Tuesday, 24 February 2015

“Street Smarts - Jim Rogers” (Part 2) Investment Advice

This post continued from previous post (Part 1)...

This is actually part 2 of of Jim Rogers' Street Smarts' book review in my blog. In my previous post, I focused on his advice on personal developments. In this article, I will focused on Rogers advice on investments. I will conclude with a final post later detailing Rogers' views on where/which is the best countries/areas to put your money in. 

The sequence of the 3 posts are in fact relevant to a person's life developments in general. No matter how you wanted to excel in your education, career or relationship etc, first you must always developed and improved yourself. To be able to think properly and be a good person. Then you acquired the skills in a particular field. Finally you apply what you have learnt and excel in the particular field. 


Anyway enough of my philosophy, below is the summary with excepts from the book.

Market can be Irrational - Do not be Arrogant

In 1970 Jim Rogers bought puts. Market collapse and his money tripled. After that he sold short, but market never collapses and he lost all money.

“I had been smart and had lost everything for being smart”

Mistakes Early is Good if you can still Come Back

“Losing everything can be beneficial because it teaches you how much you do not know. And if you can come back from a failure or two, chances are you are going to be more successful in the long run.
E.g. Mike Bloomberg is sacked from Salomon Brothers before he founded Bloomberg.

Do not worry about mistakes in life. It is good to lose money and go broke at least once, preferably twice. But does it early so that you are talking about US$20k not US$20mil, which you still can come back.”

Resist Diversification

“If you want to make a lot of money, resist diversification. Brokers promote the motion that everybody should diversity. But that is mainly to protect themselves. The way to get rich is to find what is good, focus on it, and concentrate your resources there.”

Invest in What You know Best - Do Not Listen to Me - Do Not Listen to Anybody.

“Stay with what you know best, but you must be very good at it otherwise you lose everything including your shirt.”

“The way you become successfully investor is by investing only in what you yourself have a wealth of knowledge about. If you do not know what it is you know a lot about, just step back and take a look at your daily life. Walk to doctor n take a magazine, TV what articles and what kind of programs you watch…Soon you will figure out your real interest and what you really knowledgeable about.”

Be Patient – Do Not confuse Movement with Action

“Most successful investor do nothing most of the time. Do not confuse movement with action. Know when to sit and wait.”

“Example if you are knowledgeable smart and already made ten times your money in ten years. You are successful. Now this is the most dangerous time because this is when you think you are really smart, when you think you really hot. Most dangerous! Now, you should do nothing.. Go to beach….”

Do Your Homework Rigorously 

“If I were to tell you that you could only make twenty-five investments in your lifetime, chances are you would be extremely careful about investing. Invest very rarely.”

When is Bull market?

“Nothing is quite like a bull market to make people think they are smart. All big bull, secular ended in bubbles.”

“Mother call saying she wanted to buy the stock. I asked why? She says well it tripled over the last year" I say "no mother, you don't buy it because it has tripled, you buy it before it triples!"

What Happen in a Bull Market – You Find a Foolish Kid

“In a bull market what you want is a kid who is too young to know that what he is doing is foolish. You want a kid who will race into the bubble and leverage it higher and higher. When things go bad, you certainly do not want that kid around. The kid is probably not going to be around by then anyway!

Guys like me will not make nearly so much money because we had seen what is going on. The kid does not know why he is making money, which is why he is making so much money.”

The rest of us are experience enough or smart enough to know that this is going to end badly. But you need to be smart enough to know when to pull out, to save yourself from the kid’s lack of knowledge and experience, and that of course, can be hard to do.”

Get the Fundamentals Right

“You can invest in something all day long, but unless the fundamentals are right, it is not going to take you anywhere. Get the fundamentals right and the good news keep coming.”

Rolf's View

I am agreeing to all the above points from the book. Specifically, I wanted to highlight on the point of making mistakes. There is a Chinese saying 失败是成功之母 which literally means failure is the mother of success. But failure can only be considered the stepping stone to success, only if you still can make a comeback. It is also important to experience it early. 

Personal Experience - Big Loss at Sg Pools 
I will like to share a personal experience. While I was in my last year of National Service in the late 90s, Singapore Pools had just legalized the betting of S-League football matches. With my income earned from part-time tuition and salary from army, I managed to accumulate savings of close to three thousands in more than two years. 

