down to filter to the left to get into Persiaran Mulia. This junction is perhaps the second most congested at peak hours in USJ (after the Kewajipan-Subang Permai junction). The present arrangement makes it very taxing on all road users converging at this junction.

No total stop at the Pesiaran Kewajipan-Persiaran Mulia junction (near Al-Falah mosque)

The next T-junction along Persiaran Kewajipan is the Kewajipan-Mulia junction opposite the Al-Falah moque.


The Persiaran Kewajipan – Persiaran Mulia Junction, taken from Persiaran Kewajipan facing the direction of Taipan USJ.

(Click this link to visit the site on Google Maps:  https://www.google.com/maps/@3.0439564,101.5877635,17.75z)

At this T-junction, traffic on Persiaran Kewajipan heading towards Summit USJ direction (blue arrow) is not obliged to stop. This makes it very dangerous for traffic on Persiaran Mulia (red arrow) on green from the traffic lights to turn into Persiaran Kewajipan. This is most difficult for traffic intending to filter into the junction near the back entrance of Al-Falah mosque as well as for those wishing to turn into USJ 9 Business centre at Jalan USJ 9/5J further along Persiaran Kewajipan.

No total stop at  the Persiaran Kewajipan-Persiaran Tujuan junction

The last T-junction along Persiaran Kewajipan is when Persiaran Tujuan (the other major road of the township) meets Persiaran Kewajipan (at the intersection of USJ 9,  USJ 13 and USJ 14).


(Click this link to access this section of the map at Google Maps: https://www.google.com/maps/@3.0390894,101.5882483,17.75z)

In this case traffic turning right at on green light (red arrow) will have to merge with non-stopping Persiaran Kewajipan traffic (blue arrow) coming from Summit /Da Men direction. Thus the right turning traffic has to squeeze over a relatively short distance from the right hand most lane to the extreme left if they intend to enter the USJ 14 via Jalan Mulia which is pretty busy especially in the evening during durian seasons as there are a few established stalls along this road.

Only Tujuan-Bakti T-junction is a no-total-stop on Persiaran Tujuan

If we take a look at the other major arterial road of USJ, Persiaran Tujuan, we will find that out of the 4 junctions (all being T-junctions), only the Persiaran Tujuan-Persiaran Bakti junction (at the intersection of USJ 9 / USJ 13 and USJ 11) is a not total stop junction.


(Click here to view this map on Google Maps: https://www.google.com/maps/@3.0400067,101.5831001,18z)

Again for this Tujuan-Bakti junction, traffic from Persiaran Bakti will have to filter quickly into the extreme left lane if they are to turn left into Jalan Usaha to access USJ 17 & USJ 18 where this is a kind for shortcut for USJ resident to access the Elite highway. A complete stop for traffic on Persiaran Tujuan (heading towards Subang Jaya direction) at this T-junction will make it much safer for everyone crossing the Tujuan-Bakti T-junction.

Much safer if there is no not-stopping traffic at T-junctions


(Click on this link to access this section of the Google Maps: https://www.google.com/maps/@3.0507612,101.5793489,15.75z)

The other three T-junctions along Persiaran Tujuan in USJ, namely the Persiaran Tujuan-Persiaran Murni T-junction; the Persiaran Tujuan-Persiaran Perpaduan T-junction and the Persiaran Tujuan-Persiaran Setia T-junction all have complete stop (red icons) for traffic on Persiaran Tujuan when the traffic light is green for traffic at the respective corresponding T-junctions (blue arrows) . Aside from motocycles running through the red light, the flow of traffic filtering into Persiaran Tujuan at these three T-junctions are much smoother and safer.

Make all T-junctions “complete stops” at the traffic lights

It is the opinion of this author, a twenty three years resident of USJ that Majlis Perbandaran Subang Jaya (MPSJ) should seriously consider making all T-junctions at this township “complete stops” at the traffic lights. This may not solve the traffic congestion issue, especially at key areas of bottlenecks, it will certainly make it safer and perhaps even easier for road users turning into Persiaran Kewajipan in order to reach exits along these T-junctions.

They don’t build things to last anymore

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This may sound old or stale, “they don’t make things last anymore” is the key theme of this article. It seems that durability of products is no longer a key consideration. Often an expensive piece of appliance is rendered worthless because of the lack of durability of its control system, often because it is very electronic-based. In some cases, the crucial electronic system though durable but the appliance is not functional because of the poor quality of the interface, i.e. the LED panel!

An airfyer that failed by its LED control

When I was working and living alone in Penang (Jan 2015 to late 2016) I bought a few electrical appliances to make my stay more pleasant. One of these was a Kqueen airfryer that I bought online (shipped from China). The decision to buy this was fully influenced by my wife’s (then) favourite kitchen gadget, a Philips airfryer. After I moved back to Subang Jaya, Selangor upon the completion of my stint helming a university college we decided to make the Kqueen airfryer as the main fryer reserving the Philips airfryer for bigger loads or cooking that required higher power.

