Wednesday, October 29, 2008

CFD: Investing or Gambling?

I jumped on the volatility of the FTSE three days ago.

Today is the day of reckoning and I got burnt badly losing £1400 in just three days. You heard about the roulette story, but this is real.

£1400 is a lot of money. I could fly back to Malaysia twice or pay off two months' worth of rent or retake the driving test for 10 times or stock up my groceries for more than a year!

Of course when you "invest", you wouldn't think about all these things.

But I did think about what I could afford to lose. And am I glad this came out to be less than what I was prepared to lose!

At first I felt quite upset about it but after a while, I was back to myself, working as usual.

Now I even have the appetite to blog about it!

Sometimes I think my recovery is too fast. Maybe because I tend to think that things could have gotten worse had I not exited the market or that there's always a price to pay for being an idiot; or you can say to learn a lesson. Life is too short to keep mulling over things that have past. And then I try to look at things differently - £117 of fun every month for a year packed into three days! I know a gym wouldn't even cost that much here, but then…oh well...

So what happened?

In the UK there's this investment instrument called the CFD, which stands for Contract for Difference. As the name suggests, you are paid on the difference of your prediction. You can bet on anything, from the FTSE to Dow Jones and up to the Nikkei Index. You can even predict if the house prices in the UK would fall or rise at the end of the day!

Now if you ask me, I would agree this is gambling.

CFD works like this. Take the FTSE for example, if you predict the FTSE will go up, you bet on "long", which means for every point it goes up, you get £10 but if it moves against you, you lose £10. But if you think it will go down, you bet on "short" (this means short selling), so if your prediction is right, you get £10 for every point the index drops and lose £10 if it moves against your prediction. Simple isn't it?

Yes, it's also extremely simple to lose a lot of money! The FTSE doesn't move one or two points. It can go up and down in hundreds in a second. So, if the index moves against your prediction by 300 points, you would have lost £3000!

You can talk about putting a stop-loss and all. But a loss is still a loss. Whether it's £100 now, or £1000 later, the cumulative effect is tremendous and if you're not careful in monitoring the deals, they can run up to thousands. Greed and fear are the two things that will blur your judgement in the tense trading situation. It's all down to discipline in the end.

There's a Chinese saying about the odds of gambling; "9 losses in 10 bets". (Should be inverted if translated directly). And CFD is gambling by another name.

Having said that, what I lost pales into insignificance if I compared this to what I could have potentially lost!

In these three days, I have noticed these changes in myself:

Keep wanting to go online almost every minute!
Loss of sleep
Loss of concentration
Couldn't be bothered with things
Loss of appetite
Easily agitated
Feeling insecure
Worry, worry and worry

When I saw laughter and people chatting away yesterday, I thought to myself, "Hey, I want that life back! This is not what I want! I don't want to be worried all the time. It's not from God!"

I am glad it's all over now. Looking back, what great fun this was. Yea, how ironic! It's like bungee jumping that lasted for three days!

I always like to try new things. But I think CFD is the most destructive element I've ever come across. Of course, you can also think that it could possibly make you a lot richer if the deals went your way. Yea, "if".

Be careful with "Ifs". My experience with "if" is it's a two-letter word that can spawn good as well as bad ideas!

If you really need to invest that extra cash sitting under the pillow into the stock market, I suggest the traditional way of buying good stocks, keep them, get some dividends and sell them when the price is right.

Sometimes we have to go through certain paths to appreciate the things we have or not have in life. I know this sounds a little philosophical and probably you'd have heard this millions of times but this lesson has reinforced my belief that money is not everything. Money that is lost can be earned back as long as we live but if we lose our health, our friends and our identity, we lose everything. Most importantly, never lose faith in God.

There's really no free lunch in this world. There's no shortcut to success and no success without hard work.

Now for my next stunt it's probably a good idea that I get serious in becoming a Chartered Engineer.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

How do you do?

Three years ago before coming to the UK, I attended an "English at Work" course. I remember having lots of fun in wordplay and learning about the English etiquette.

One of the lessons we had was responding to greetings.

Mrs Ong, our English teacher, asked everyone in the class "How do you do?"

The first person responded "I am fine."

She repeated, "How do you do?" round the class and almost everyone came out with different responses. "Fine and you?", "Fantastic!", "Great!" and "Yea, not too bad". If I remember correctly, I said, "I am fine, thank you"

Mrs Ong laughed. "That's not the correct way to respond", she pointed out.