Unfortunately, I started to indulge myself into Sg Pools football matches betting. Me and two of my camp mates were so engrossed that we will discussed about bets all day, read "football betting manuals", queue up at 7-Eleven to place our "winning bets". After awhile, we started to devise some "smart (really stupid)" betting methods ourselves. It goes like this, choose the most common score in a football match. We think it is 2-1 score. Then bet $10, if lose, bet 20$ next time, if lose again, bet $40 next time, so on and so forth.   

It was really effective at first, and I remembered there was once, I am collecting more than $800 of winnings from the Sg pools counter. The auntie said to me "boy, not bad huh....better than winning 4D!" I was so proud of myself then. Two of my camp mates coming from rich family were having even bigger bettings wining initially in terms of thousands. We thought we were the cleverest people around. Now that I think of it, I realize we were the biggest fools then! 

We thought our method were fool-proof until our appetite got bigger and bigger. "Not everyday Sunday!" Eventually the more I lost, the more I bet the next times and the more I lost. My last bet was >$2,000 on a single ticket. And Yes.... I blew it. All my savings throughout the entire National Service was wiped out! My two other friends lost each more than $5,000. 

I was 20 then, preparing to go to University after ORD. Suppose to have thousands of my hard-earned money to spend. Yet, it was all gone in a few months time. I was devastated and vowed never to gamble again. Except for some small gamble in tens of dollars during Chinese New Year. And yes I still honour that vow today. 

I am happy that my foolishness happened early and the amount lost was not that significant. More importantly I learnt from my foolishness. Or have I, I still dabble in stocks? 

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Wednesday, 18 February 2015

My First Trip to Tokyo

Earlier this month, it was my first time in Tokyo, Japan, though I did transited twice in Tokyo airport before. I am not unfamiliar with Japan since I had been to Hokkaido before and had former Japanese colleagues and business associates. Still, it is a business trip I looked forward to.

Brief Facts of Tokyo

Japan has 47 prefectures. It consist of 43 prefectures ( ken), two urban prefectures ( fu, Osaka, and Kyoto), one "territory" ( dō, Hokkaido) and one "metropolis" ( to, Tokyo). Therefore Tokyo is not really a city but a metropolis. Tokyo is the capital of Japan which comprise of 23 special wards (~9 million people), 39 municipalities in the western part of the prefecture and the two outlying island chains. The total population of Tokyo exceeds 13 million.

As per Wikipedia, the city hosts 51 of the Fortune Global 500 companies, the highest number of any city. Tokyo was ranked first in the "Best overall experience" category of TripAdvisor's World City Survey.

View from hotel

Narita International Airport 

There are two international airports serving Tokyo – Haneda and Narita. The hotel I am heading to is Prince Shinagawa Hotel. Haneda is actually nearer to Shinagawa while Narita is located in Chiba Prefecture, about 50-60km from Shinagawa. I landed in Narita Airport because we never do homework on the distance and leave it to the office lady to do the air tickets booking. 

It was after 9 pm when my colleague and me landed Narita from Shanghai. I was expecting a busy arrival terminal. On the contrary, it was quiet and merely few airport staffs helping with custom clearance.

Expensive, Expensive, Expensive

With temperature displaying 2 degC, we were spotting for taxis. There were no queues and no taxis in sight. We approached the lone usher on the pathway and he gave his wrinkled old smiles and said “Hai!...it will cost JPY30k from Narita to Prince Shinagawa Hotel. 

Wait a minute…how much is JPY30k for a 50-60km (70-80 mins) ride? OMG, ~S$350!  

While waiting, we took deep breaths of the sparkling air, replacing the polluted ones in China earlier on. 5 minutes later, the Taxi arrived. After traveling for more than an hour of neat and tidy roads of Tokyo, we reached our hotel. Indeed, the taxi meter read JPY29.5K. For the next day, a 20 min taxi ride of ~10km cost us 3kJPY (S$34).

Taxi picture – check out the side mirror of the taxi?