Just over 2 years into its service, the LED panel of our KQueen airfyer just suddenly decided to go off completely. Without a control panel, and despite having all moving parts and heating parts fully functional, the KQueen airfyer was rendered utterly useless. Well RM450 (US$107) that this Kqueen airfryer only gave us utility for 2 years for RM225 (US$53.5) per year! The part that failed was the LED control panel. I often wonder why manufacturers often overlook the most important part of the design, if you can’t control the gadget it is as good as scrap. Why simple mechanical/electrical thermostat plus radial timer could not have been used instead. The over reliance on electronic control in household gadgets should be reviewed. This could have given a much longer lifespan to the gadget. This Kqueen airfyer was just sold as scrap, I guess it fetched around RM1.00 (US$0.24) today!

A malfunctioned shaver that came back to life!

I bought a Philips Aquatouch shaver just over three years ago. This was a shaver that can be used for wet shave, which means one can put on shaving foam and shaves with this shaver. But just about 8 months ago, after charging my Philips Aquatouch’s battery (well I charged it overnight and forgot to unplug it from the charger, but I think this shaver came with the ability to avoid overcharging), when I press the “start” button, it only worked for 2 seconds then stopped. I was having the impression that my RM275 (US$65.50) investment was heading to the scrap heap.

A search on the internet yielded a very informative Youtube video which showed two things: firstly, the shaver was indeed malfunctioned and, secondly that the repair process was more for those who are skilled in doing electronic repairs (which excluded my attempt!). Further, Philips authorized service centre has a price tag of RM20 (US$4.76) for inspection and RM60 (US$14.29) for repair workmanship where the cost of replacement parts would be extra. I was resigned to the fact that it would not be worthwhile to repair this shaver as the overall cost of inspection-workmanship-parts could be close to the price of a replacement shaver. I just left the shaver in the bedroom where the air-conditioning would often be switched on at night.

After about three months of lying idle, this shaver was picked up by me recently. The temptation to press the power/start button was too much and I did what I had been doing very often: to try to test if the shaver would run. And surprisingly, it stayed working for longer than 2 seconds. In fact it was working as well as before! The long period of lying in close to the path of the air conditioning’s air flow perhaps helped to dry the interior of the shaver out so that the electronics were no longer malfunctioning! I gained back the utility of my Philips Aquatouch shaver, but I refrained from putting it anyway near  “aqua” , i.e. wet shaving and only used it as a “dry” shaver now. I wonder why the manufacturer did not pay enough attention to ensure that the “aqua” functioning of this gadget could stand the test of times! Perhaps this was a case of the gadget being designed to fail after 3 years of use?

Kanken: A backpack that lasted 31 years!

I bought a Kanken backpack in late 1985 after seeing this brand being so popular when my parents, my younger brother and I was on a holiday tour to the Nordic countries. The only thing that I dislike about this bag was the signature badge. It looked too childish for my taste and I foolishly removed it without knowing that it was a reflective badge that conferred safety. It was not cheap. I recalled paying something like £20 (US$28.8) in 1985 for this bag. Its exterior was splash-proof and this feature lasted for at least 20 years!

Today this bag cost around US$80, if you want a “Real McCoy”.

Of course there are plenty of imitation Kanken backpacks in the market that costs a fraction of this. But the quality differential is very easily detectable.

In late May 2017, after close to 32 years of utility, the straps of my classic Kanken backpack finally started to literally break apart. Reluctantly, I had to say “goodbye” to this trusted old workhouse that had accompanied me to the work in a summer camp in the USA in 1986; daily usage when I was working on my Master’s and PhD;  my tours of the UK and Ireland and countless domestic holiday trips. Unlike my electrical items, at least the Kanken backpack were made (still being made) to last!

Don’t rely on traditional banks for international remittance!

How much (as a percentage of fund) would you guess it cost to transfer RMB 1,406 from Taiwan to Malaysia using the traditional banking services? In this article I share my expensive lesson on international fund transaction using traditional banks. A staggering 27.46% of my fund of RMB 1,406 was “taxed” by the intermediary. Both the sending bank (in Taiwan) & receiving bank (in Malaysia) said that there it was not possible to find out how the intermediary levy the charges!

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How much (as a percentage of fund) would you guess it cost to transfer RMB 1,406 from Taiwan to Malaysia using the traditional banking services? In this article I share my expensive lesson on international fund transaction using traditional banks. A staggering 27.46% of my fund of RMB 1,406 was “taxed” by the intermediary. Both the sending bank (in Taiwan) & receiving bank (in Malaysia) said that there it was not possible to find out how the intermediary levy the charges!