"That's American actually. In Malaysia, we learn the British English and the British way in responding to "How do you do?" is "How do you do?"" she added.

The class was amused.

"How can you respond to a greeting with another greeting?" I thought.

Mrs Ong rehearsed with the class, "How do you do?"

"How do you do?" we responded.

"Right, that's how you should respond. Keep that in mind. It's very easy to make that mistake!"she ended.

This weird English lesson has made me remember of Mrs Ong ever since. This morning at work, I remembered Mrs Ong. What else? I remembered "How do you do?"!

As usual in the office, everyone would greet anyone. Still fresh in my mind, I started my first greeting to one of my British colleagues, "How do you do?"

He said, "Yea, not too bad, and you?"

Of course, Mrs Ong was right. This is further confirmed by the Indians.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

I did a "Sarah Palin" Interview

Today I had one of the most disastrous interviews ever.

I had been shortlisted for an interview in one of the international organisations.

But what is an international organisation (IO)? UN, World Bank, IMF and the Asian Development Bank are some of the IOs.

I had tried contacting people who have applied to IOs and sought their advice on the format, questions and expectations in the interview but couldn't find anyone who has made it to the interview stage. So I guess I must be terribly lucky this time.

I never prepare for interviews because I never bother guessing what questions I may be asked. It's like guessing the questions in the exam. Well, unlike the health and safety test that I took recently where the only way to pass the exam is to memorise the questions and answers, questions of "real interviews" are unpredictable! Furthermore, the most popular tip that people will recommend is to "be yourself".

So, off I went to the interview.

I have overlooked that the interview from a private company is different from an IO! How different?

Private companies are always interested in what you've done and how you could contribute to the bottom line of the company but in an IO, as I found out today, it's about what must be done and how you can contribute to the WORLD! See the difference?

IOs deal with the very complicated matters like reducing poverty and improving the quality of life and the environment. If governments have taken decades and even centuries to find solutions to these problems, asking me about "what I must do" is like picking someone on the street and ask if he knows how to operate the Hadron Collider!

But these are just examples. What I went through was a little more uncomfortable.

It's about infrastructure development. Highway in particular. If I had been asked about the engineering aspect, I would have been so happy.

However, it's related to establishing a case for infrastructure development in the context of poverty eradication, regional development as well as establishing three key elements in the roadmap for assessing its level of success. How would I have done it?

These were not asked together but divided into parts of the interview.

It was certainly beyond the realm of engineering and finance. I would imagine it has a little substance of sustainable development too. It was a little bit of everything actually!

Under pressure, my response was all over the place. Had I been given 2 hours to write about it, I would still struggle. So you can imagine what it would be like if I had to respond immediately after the interviewers!

It was terrible. I learnt that if all systems fail, just act confident! Well, that was the only thing I hung on to actually! Wait a sec, writing this suddenly reminded me of Sarah Palin's interview with Katie Couric.

The outcome of the interview is a few months from now. The interview was an excellent experience for me but as much as I hate to admit now, I think I have done a "Sarah Palin" interview! This is what I mean:

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Practical Driving Test

In my attempt to get a full UK driving license, I took the practical test this morning. With 12 years of driving experience that I gained previously, I topped up 10 hours of driving lessons to shake off all the uncertainties and bad habits that I have picked up throughout the years and to learn the rules of driving in this country.

People who have lived here long enough will tell you that this country is obsessed with rules. You can never be too careful in doing the right things. So, 10 hours of driving lessons were certainly nothing compared to the recommended 40 hours!

At first glance, the result sheet looked clean and "harmless". I must have passed.

However, when the examiner broke the news to my instructor and I that I didn't pass, I was absolutely disappointed. Suddenly I felt like the thickest and darkest clouds and the most miserable weather in this country have fallen onto me!

I had 3 minor faults and 1 serious fault. No wonder the paper looked clean. There were only four ticks.

What's the problem then?

Apparently, the serious fault was on my parallel parking. It did not occur to me that I should finish my parallel parking within two car lengths. I exceeded half a car length in the manoeuvre. Big deal, you might have thought.
Diagram showing the parallel parking. Fourth picture shows the half car length I exceeded, in an otherwise neat positioning of the car parallel to the kerb.