Even after the huge depreciation of the yen, nothing comes cheap in Tokyo. In 2013, Tokyo was named the third most expensive city for expatriates, according to the Mercer consulting firm, and the world's most expensive city, according to the Economist Intelligence Unit's cost-of-living survey.

For meal, we chosen teppanyaki. A check on the menu, "Woo...Not so cheap!". So we selected one of the cheapest set lunch menu. 

Damage was close to JPY16.5k for two pax (S$190). Food served were, amuse-bouche, sashimi appetizer, 130g steak, mushroom & broccoli, garlic rice, desert, coffee and juice. 


Actually it seems reasonable for the excellent quality of food and service. After all, we probably deserve a good meal, after a very tiring work week. 

Hotel - Where is the Flexibility?  

I stayed for one night, while my colleague two nights. So after checked out, I left my luggage in his room.

To make it easier for both of us to travel independently, we requested for another room key from the front desk. We were rejected and were told to pay for 2 pax in a single room. We then asked if I can leave the room key at the front desk so that my colleague who come back later can collect it from front desk.

Seems like a simple request. The front desk girl, always so polite told us to wait. She walked to a room to consult her manager. 5 minutes later she was back. No is the answer. I explained I just want to freshen up before going to airport. 

She said she totally understand but “she cannot say yes because she was instructed!” She was apologetic and I totally understand her position and said never mind.  


This meeting in Tokyo was subsequent to the meeting we had in Singapore. 

Unlike in Singapore, this time all our clients were dressed in Suits and Ties. One of them was with a face mask, not coughing but seems like it has become a trend in Japan to be on face masks. We had seen many on the streets!. 

Always Polite
Handing of business cards is always 2-handed. We did likewise. I requested to go toilet and my Japanese client will walk me all the way there. When the meeting ends, they bowed and see us through to the lift. 

Stiff in meeting, over-conscious in business
Before the meeting, our client did prepare a list of questions for us in advance. During meeting, we responded them all.  

We then asked many questions, but answers from the Japanese were very general. No extra information, and most answers were always pending top management decision. No one is sticking out the neck to commit anything. 

When we asked if they have any questions for us aside from those they prepare? They looked at each other among themselves and said “No” in a shy manner.  

Quite different from the Japanese in Singapore office who were so inquisitive. Those in Tokyo are "stiff". During the meeting, we tried to joke and make the meeting less tense, but we were not successful. 

Rolf’s Thoughts

Undeniably, Japan is one of the most organized, systematic and gracious country in the world. The people are also considered to be one of the most diligent and meticulous. It seems like Japanese believe that the most perfect system, together with total employee conformance and extreme manners will yield the best results. 

Can creativity locked within a system be REALLY creative? 

Work during working hour is absolutely no-nonsense. Atmosphere in meeting is so formal, always serious. After working hours, leisure mixed with alcohol can be crazy or disastrously messy. I was told by my previous Japanese colleagues and a friend who worked in Japan before. The two extremes trying to find a balance seem arduous task. 

Kudos for being the most courteous country I ever visited. But…personal touch in Japan for foreigners? 

Ginza shopping street

Friday, 13 February 2015

Street Smarts - Jim Rogers: (Part 1) Personal Developments Advice

Last month, I finished reading Jim Rogers Street Smarts. The book was published in 2013. I started the draft of this article long time ago, but its so hard to find time to finish it lately. The busy work and traveling schedule are the culprits. 

This is Rogers second book I had read. The first is “A Gift to My Children”.  I enjoyed reading Jim Rogers’ books. To me, the content is so insightful with great philosophical views about the world and life in general. Moreover, his book is so easy to read and comprehend.

Jim Rogers is the co-founder of Quantum Fund together with George Soros. Rogers travelled around the world three times in 1980, 1990-1992 and 1999-2002. For more about Jim Rogers and his journey, please refer to his website here.

Below is the summary of teachings from Street Smarts. I am going to split it into few parts. This article is the first part focusing on Personal Developments.

Successful Vs Smart – Hardwork and Persistence Makes the Difference

Jim Rogers think that hardwork and persistence is what makes the difference of being successful, and not just being smart.

"There is no such thing as enough. You just keep studying, or keep working, or keep researching, whatever the task happens to be."