Used a traditional route for international fund transfer

As my recent trip was sponsored, I was expecting reimbursement from the sponsor for the cost of my trip. To facilitate the process, the sponsoring university in China would pool our group’s reimbursements and let the organizer of the trip, Dr. Yan to do the individual distribution of the fund received.

There was just one issue for me: the organizer and all the rest of the members of our group are based in Taiwan with yours truly being the only one located in Malaysia. Nevertheless my modest claim (after deducting the RMB 500 loaned to me by Dr. Yan to alleviate my having left my wallet at home at the start of the trip!) was RMB 1,406 (about US$202). Dr. Yan’s office was resourceful enough to use one of his bank’s “transaction fee waiver” vouchers  in an attempt to keep the transaction fees down for me.

How much of RMB 1,406 would I get after being transferred to Malaysia?

At Malaysia’s end, previous experience told me that MayBank (Malayan Banking Berhad) would only levy a charge of RM5 (US$1.19)  for the transaction. Of course it would have made from the spread when converting the currency into Malaysian ringgit.

Whopping 27.46% transaction fees!

Based on the exchange rate of RMB 0.59 to RM 1.00, after deducting transaction fees, I was expecting to receive at least RM 750. When the fund finally arrived at my bank, I had a big shock.

From the RMB 1,406 remitted by Dr. Yan’s office, only RM 597.70 equivalent to RMB 1,019.96 arrived at my MayBank account. The meant that a whopping RMB 386.04 or 27.46% of the original RMB 1,406 remitted was deducted as the transaction fees!

No fees levied but banks make from the spread on currency conversion

Both Taiwanese and Malaysian did not levy any transaction fees

I contacted Dr. Yan’s office and his people double checked with his bank in Taiwan to confirm that the amount transferred from Taiwan was indeed RMB 1,406. This was confirmed via the transaction slip sent to me from Taiwan. There was also no fees levied by the Taiwanese bank on the RMB 1,406.

Next, I went to my bank, MayBank to get the full details of this transfer. I was told that MayBank did not levy any fees on the transaction but the transaction report indicated that only RMB 1,019.96 was received at the Malaysian end. I was told by MayBank that they only processed the amount that was received, that is RMB 1,019.96 and it has no idea on what was the transaction fees levied by the intermediary.

I conveyed MayBank’s findings to Dr. Yan’s office which in turn also confronted their bank in Taiwan. The conclusion given by the Taiwan bank was that they had remitted RMB 1,406 and the differential must be the transaction fees (including the spreads for converting from RMB to various intermediary currencies before the final conversion to RM). To make matters more confusing, the Taiwanese bank said that it had no control over how much its intermediary would charge.

Traditional remitting equals to having no idea of the transaction cost

It then became clear to me that for traditional bank remittance from overseas, the customers really are at the mercy of the intermediaries. The remittance cost is not transparent. It thus makes this a very risky and expensive choice to remit money.  And both the sending and receiving banks will wash their hands off should a customer like me getting fleeced by the intermediary (27.46% is a huge amount to levy as a remittance fee).

Better to use remittance service provider that are transparent in their fees

MoneyGram

I made a check with MoneyGram’s website to see  if we were to transfer an equivalent of RMB 1,406 in US dollars (i.e, US$ 202) from Taiwan to Malaysia, with receiver paying the transaction fees what kind of scenario would happen.

MoneyGram’s transaction fees plus spread are reasonable

As shown above, if we were to use MoneyGram, I would be getting at least RM 770.49 from the RMB 1,406 or US$ 202 that were to be remitted with a fees of only US$ 15 (or RM63 or RMB105).  Thus with a exchange rate of RMB 1.00 = RM 0.59, this means I would have received RMB 1,305.92. The overall remittance and conversion cost in this case would be around RMB 100.08 or just 7.12% of the amount transacted.

Western Union

A check with Western Union shows that for a similar amount in US$, the cost of transaction would be around US$10. But since Western Union also make from a spread on conversion, for US$192, at US$1 =  RM3.8539, I would only get RM739.95 or equivalent of RMB 1,254.15 Thus the overall remittance and conversion costs would actually be RMB 151.85. The total remittance cost would have been 10.80% of the amount remitted.

Western Union’s spread is wider than MoneyGram’s

In both MoneyGram and Western Union cases, regardless of the total cost of the transfer of fund, the costs were pretty transparent. And even with the higher spread on currency conversion, Western Union would only have an overall cost of around 10.80% of the sum to be transferred. Of course the best choice would have been MoneyGram which has an overall cost of 7.12%.

Lesson Learned

  1. Never use traditional banks for international remittance.
  2. Zero “transaction fees” for international remittance is a misnomer. There is a spread when currencies are converted at the sending and receiving ends. This is how banks make their money!
  3. Intermediaries for traditional bank remittance (aside from MoneyGrams and Western Union) do take big cuts out of your total amount to be transferred overseas!
  4. Make sure the remittance service gives you a transparent total fees before committing to any overseas remittance.