To these people, the half-car length that I have exceeded may have been a wall or some form of obstruction. Fair enough, but if there was really a wall, would anyone reverse into one? I am not being defensive but this is just common sense.

My driving instructor also thought it was harsh to fail me over the half-car length, otherwise I would have had a nearly unblemished result sheet to make me pass. After all, what is a car length measured against to? A Toyota Prius length for example is two lengths of a Smart for Two and the car I was driving was the size between the two. The gap I produced was probably two lengths of the two Mercedes S-Class??

Really, for a country so obsessed with rules to the point of being illogical, there's really no point in arguing anymore.

I just booked my next test in December, a week before Christmas. I was upset earlier but am not now because I know the "serious fault" I committed could neither proof that I could not park a car nor that I could not drive. Then again, I failed the test.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Trip to Liverpool

I made a trip to Liverpool last weekend with Owen and Winson. We stayed over at Owen's in Huyton, which was about 10km from Liverpool.

I have come to associate Liverpool with football since I was young. Coming here finally replace the childhood image with the experience of being there.

A photo taken to intimidate my dad who's an MUFC

Liverpool is an international port city. It is also a city named as the European Capital of Culture.

European Capital of Culture

For a while I couldn't figure out what makes a city a capital of culture. Then I saw weird buildings like a roofless shopping mall called Liverpool One and its funny staircase. I thought, hmm...could these be what they meant? Oh well, maybe it could be other things. One of the pride of this city, other than the football club, is The Beatles. So that's probably them as well.
The Beatles

Roofless concept of Liverpool One

And the weird staircase. Looked like the staircase in Hogwart's School in Harry Potter

When we were taking the train from Huyton to Liverpool, I've only paid £1.45 for a day return ticket. This is the cheapest I've ever paid in the UK. I can't even take the tube with this price! The cost of living in this place surprised me.

When I was in the train, I immediately felt out of place. All passengers in the train were white people! There was not even a black person.

After a while in the City, I soon realised there were many dilapidated buildings in the city. I also remember reading once that Liverpool has one of the highest unemployment rates in the UK! It's really true. Perhaps the main stays of the city are the universities, football and tourism. Other than that, it's quite deprived actually.

I thought this arch is better than the one in London

Okay, the happy stuff. Most of my time in Liverpool were spent going to cathedrals, an exhibition and two museums. When we were at the Liverpool Cathderal, we went up to the top of the tower to have an aerial view of the city. We spotted Blackpool from there. Blackpool is another city north of Liverpool that is known for entertainment.

Liverpool Cathedral

We went to the Metropolitan Cathedral too. It's a Roman Catholic cathedral. It's one of the most modern churches I've ever come across. The interior reminded me of the Shah Alam RC church, only more rounded in this one and the experience just didn't feel "Catholic" at all.

Metropolitan Cathedral

We then proceeded to an exhibition of Le Corbusier. He was a controversial Swiss (then French) architect whose work has influenced many of the things we see today. I can imagine those Pekeliling and San Peng flats that we see in KL are some of those influences of Le Corbusier. Those are the hideous looking flats. There are also uglier ones like a church he designed in Firminy, France which was so disastrous it looked like a pig's snout! When I saw it, I thought, "OMG, what a crime he has done to France!"

After the exhibition, I concluded that anything that's an eyesore is possibly a Le Corbusier!

One of the ugliest things I've ever seen. A church designed by Le Corbusier

We've also visited the Merseyside Maritime and Slavery museum which were at the Albert Dock. I had quite an enlightening tour in the museum. I learnt that the White Star Line which created the Titanic has also created its two twins named Olympic and Britannic. In fact, Titanic is the "second child" in the triplets.

All three of them suffered the same fate. They suffered a tragic death. All were sunk either by war or accident or both! All of them sank just a few years apart from each other. If this is not what we call as "jinxed", I don't know what else to call it!

Owen's parents treated us well. We made a trip to Crosby Beach with his parents on Sunday. It is famous for its one hundred Iron Men figures lined up along the beach and the wind turbines at sea. When I first saw the sculptures, I thought it was one of the weirdest things I've ever seen! Naked iron men sculptures standing on the beach and in the sea. How much weirder can that get??
Crosby Beach

One of the iron men in the sea guarding the wind turbines??

The Iron Men

We ended the trip with a lunch at home. Owen's mom cooked us chicken with herb stuffings. The stuffing was really nice and I am trying to find a recipe online to see how to make it afterwards.