“We all know smart people who are not successful; we all know talented people who are not successful. Persistence is what makes the difference.”

Importance of Bi-lingual

Similar to Lee Kuan Yew’s book “The Big Ideas”, Jim Rogers emphasized the importance of being Bi-lingual and to know the culture of the language origin. For instance, both his daughters are educated in Singapore and speak perfect Mandarin and English. 

 “I was adamant that my children not just be proficient in a foreign language, but they speak it like natives.”

“Being bilingual will not make dishwashers successful. But being bilingual is a skill that many people including me do not have, and that to smart, motivated, persistent people, it will be a great advantage.”

Study History and Philosophy

Jim Rogers also think that profound knowledge of history will let us have a macroscopic view of the world and let us understand what forces drives the market and how occurrences in one country affect the other.

The study of philosophy is also extremely important to enable you to think better for yourself.

"You know yourself better, if you want to accomplish anything in life - you must learn to think at a deeper, more profound level if you want to understand the truth. - the study of philosophy helped to develop these skill. Help to trained think for myself, outside the establish framework. Examine things in depth; examine every concept and fact, thinking around corners, to see what is missing!”

Importance of Having a Paying Job as a Teenager

A university study show that the single most important predictor of a happy life in adulthood was having a paying job as a teenager.

Decide if it is the Right Job – Not the Money

“Before asking how much you are going to get paid for a job, first decide whether it is the right job, whether it is the right place for you, because if it is the right place and you do the job right, the money will come. The money will find you, I assure you. The money should be the least of your questions.”

Importance of Apprenticeship

“I often explain to young people, I benefited from being an assistant. To learn by watching closely others. Nothing like an on job training. Many people coming into a job market think that they had done well for themselves if they manage to leapfrog an apprenticeship. The wise course is to start by working for someone else and to keep one's eyes and ears open.”

To be Lucky – Do Your Homework

Jim Rogers think that the only way to be lucky is to do your homework well.

"Luck favours only the mind that is prepared!" - Louis Pasteur

Be Alert to the World

Aside from the traveling widely, you need to be alert of the happenings, cultures, history, of the country, and speak to the natives. Not just admiring touristic monuments from places of interest.

“Always be alert to what's going on in the world. My antennae are always up!”

Be a Visionary – See Long Term

Successful people always see very far down the road – 15 years or more.

“Be a visionary. People with vision are people who can see fifteen years or more down the road. Visionaries are often ridiculed but they are the one that is going to be successful.”

“I have learned enough of myself to know that I am usually a year or two, maybe 3 years early. This was notable exception.”

Rolf’s View

What is the meaning of Street Smart (noun)? I had checked the web and realize that there is no single definite meaning. Below are some of the definitions.  

1) “The experience and knowledge necessary to deal with the potential difficulties or dangers of life in an urban environment.” 2) “The ability to manage or succeed in difficult or dangerous situations, especially in big towns or cities” 3) “Shrewd awareness of how to survive or succeed in any situation, especially as a result of living or working in a difficult environment, as a city ghetto neighbourhood.”

My ex-boss said this to me in the first year of my career. “Go and see the world. There are mountains to climb and rivers to cross!” 

Somewhat irrelevant, but below is a picture of me on the roads in China more than a year ago.

Above left is the picture of a very heavy fog I encountered during a car ride in China. It is an extremely dangerous journey with heavy trucks and double deck buses on the roads, traveling almost without line of sight. Any accidents can result in our vehicle being thrown into the Bohai Sea.

Above right picture, is the GPS map from my phone at that time, showing my trip from Tianjin to Yantai? What is supposed to be a 6-7h car ride of >600 km route, turned out to be 10-11h due to the thick fog. Crazy….

My Definition of Street Smart

To me, “Street Smart” is “being smart on the streets to survive and thrive - things that you does not necessary learn from books or in the classrooms.”

I encourage each and everyone of you (adults) now to stop staying at home and go out on the streets to learn more about our world and the people in this planet. 

What is your definition of Street Smart?