In my case, since both Dr. Yan and I have WeChat China Wallet, it would have been better that we had explored this route where virtually there would be no cost of transaction. The only problems are: Dr. Yan needs to load his WeChat China Wallet with sufficient funds and at my end, I could only spend the amount in my WeChat China Wallet in China!

My tulmutous experience with WeChat Wallet

This article shares the author’s tortuous path towards getting WeChat Pay sorted during his trip from Malaysia to China when he left his entire wallet at home, with only RM15 to his name!

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At the start of my recent business trip to Guangzhou, China, I discovered that I committed the grievous of all errors that a seasoned (overly organized by my wife’s definition) traveller would not have done –  I left my wallet with all my cash, debit and credit cards at home! The only money I had was fifteen Ringgit Malaysia (RM15) that I kept in the casing of my mobile phone just in case I needed small amount of cash should I forget to bring my wallet when I was outside the house.

The start of the panic!

I was able to sail through immigration etc. because I had my passport with me and this was the only document (aside from the boarding pass) that I needed. Worse, I only discovered my predicament AFTER this process. By then, my wife who dropped me off in her car had arrived home from KL International Airport (KLIA). Even if she could fetch me the wallet, there would be a lot of persuading on my part to be allowed by the authorities to get through all those layers of security to meet my wife. And the clock was ticking, there was no certainty that my wife would be able to get to the airport with my wallet in time. Panic began to set in!

Transferring fund into WeChat Wallet

Then I remembered a friend from China telling me that he was able to live cashless relying only on his WeChat wallet for a week. I immediately contacted my wife to snap photographs of all my credit and debit cards and Whatsapp-ed these to me. This would allow me to “charge” up my WeChat wallet with some cash that I could use. Well that was the salvage plan.

As I already had my WeChat wallet set up and my identity verified (via a elaborate process involving snapping photographs of my MyKad and credit card), I thought adding a debit card where I could draw some cash would be a breeze. However, the debit card was only useful to you in this case if you have had authorized it to carry out  internet transactions which I did not do for my MayBank debit card nor was I had any luck with my Affin Bank card. But luckily, my Public Bank debit card did have this feature switched on and I was able to upload RM500 to my WeChat Wallet. But when I tried this wallet on, all the duty-free shops (that accepted WeChat Wallet) could not transact the payment. One of the shop assistants kindly suggested that this could be due to their system being set only to accept WeChat wallet of China visitors. Thus there might still be hope for me to be able to use my WeChat wallet in China!

AliPay is of no use

I did not give up. Next, I installed AliPay app and managed to add one of my credit cards to the system. But I faced the difficulty of verifying my identity. I was instructed by the app to upload a photograph of my passport to let AliPay’s people verify my identity. But this would take a few days (today, six weeks later, I am still waiting for an update from AliPay!). Thus AliPay was not a solution for me.
[Later, I Googled and found out that AliPay can only verify a bank card if it is issued by a bank in China!]

You need your physical credit card to access the airport lounge

I was hungry and remembered that one of my credit cards allowed me two free use of the airport lounge per month. So off I went in search of this lounge.

“Sorry sir, we do need the physical card to swipe and charge even if we can proof your identity with your passport”, was the reply I received when I presented my Whatsapp-ed copy of the credit card. Needless to say, my plan to use the lounge to get some food was in tatters. With my meager cash of RM15, I therefore could not take a chance to buy breakfast! I was looking forward to a proper meal on the plane! Hungry!

Free WiFi at Guangzhou Baiyun airport saved the day

To cut a long story short, I did not have to rely on my Wechat wallet for this trip. Guangzhou Baiyun airport provides free WiFi (you need to register to use). With this free WiFi, I did not have to switch on my mobile data roaming that would have cost me RM38 the instant I enabled it!

In this case I could use my WeChat identity to log on to Baiyun Airport’s WiFi. I was able to WeChat message the organizer of this business trip, Dr. Yan who happened to be at the airport early to meet the rest of our group. A loan of five hundred Renminbi (RMB 500) cash was promptly provided by Dr. Yan. This solved my cash problem as all transport and accommodation for the trip were arranged and sponsored by our host.

[I must add that, prior to that day, both Dr. Yan and I only communicated via WeChat. We’ve never met! I also was supposed to make my own way to the host university from Baiyun Airport about 100 km away, thus I would need to have at least RMB100 cash. There was no certainty that my Didi app which was linked to my credit card would work. It might not be a travel option. I did have the flight number of the rest of my group travelling from Taipei. If I did not meet Dr. Yan, and my WeChat Wallet did not work, my last resort would have been to camp outside the arrival gate with a placard to find them. Again, I had never met any of my group members before! It turned out that my luck was a bit better. Not only I could find Dr. Yan, he allowed me to hitch a ride to the host on a bus he arranged for the members from Taiwan.] 