The trip was relaxing and entertaining.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

FLM: I'm in!

I'll be running the 2009 London Marathon. Yay!!

I was really happy when I received a confirmation email yesterday.

I could have gotten the news much earlier through a magazine but I guess they sent it to Reading where I applied the ballot from.

Now there is a purpose to run again. Well, not that I haven't been. But I have been and am really looking forward to this. What's more special is that this will be the last Flora London Marathon. 2010 will possibly be called as the Virgin London Marathon when Richard Branson takes over as the main sponsor.

I've never been so happy being able to run in a marathon. The ones I ran do not need a ballot. In fact, they are always short of runners! We're talking about a thousand in Malaysia and more than 120,000 in London. That's just for application. Only 35,000 will be chosen to run.

It's a different league in London. Unbelievable!

I did not get a place to run in 2008. Even though I was despair, I did enjoy half the fun and excitement from waiting for the ballot results!

State of the economy

Imagine a time when you have two exciting programmes that you want to watch showing at the same time. Wait…let me do this again.

Imagine a time when a storm is pounding outside, rattling windows and blowing off streetlamps and flooding the roads outside the house and you have two exciting programmes on TV in different channels that you want to watch. Would you be more worried about your own safety or would you not give a toss about it and continue debating which channel to watch? Or you concentrate on one, and catch up the other online afterwards. Or you catch up on both later and run to safety for now!? I think the last is the most sensible option, at least for me.

This scenario is very much what we're going through now in the UK. Or at least my interpretation of what's happening here. The looming recession and rising unemployment being the storm; collapse of banking giants, share and house prices and bailouts are one of the channels; the presidential debate in the US as the other. You couldn't ask for more. The collapse of banking giants for example, is like a game of Russian roulette with five bullets now instead of one!

Only thing is, what can we concentrate on now? About our future here?

Honore de Balzac, a great French novelist once said, "Behind every great fortune there is a crime". The difference is that the storm now is not a natural phenomenon but a man-made one and the two programmes are not mere Hollywood stunts or rehearsed reality shows, they are real stuff unfolding before our eyes and will affect us and the entire world! It's like seeing the most dramatic and horrific scene in "Day After Tomorrow" and putting yourself into it. This is massive, scary and random.

Some countries like mine are still playing down the issue by quoting China and the Middle East as a cushion when both countries rely on the US and Europe heavily as their major trading partners; burying its head in sand, choosing to focus on petty political issues and getting overly excited over a musical!

But should we blame them?

I wouldn't. Life must go on. I would still enjoy the changing colour of autumn, jump for joy for winning a ballot in the 2009 London Marathon, scout for cheap flights to some European and US destinations and look for bargains over at the Kuala Lumpur Stock Exchange.

However, I am also more cautious of my spending and the possibility of being unemployed. But can I just put on a sulk or hold on to the balustrade 24-7? No one knows what tomorrow will bring. The band in Titanic didn't stop playing even when they knew the ship was sinking. I also remember in the movie, a lot of prayers were said in the last moments.

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Sandwich man

A sandwich man comes to the office everyday. We know he is in when he breaks the silence of the office with his clown-like announcement:

"Good morning everyone! How's your day? I know it's hard to smile on a Monday but I have my happy sandwiches for you! Anyone for my happy sandwiches?!"

Then he stands aside and waits for his customers.

He would then go to the other floors in the building after the queue for his sandwiches is clear. I've only patronised him once when I've forgotten my lunch on a rare occasion.

Today I took the lift down. The lift stopped after one level. It was the sandwich man coming into the lift. He walked in clumsily with his crates of sandwiches. He asked to press the button for the next floor since both his hands were full.

"One please", he requested.

I obliged. Then looking at his sandwiches I struck a conversation with him, "Good business today?"

"Yea, not too bad. A little left." he replied and continued "Are you the architect from upstairs?"

I said "No. I'm an engineer."

The lift opened when it reached his floor but before he stepped out he replied, "Oh cool! I'm actually an architect. I'm still looking for a job. Almost a year now."

He hurried out clumsily with his sandwiches, back out first. Before the lift started closing, I wished him luck. I was hesitating to press the "open door" button to ask if I could help him find a job in our company but decided I could probably do that tomorrow.