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Thursday, 12 February 2015

A Tale of 3 Chinese Drivers – Different Ideologies of Life

For the last two months, I was on business trips to China three times. My beloved toddler asked mommy why papa is not home and she miss me. My heart melts. I miss my family. The schedules for these trips were always full, spanning across China with journeys on the planes, cars or even boats. Locations can be Beijing, Tianjin, Qingdao, Yantai, Shanghai, Nantong, Zhangjiagang, Guangzhou etc.

Aside from getting my work done, one other very rewarding experience is to interact with many people to understand the diverse cultures within China. I am always curious and inquisitive, initiating conversations with different classes of people I met.  My colleagues are amazed how I can start a conversation with strangers so comfortably making them talk non-stop while I try to listen more than talk nowadays.

In this article, I will write about the tales of three drivers from different parts of China with different backgrounds, sharing their perspectives of life.   

1) Qingdao Driver – A farmer origin who appreciates life

My regular Qingdao driver, Mr. Xue is 45 years old. To be exact, he is from Huangdao, about an hour drive from Qingdao. A local bred farmer, Mr. Xue looked at least ten years elder with skin wrinkled and tanned by the years of harsh climate in the farmland.

The啤酒街 (Beer Street) in Qingdao city

No posh vehicle, but a posh heart!
Mr. Xue is my cherry-picked driver (no legal taxi licence) not because he drives a posh vehicle but because I am impressed by his simple, honest and sincere character. You know, I am good in assessing people…..LOL! Mr. Xue is a careful driver in his small, yet clean Chinese-brand Tianjin-made vehicle. He is always happy, always punctual and never overcharge me. No matter how impromptu I need his chauffeur service, he will try his best to be available.

A farmer turned landlord
In the late nineties, due to China government’s development of Huangdao, Mr. Xue’s family inherited farmlands were exchanged for two leasehold flats approx. size of 80 sqm. In China, 80 sqm flat is actually smaller than Singapore. It includes non-liveable corridor areas shared equally by households on the same floor. Very often, floor plans can be overstated by unethical developers too. Each of Mr. Xue's flats cost ~400-500k CNY today, according to him.

Out of the two flats Mr. Xue owns, one is rented out at a rate of 2k CNY a month. As for income coming from driving, a 15km trip will earn him 25 CNY, while an hour airport trip (it is actually 2-2.5h for him to and fro) will earn him 250~300 CNY. Bear in mind, it is not easy for him to find clients like me frequently.

Mr. Xue is married with a housewife and a son in his early 20s. His son graduated last year, now working in Qingdao city earning 2k plus CNY a month. Both his parents also stay with them not working.

Thrifty and appreciates life
Considering Mr. Xue’s son mediocre salary, it is barely sufficient for himself. Mr. Xue told me that he needs to work very hard to earn and save more money to support his son future hefty marriage and household expenses.  Basically Mr. Xue is main pillar for his family. 

“Do you think that life in China is tough and are you happy?” I asked. Mr. Xue told me that his life growing up as a farmer was much tougher. Hunger is not unfamiliar then. Rice to fill up the tummy was happiness, meat was luxury. Hence, he is extremely appreciative of what he has now.n

Huangdao or Qingdao is under Shandong province. Mr. Xue told me that in general, people from Qingdao is known to have personalities that are direct, straight forward, and extremely 好客 , meaning treat visitors with great hospitality.  

2) Guangzhou Driver – Intelligent but negative about life

Next stop was Guangzhou, China third largest city after Shanghai and Beijing. Guangzhou is within Guangdong province. The province is populated with more than 100 million inhabitants, with famous cities like Guangzhou, Shenzhen, Dongguan, Zhuhai etc and is very near to HongKong. Dialects in Guangzhou include Cantonese, Hakka, Teochew etc. 

Xintang area - one of the very old streets in Guangzhou

This time, the Driver I spent several hours with is Mr. Du. He is our company driver of 8 years. In his 40s (he does not reveal his exact age), Mr. Du is well-groomed and looks much alike his age. Mr. Du’s capability exceeds that of a driver. Besides driving for the company, he is also the company’s handyman. Mr. Du is smart, possesses good initiatives, eloquent, speaks little English, and also a kind person in nature. Mr. Du, a local in Guangzhou is married with working wife from Guangxi, and a 3 year old boy. 