Make sure you have a credit card verified travel booking app

As I had to stay an extra night in Guangzhou compared to my other group members, I promptly searched for a night’s accommodation on Trip (an app I used to book the flights for this trip). As Trip has already had my credit card details (and verified these when I booked my flights), I had no problem getting my room at a small apartment-hotel near the Baiyun airport.
[Travel tip: always have at least one of your favourite travel booking apps on your mobile phone and make sure it has all your credit card details. You never know when you will need it as in my case!]

Guangzhou’s Metro accepts WeChat pay too, but must have internet to work

To satisfy my curiosity, when I made my way to my hotel, I tried to use WeChat wallet on the Guangzhou Metro. A very nice young lady staff tried her best to help me to WeChat pay my fare. Then we discovered that Baiyun airport’s WiFi signal was too weak at the Metro station. I was not going to pay RM38 data roaming charge to carry this experiment to fruition. I went on to pay for the RMB2 fare by cash. I did have to go to another counter to have my RMB100 changed to smaller denominations that the ticket machine could accept.
[Travel tip: always carry some smaller denomination Renminbi, say in RMB10 at least for public transport etc.]

How to set up WeChat Wallet for China

WeChat Wallet comes in different versions. This, I found out when I was enlisted by my old pal, SM Liew who was experimenting with WeChat’s Red Packet feature. Red Packet allows WeChat users in China to send small “hong bao” (red packet) to their friends on WeChat anywhere in the world. To get your China version of WeChat Wallet enabled, all you need is a small Red Packet from someone with a WeChat Wallet for China. The moment you accept and open the Red Packet, your China wallet is enabled!

I repeated the same procedure successfully with my son recently by sending him a RMB0.50 Red Packet, from the RMB1.00 I received from SM Liew! Of course, my son had to get his identity verified and his WeChat wallet linked to one of his debit cards first.

WeChat Wallet Malaysia version does not like rooted phones!

With RM500 inside my WeChat Wallet and having failed to use this at KLIA duty-free shops which accepted WeChat wallet, I wanted to see if I could withdraw my money to my bank account. The moment I click “Withdraw”, I was hit with this message. “Withdrawal is not supported on jail-broken or rooted mobile phone.

Rooted phone not allowed!

A call to WeChat Malaysia’s call centre was made (on Oct 09, 2018) but I was told to screen capture the message and use the feedback system to complain to WeChat. I was promised a two-business days response, that was four days ago (this article was written on Oct 13, 2018)! I have not heard back from WeChat Malaysia since.

Feedback to WeChat, 2-business days turnaround is not true!

With this information, I can speculate that my rooted smartphone was the cause of my failure to make a payment with WeChat wallet at KLIA’s duty-free shops. So, is my RM500 stuck at my Wechat Wallet forever?

[3 hours after I published this article, WeChat Malaysia finally responded to my feedback, citing Bank Negara (Malaysia’s Central Bank) rule that rooted mobile phone cannot be used for fintech transaction as the reason. Perhaps someone from WeChat Malaysia DID read this article?]

[With the latest update (version: V6.7.3), WeChat Wallet Malaysia seemed to have “re-allowed” rooted phones to work. I was able to initiate a withdrawal from my WeChat Malaysia wallet. If the transaction can be completed, I will update it here  Two working days were all it took for the transaction to withdraw RM400 from my WeChat Malaysia wallet to my bank account to be completed.]

WeChat’s multiple device sign in, a get-around for rooted phones!

Unlike Whatsapp, WeChat does allow multiple mobile devices to access it. But you can only do so one at a time. This means if you access WeChat on a spare mobile phone, yoru existing WeChat app will be signed out on the main phone. I had installed WeChat on my Amazon Kindle tablet before and using “username and password” option to sign in, I was able to access my WeChat Wallet for Malaysia and the offending message above did not come out. I can now withdraw my fund from this wallet by accessing WeChat using my Kindle!

Lesson learned and shared:

  1. Don’t forget your wallet when you travel, especially to overseas destinations!
  2. In case you have left your wallet at home on your trip, you should always keep one of your credit cards in your checked-in luggage [it may be worth paying the extra RM25 tax a year for this!].
  3. Always have a passport cover. Have a small cards holding wallet or just a small Ziploc bag to house some cash and one of your credit cards or debit cards inside. Keep this Ziploc bag with your passport all the time. But remove this Ziploc bag whenever you face the immigration officer (whether at home or abroad) to avoid confusing the good official who may take this as a bribe!
  4. Don’t rely on WeChat Wallet for your China trip unless you are going to have
    a) Cash uploaded to the wallet and
    b) mobile data roaming or a local SIM card.
    You cannot make use of your WeChat wallet if you do not have access to the internet in China! And it is very difficult now to get a SIM card in China.
  5. If you want to use WeChat Wallet in China, make sure that you have your WeChat Wallet for China enabled and find a way to upload RMB into it first. Of course you must have access to the internet while you are in China.
  6. Have at least one travel booking app installed in your smartphone. Make sure this app has verified your identity and your credit card. Even if you do not have your credit card with you, this app can still be used to make your bookings (like I did with Trip).