As I was walking to the post office, I couldn't help but think how fortunate I am to be employed in this country and able to do what I want to do. I have begun to expect things the way they are and always want them to become better, bigger and more sophisticated.

Don't get me wrong. I don't mean we should live in complacency. In fact I am a firm believer that we shouldn't only aim high but aim higher. But sometimes it's easy for us to keep going ahead and become bitter about how much more we have to go, rather than stop for a while, look back and be thankful to God for how far we've already gone.

Sunday, October 05, 2008

Raya in London

Today was the Raya Open House in London organised by the MSD. I was reluctant to go when it started raining early in the morning and there was no sign that it was ever going to stop for the day. However, since I have promised to go with two groups of friends, I had to brave through the rain.

Well, the other part of me was also screaming to go as I always like going for events like this. I get to meet new people and eat Malaysian food which I wouldn't usually cook on normal days. Just like today, the buffet spread was ayam masak merah, rendang daging, ketupat, acar, lontong, nasi minyak, asam laksa, sambal ikan bilis and lots of kuih muih. I wouldn't normally cook these type of dishes. Or even if I could, I probably wouldn't, so I have reasons to go for events like this in future.

I particular liked the ayam masak merah, rendang daging and the kuih loyang. I say this with two possible reasons; either I've become less "demanding" in my taste for food or they were really good. I believe it's the latter since I've not been home for slightly more than a year only.

I was gladly surprised to meet up with Jimmy Choo, London's fashion mogul in shoemaking who's also Malaysian. Despite his fame and high flying achievements, he was so kind to step out from his VIP chair and take a photograph with us. In fact, I didn't feel any air of "VIP-ness" as everyone was so approachable on this happy occasion.

L to R: Fiona, Jimmy Choo, me and Amy

Last year, I was so aware that Raya was approaching and was counting down to the first day of Raya with my ESD friends who came to visit. This year, I wish I remembered about Raya. It was not until Tuesday that I found out about it when I read about the Eid ul-Fitr in FT and the subsequent emails sent out by former Chevening scholars of my batch.

On this note, I apologise to all my Muslim friends that I didn't wish them any earlier and I hope this is not too late. My special wish goes to Noris, Nik Rahini, Aeni, Fairuz, Kartini, Shahnaz, Eskandar, former colleagues from the Gamuda Group and to you, you and you who are celebrating Raya...Selamat Hari Raya. Maaf zahir dan batin!!

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Morality of Gambling

Last week I was at the Ascot Horse Race. I was fortunate to get into the Premier Admission because of Amy, who's working for one of the main sponsors of the event.

Four of us at the Ascot Racecourse

I had a great time there. The weather was good and there was great vibe. Probably because everyone had to dress smartly, made the event looked a little "pomp".

Once inside, we headed for the grounds. There were many bookies at the grass area.

Ascot main building

I initiated the idea of betting the horses. I felt a little guilty instigating the group to bet with me, as they may not have such intention and could be just as happy watching the race without any money involved.

Amy's winning bet

My reason was simple. There's really no fun coming to a horse racing event without putting in a bet, even if it's as little as £1. The whole idea of going for horse racing is so that people can join in the crowd to cheer, groan or moan for their winning or losing horses. Of course, some may argue that I'm being naive because horse race is also where alot of money are at stake. We're talking about hundreds and thousands of £ in each race!

Regardless which was true, I was convinced I should put in at least a bet for a race to justify for my 2-hour train journey to and from Ascot! I likened not betting to be going to a beach and not touching the sea!

But I asked what makes it morally wrong to bet or gamble actually? Is it when money is involved or greed? I think it is both.

And they're off!

I lost £3 in the race but I was happy. I had an exhilarating time throughout the race, cheering for the horses I bet and completely forgotten about how quickly time has passed. Before we knew it, four hours have gone and it was time to go.

I don't think we could have enjoyed so much had we just sat down and watched the race. There's always a price to pay for entertainment. It would have cost me £15 on the London Eye or £60 if I had wanted to stay on it for four hours, £25 or more to be on the Daytona for four hours, £30 in Disneyland and £40 for a 2.5-hour musical, to get the equivalent level of entertainment experience from Ascot.

So, I thought £3 as entertainment was such a bargain. And if you're lucky, you may even get paid and be entertained as well! Just as long as one exercises self-control and that no greed is involved, there's entertainment to be found in horses. Unfortunately, these two attributes are not always present in everyone.