Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Prime Minister of Lithuania

Yesterday I attended a public lecture by the Prime Minister of Lithuania, Andrius Kubilius.

If you don't know where exactly is Lithuania, don't worry, I didn't know too when I first heard that he was coming to London. Lithuania is a country in Eastern Europe surrounded by Poland, Belarus and Latvia. It is one of the least known countries to me until I met the PM.

Lithuania's official vehicle in London

He gave a lecture on "Lithuania 2030". The title reminded me about our former PM's Vision 2020. Only thing this is a vision a decade later than ours. This is because Lithuania is still an infant, gaining independence only in 1990 from the Soviet Union. The country is barely a generation old!

Hearing from the PM himself, Lithuania is small in size, but packs a punch. Lithuania is registering the fastest growth in the Eastern European community, only second to Estonia.

One of the interesting facts presented by the PM was that Lithuania is a country that gave birth to 15 Nobel prize winners. These were mostly made up of Lithuanian Jews, which gave an interesting perspective of this country and the role it played in WWII and the Holocaust, if any. I shall look this up later.

The PM's presentation was done in an interesting and witty manner, interjecting with jokes in the slides. One of the funniest was when he juxtaposed Lithuania's economic performance in 2000 and 2010 under his leadership. He admitted jokingly that he didn't have a fantastic CV. He showed a slide of Lithuania's GDP of -1.7% in 2000 when he was at the helm of the country; 10 years later the GDP was -14.8% to which the audience burst into laughter.

The PM's track record in handling the economy

He quoted George Friedman that the balance of power within Europe will shift from the West to the East because of the dynamism in growth opportunities. He based this on the assumption that by 2030 the geopolitical geography will be very different in the following way:

1. EU will be consolidated and become more federal
2. EU-US free trade agreement will divide the innovative north and manufacturing south
3. The Baltics will catch up with the Nordics
4. Russia will have a lasting post imperial syndrome vs modernised European Russia
5. Belarus, Ukraine, Modova and Caucasus will transform as permanent gravitation to Europe.

Lithuania's calendar of dynamism. Basketball victory included! LOL

What took me by surprise was Lithuania's GDP drop by 15% also resulted in a drop in total nominal labour cost by 11%. The PM has admitted himself that many Lithuanians have fled the country in search of greener pastures. He himself took a pay cut of 40%!

I could draw parallels with Malaysia's problem of being stuck in a middle income trap, only difference is that our PM's salary has remained the same and increased with inflation. Malaysian engineers for example are not as fortunate. They earn the same salary as engineers twenty years ago! Lithuania is promoting world class standard workers for the price of third world wages. So if you want the same in Asia, look to Malaysia.

The PM was a Physicist before getting into politics 20 years ago

All in all, the PM's evening lecture was informative and presented in an entertaining way. Most importantly I have known so much more about this country than before and it has made me want to visit Vilnius, the capital of Lithuania, one day.

I always feel grateful to be able to meet high-profile figures like this once in a while. Lest I forget, I should remind myself that this is one of the incentives of staying in this great city.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

First Hospital Visit

I was in the hospital yesterday.

It was the last resort because I couldn't remove a contact lens which was stucked and lost at the top side of the sclera. I knew I didn't drop it because I could nearly feel it lodged uncomfortably behind the eye lid.

I hurried out of the office and headed to the hospital across the road. At the reception, I was told the eye machine was not working. So I was sent away to another hospital.

I was referred to the Western Eye Hospital which was some 2.6km away from UCLH where I went. Once there I had to register as a new patient. I was told to wait for 20 minutes to be called. I was told a nurse would assess my eye condition before letting me see a doctor.

My name was called 20 minutes later. I told the nurse what happened. She rested me on the patient chair, took a torch light and inspected my eyes. She lifted the eye lid and asked me to look down.

"There, I think I saw it", the nurse said. She took a cotton bud and delicately removed the missing lens.

She displayed the lens on her index finger. "It's folded in half, that's why it got stucked. Do you feel okay now?" she checked.

I blinked awhile, closed my eyes and confirmed, "Yeah, a lot better."

The nurse dismissed me and said I was good to go. I didn't need to see a doctor.

She returned the lens and stubborn as I am, I wore it again and to be safe I did it in the hospital toilet. Thank God it didn't give me anymore problem.

I left the hospital and straight to the gym which I was already late by one and a half hours.

Monday, June 07, 2010

The Ampelmann

This is Ampelmann.

I have been meaning to write about the Ampelmann since returning from Berlin but thought the excitement to blog about it would fade away after awhile. It's been a month since I returned from Berlin and the image is still in my head. Like a virus in PC, it has refused to go. So I guess I must write about it to give it a final resting place.

The Ampelmann is the green man on the pedestrian light and represents a passing resemblance of the positive aspect of a failed East Germany social order.

When the Berlin Wall fell, East and West Germany were reunited. The status of the Ampelmann was suddenly thrown into uncertainty. The future of the Ampelmann was threatened.

There were calls for it to be taken out entirely not only because the Ampelmann represents the side of Germany many are not proud of but also because it didn't meet the road regulation standards of the new country.

However, the Ampelmann has acquired a cult status. There were cartoons of the Ampelmann. Teachers used the Ampelmann for children's road safety education. Publishers came out with Ampelmann bedtime stories. Kids loved the Ampelmann. This inadvertently made parents and adults love the Ampelmann too. East Germans were absolutely thrilled with the reunification but they didn't want to see the Ampelmann go.

This led the East Germans to launch a protest called the Ostalgie to bring the Ampelmann (and other East Germany icons) back. The protest was successful and the Ampelmann was saved.

Like all good bedtime stories, the Ampelmann lived happily ever after with his partner - the red man.