If you need to learn more and get updated with the latest discussion on WeChat Wallet for China, do check out this thread on Tripadvisor. For Americans, there is a fintech site, Swapsy which provides free transaction for swapping US$ for RMB on WeChat Wallet platform. Swapsy only works if you have a US ID card, so it is of no use to those without a US ID.

Compact Calendar 2019 (optimized for Selangor, Malaysia)

The 2019 version of a one-glance-see-all compact calendar, created by David Seah, but customized by the author for the state of Selangor, Malaysia is provided in this article. This compact calendar is easily customized to suite the user’s needs.

With the announcement of 2019 school calendar by the Ministry of Education in Malaysia recently, it is now possible for me to put together the 2019 edition of my compact calendar for 2019.

Source: The Star (Sep 16, 2018)

This calendar is based on the excellent work and idea of David Seah. It has been optimized for the state of Selangor, Malaysia. I have also added (shaded) school holidays (as I have done previously). If you live in other states in Malaysia and would like to modify this to suite your needs, the instructions for doing so are given on the first sheet. It is no rocket science as David Seah has made it very easy for us to optimize the Excel file.

You can download the Excel file here. I have also included a PDF version for those who do not need to optimze this compact calendar further. Enjoy and do your planning for 2019 more effectively!

 

 

USB ISO image writer and dabbling with Linux

Problems with UNetbootin can be solved by using USB ISO image writer like Etcher where Linux Mint 19 Tara was installed well. GParted must be used with caution.

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If you are keen to give Linux a try as an open source operating system to take over the running of older PC / laptops, you will need to have a good disk image writer. This is because all distributions of Linux come as iso image file that you would need to put to either a DVD-rom or more likely, a USB flash drive. Personally, I have given up on the quirky DVD-rom burning long time ago since I had discovered UNetbootin. UNetbootin is a small utility programme allow you to source for popular Linux distribution and burn the iso image selected (which is downloaded via this application) to CD/DVD-rom or USB flash drive.

I had Linux distribution LXLE 14.04 installed in my Toshiba T210 since 2014. As some of the browsers’ functions began to malfunction, especially those related to the playing of videos, and I could not fix the problem even after updating the browser (in this case Vivaldi) to a newest version, I learned that this was solely because my OS is long in the tooth!

The iso image flash was corrupted!

To get the image of updated OS burned into USB drives, I had been using UNetbootin for a long time. But after many attempts to flash LXLE 16.0.4 iso to my USB drives, I was about to give up.

These attempts included:

(1) Changing the USB drive from 4 Gb to 8 Gb…. still I was asked to put in a username and password (which I was assured by LXLE’s forum if this happens, you have a corrupted installation of the iso file).

(2) Downloading the same iso file from another site and flash it again (just in case I had got a corrupted file from the first site) ….. the same login screen greeted me.

(4) Using GParted to reformat the USB drive each time. This had the effect of completely cleaning the USB drive for another iso image to be put on it … this made no difference!

(5) Try flashing the iso file of Puppy Linux Xenial Pup to a USB drive….. this worked.

(6) I then tried out installing real Ubuntu (which LXLE is based) on USB drive as instructed by this page . But I did not check the physical requirements i.e. the USB Drive’s size before trying this out using UNetbootin. I used a 8 Gb USB drive. It of course did not work. LXLE needs at least 20 Gb of space to work!

All these problems were not seen when I downloaded LXLE 16.0.4 in early July 2018 & burned the iso file onto my 16 Gb USB drive. And I had been “test driving” LXLE 16.0.4 for weeks so that all my printer drivers, and other software that I used on the old version of LXLE could be made to function in the new OS. Hence the quirky behaviour of UNetbootin could be due to

the system updating done after the LXLE 16.0.4 iso flashing. The updating could have done some changes to the functioning of UNetbootin!

I suddenly remembered that I had seen a USB Image Writer program in LXLE 16.0.4! So I tried to use this to flash the LXLE 16.0.4 iso file to a 4 GB USB drive as an experiment. This worked! The same program and procedure were used to flash the iso file of Puppy Linux Xenial Pup around the same time.

Careful when using GParted

GParted is a great utility programme for one to restructure the partition table of one’s harddisk (or even USB drives). However, as I described below, users are to take great precaution when using this utility. Any mistakes are usually irreversible. If you mess up your harddisk partition, you are as good as having the entire hard disk reformatted, losing all the content and installed programmes etc.