Life is so tough in China!
I was told that standard of living in Guangzhou is high. A typical second or third tier-house for the average people will cost close to CNY 1 mil. He further grumbled that average person salary in Guangzhou is approx. CNY5-6k, how to manage such an expensive house.

“Do you think that life in China is tough and are you happy?” I asked. “How to be Happy…Life is so tough in China! The government is corrupted and highly incapable!”  - Mr. Du lamented. In fact I was with another driver for an hour, the same negative feedback was conveyed about Guangzhou and China.

Mr. Du then complained about the roads in Guangzhou being not well maintained, lights are dim, cameras installed by the government everywhere, merely to collect extra revenue and not for safety. For I am a frequent travellers in different parts of China, I thought the roads in Guangzhou are one of the best I seen. Traffic is much better than Qingdao, no nightmares traffic jams in Shanghai and Beijing. 

Moans about China...Full admirations about Hong Kong and Singapore
Throughout most of our conversations, Mr. Du speaks his mind admiring HongKong people’s efficiency and more cultured manners. He also thinks highly about Singapore, but praises are targeted to our “capable PAP government.” No mention at all on “capable Singaporeans?”.  Mr. Du also reckons that democracy is important which is why he has full support to the HongKong recent “umbrella” uprising against the government.

For most part of the journeys, there are only negatives and no positives about his country.

I then asked one question subtly if he travelled out of Guangzhou before. “Yes. I have been to Shenzhen, Guangxi, Macau and HK.” He said.   

3) Zhangjiagang Driver – A happy and positive driver

Zhangjiagang is a satellite city of Suzhou city, within Jiangsu province. It is located ~130 km (2 hours drive) from Shanghai. It is also near to Huaxi Village, termed “Number One Village Under the Sky” driven by former village chief Wu Renbao. Today, each villager is reported to have a net wealth of at least EUR100k - considered rich by Chinese standards of villager.

So many people in Shanghai

Always good to do more than what is required
The driver from Zhangjiagang hotel I stayed in (I did not get his name), is a 33 year old man. Spotting with a typical Chinese crew cut hairstyle, he is always smiling and very talkative. As an employee of the hotel, driving is not his only job. He is also the purchaser in the hotel.

I then asked “why are you driving when you are the purchaser?” He said “no problem, it is always good to do more, while you still can!” For most of our chats, he emphasized several times that money is not important to him and living life happily is far more important!

Not a rich man, but a happy man
Wait a minute….you hear that coming from a driver from China? LOL haha... He is not from Huaxi Village and not a rich man! He is originally from Yangzhou few hours drive from Zhangjiagang where his wife and kid is located now. 

“Do you think that life in China is tough and are you happy?” I asked. “Life is good nowadays and the Chinese government is capable and doing their best to improve the lives of the people!”  - The driver said.

The driver also mentioned that he does not like to give excessive pressure to his child in education. He wants his kid to be street smart. And as long as his kid is happy and be a good person contributing to the society, he is happy. Basically he is not a person with high expectations of material success.

Chinese New Year – Happy time!
It is going to be Chinese New Year (a.k.a. Spring Festival) soon, so I asked him how he is going to spend the holidays. I was told that on the eve, they will have family reunion dinner. After that, they will gather to guess 春联 Couplet (Chinese Poetry). When the clock strikes 12 midnight, they will light up fire crackers. After that everyone will have to 守夜 (meaning stay awake throughout till dawn). The night will be accompanied by Mahjongs and games of cards. Next morning, they will then visit their relatives with well wishes of the year.

“It is Happy Time!” The driver exclaimed.

Rolf’s Summary

There you have it….three drivers with different perspectives of life.

The 1st driver is simple and not educated, goes through a tough life growing up but appreciates what he has today. The 2nd driver is smart, earns more but staying in a stressful big city, he is unhappy about his life. The 3rd driver is positive and happy-go-lucky, but does not set high expectations in life.

Given a choice, which one do you want to be?


When you have seen or been through the worst, you will appreciate what you have.
When you are positive about life, you will be happy even if you are not rich.
When you are negative about life, no matter how rich you are, you will still be unhappy.
Our success is measured by achievements of what we really want in our life and not by how much we have in comparison to other people’s lives.
Do not live in the shadows of others!

Rui Yuan Photography 

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