I was very careless when using GParted when I thought I had the iso flashing problem solved and I could release the 16 Gb USB drive by deleting the partition using GParted. This I managed to do easily. But GParted threw up something that said that I had another 16 Gb drive… so I went on to delete this partition table again (so I thought).

It turned out that GParted mistook the 4 Gb LXLE 16.04 live USB containing drive a 16 GB USB drive. And the working OS allowed me to delete its own partition!. I thus ended up without a working “live” version of LXLE 16.04 after that! Panic!

Luckily I had the iso files stored somewhere else and could restart my work. Thus with GParted, if you are in doubt of what you are doing, you should hit the “Cancel” button and reexamine your steps etc.

Etcher is a good USB Image writer

I then went back to my 12-years-old Dell Inspiron and fired up Puppy Linux. I searched the internet for USB Image writer and found Etcher. I proceeded to download the correct version. Etcher’s installation was very simple. I just had to extract the Appimage file and click on it! Using Etcher on Puppy Linux, I was able to write the iso image of LXLE 16.0.4 again.

The next project was to install a most up-to-date version of Linux distribution (based on Ubuntu) on my Toshiba T210.

Installing Linux Mint 19 Tara over old LXLE 14.04

I had tried Linux Mint before and found out that it has a current version, Linux Mint 19 Tara (Xfce Edition that is suitable for older machines) which is based on the latest Ubuntu 18.04 LTS. I downloaded Mint 19’s iso file and burned it using Etcher to another 4 Gb USB drive. I test-driven this and checked off all my requirements e.g HPLIP set up (and working with my old HP MFP 1132 printer/scanner), veracrypt installation etc. Then I went on to replace my old LXLE 14.04 (hard disk partition SDA8!) with Linux Mint 19 Tara!

So far I am happy with what I have.

As the old Toshiba T210 came with Windows 7 which was only a 32 bits version as opposed to the hardware which can take 64 bits, I actually put in the 64 bits version of Linux Mint 19. Tested the “live USB” before installation.

With 64 bits, I feel that the old Tosh now has some added computer power. But it could be a brand new OS that has not been burdened with some older operational files. I can now make full use of the 4 Gb memory that I had installed in this old Toshiba T210!

Setting up cheap web-based Xiaomi & Yi home security cams

The learning experience on installing & configuring cheap Xiaomi & Yi Technology home security webcam is shared in this article. If your are adventurous & on a tight budget, the cheaper made-for-China versions of these gadgets are for you, otherwise you should stick to the “international” version.

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With the penetration of broadband internet services in Malaysia, more and more household, especially those in the urban and suburban areas now have a reasonable stable internet connection. In early 2015 when I had to relocate alone to work and stay in Penang the thought of “keeping tab” the security of my house (450 km away) came to mind.

Having a security cam “keeping an eye” on the front of your house has a lot of benefits, but I did not figure out how this could be one of the benefits: capturing wildlife visiting my suburban neighbourhood!


In this article, I share my learning experience with Xiaomi Yi home security camera (and that of a similar one from Yi Technology). This type of home security cams will capture video (& most have “night vision” aka infrared camera). Of more importance, the Xiaomi & Yi cams that I bought are setup and linked to my smartphone. This allows me to use my smartphone to access the video captured or “live feed” from these webcams that are linked to the internet via the home-based WiFi.  

After fully tested my first Xiaomi security webcam for a few months, I went on to purchase 6 more sets for the university college that I managed. The new found “eyes” allowed my staff and I monitor key locations of the campus and hostel more effectively. These gadgets also put the security personnel on higher alert.

Requirements for home security webcams

The followings are the requirements of a workable home security system based on Xiaomi or Yi security webcams:

  1. A stable WiFi network at the premises with a reasonably strong signal at the security webcam’s location.
    If your WiFi signal is weak at the desired location, you will have difficulties connecting with the security webcam which I think must be able to connect to the server of Xiaomi /Yi to relay the footages (either live or from the memory card).
  2. Power supply / power socket to power the security webcam.
    The cable provided is about 2 metres long, you do need to have a constant AC power supply although the cam is perfectly capable of drawing its power from a mobile phone power bank. If the location of the power supply must be weatherproof, so is the location for the webcam!
  3. A suitable spot to fix the security webcam that will capture any activities in the desired areas at the premises.
    The webcam will have a camera angle of at least 110 degree wide, but it is important to site the webcam at appropriate height to capture activities in the desired area. If there is a light source nearby, it will affect the webcam infrared sensor at night, thus this must also be considered. I had to turn off the “night vision” of one of my security webcams because of the interference from “lighting noise” from cars etc.

    Security cam's strategically located
    A strategic spot to locate the security cam is crucial.   

    If the webcam is located close to a lighting source, you can adjust the night vision accordingly.
  4. A smartphones installed with the appropriate app from Xiaomi or Yi Technology
    This app is the “heart” of you entire security webcam system which you need to set up, access and control the security webcam. The same smartphone app can control more than one security webcam, provided these are of the same brand. That is, Yi Home app will not be able to control Xiaomi webcam and vice versa.

    The Mi Home app looks different from Yi Home but their functionalities are very similar.

    Yi Home app is a lot more user friendly compared to Mi Home.
  5. A mini-SD card (at least 4 Gb, preferably 16 Gb) to store captured footages.
    Although not crucial, it is best to have Class 10 SD cards that are fast enough for the camera.
  6. At least one home security webcam!
    You will need to decide on budget versus ease of use in your choice of “international” or the much cheaper “China version”. (Please refer to the section below on how to choose)

China version & international version: what are the differences?

Like many consumer gadgets, the Xiaomi brand has a lot of made-for-China only versions of the security webcams that one can get from online platforms such as Lazada. While in most cases the technical specifications are more or less the same between the China and international versions, often the interface and the firmware of China version are “locked” to China only. As there is a big difference in pricing of these gadgets, often with the China version being up to half the price of the international version, many traders offer seemingly a good bargain online.

I had purchased both the China version and international version of Xiaomi Home Security Webcams. As I understand Mandarin and read Chinese, I was able to install the app and configure the China version of the webcam, but not without some difficulties (please read on for further details on this).

The Xiaomi smartphone app (Mi Home) can smartly detect where the security webcam is located and hence if you have a made-for-China-market-only version, you will not be able to configure it to use your home WiFi. Since these security webcams need to contact (and register) with Xiaomi’s server in order to relay the video & live feed to your smartphone, if you cannot configure it, you are not going to be able to use these China version webcam.

What’s the difference between Xiaomi and Yi Technology’s security webcams?

The scene is further complicated by the fact that there are both Xiaomi and Yi Technology’s security webcams in the market that look exactly the same (and yet they are different!). A search on the Internet revealed that Xiaomi and Yi Technology are related.  Xiaomi invests in many tech companies and Yi Technology is one of these. Xiaomi often lends its brand to these new tech companies to better market their products.

Personally, I find Yi Home (the smartphone app from Yi Technology) a lot friendlier to use and I had no problem in configuring my Yi security webcam using this app on my Xiaomi Redmi Note 3 smartphone. This is a far cry from the struggle I had with Xiaomi’s “China version” security webcam.  But both apps have very similar functionalities, one of which is to allow the sharing of access to the webcams installed by one smartphone with other smartphone users. Thus if everyone in your family has a smartphone, in theory you can share the access to these security webcams to each of them.

Problems of sharing access with iOS version of mobile apps

While the Android version of the mobile apps (for both Xiaomi and Yi Technology) work perfectly well with their respective security webcams, I experienced a lot of problems with the iOS version (for my wife’s iPhone). In fact this sasme problem was also experienced by my former staff who also used an iPhone. However my wife’s iPhone 6 could easily accept my invitation to connect to the Yi Technology webcam using Yi Home for iOS so that she could view the feed from the webcam I shared with her, we have no luck with the Xiaomi Mi Home version!

Hacking the made-for-China-only version

Before buying bulk for the institution I managed, I purposely bought a China version of Xiaomi Security Webcam so that my then Head of IT and Campus Services, KB could test out possible solutions. KB was able to download a firmware for the international version of the same model. We copied this onto the mini-SD card of my China version webcam and inserted this. After powering up the webcam, we were delighted to “convert” the made-for-China-only webcam into an international version that could work in Malaysia.

The only caveat to this hack is that the firmware is not to be updated, ever. If not, the webcam and the Xiaomi server that it will connect to will detect your region and the webcam will be rendered inoperable.  The firmware is meant for this model : Xiaomi Xiaoyi Yi Night Vision 720P HD 8MP IP Camera WiFI Home Security CCTV Webcam; it may not work with other model. There are many solutions available, one just have to use trial and error to figure out which will be the best.

So which version to buy?

If like me, you are short on budget and have an adventurous attitude (and willing to muck around the PC, smartphone and webcam), then you could consider “going cheap” and buy made-for-China-only versions that are a lot cheaper. Of course there is no guarantee that you can hack the webcam from “China version” to “international version”. But it is no rocket science. If I can do it (without programming skills), I think it is just a matter for finding the most suitable firmware.

However, personally, I will advise, for simplicity on sticking to international versions to save all the headache. There is a Mi Store selling only Xiaomi marketed products in Malaysia (I visited one in One Utama Shopping mall) which sells international version of home security webcam (a more updated version too). Although the choice of models is limited, and the price is higher than if you shop online, there are knowledgeable personnel on hand to help you. And if the webcam does not do what it promises, you can always return it!