Bad Blood, The Theranos Scam & Scandal

Image may contain: one or more people, text that says "Winner of the FT/McKinsey Business Book of the Year Award 2018 Bad Blood Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup NLB The story of Elizabeth Holmes and Theranos 61 lohn Z] ;arreyrou"

Allow me to share an good read which is both engaging and intriguing – like a detective novel. Theranos was touted as a DIY bucket sized blood testing mini-lab that could perform 4 common blood tests with as little blood as that from a lancet prick. School dropout Elizabeth Holmes was about to make a dent in the universe.

Impressive speech on TED, except that she is a fraudster and the technology never really existed. But Ms Holmes’ domineering, confident and dictatorial style even managed to win her the trust and respect of a 4-star general.

The device would have been tested on troops in Afghanistan if not for the gutsy, uncompromising microbiologist LTC Shoemaker who stood his ground against his military superior.

Combined with Ms Holmes’ charisma and iron-fisted rule with her boyfriend Sunny, the rapid turnover of staff achieved through the speedy dismissal of critical employees, the equally rapid promotion of sycophants and servile, pandering foreign workers and the litany of lawsuits thrown at whistle blowers, the scam took America nearly 15 years to expose! What’s even more interesting is that the device was endorsed by former vice president (current POTUS) Joe Biden.

Who took them to task and called their bluff? No, it’s not the FDA which actually approved a herpes testing component that wasn’t even a unique or original concept. Neither was it part of the original design. It was not the government as VP Joe Biden had nothing but praises for Theranos. The true heroes were the tenacious journalists and courageous whistle blowers who insisted on getting the truth out in spite of being stalked and threatened.

Erika Cheung, a key whistle blower who was threatened by lawyers and stalkers

But what really saved the American public and potential investors from this scam, is the culture of calling out fakes no matter how inconvenient and disruptive to the self. In another society, whistle blowers might have kept quiet, kept their jobs and journalists might not want to take the trouble or the risk to investigate and report. Fans and lovers of routine and predictability may label this spirit as “唯恐天下不乱“。

The following image was captured from a page in the book. Doesn’t this scenario look disturbingly familiar?

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Dewdrop Books – Fiction and non-fiction with a focus on the colourful and exotic Asian realm. Check out our titles.

Question From The Grave

It has been Four months since my friend S passed away suddenly. I’ve known him since 2004. S was a wealthy man who lived a rather mundane life, walking to his shop from home every morning and walking back in the evening when he would continue his routine of finishing a few cans of beer while he smoked and gambled online.

From 2004 till 2012, our relationship had been rather superficial. We were both busy and only had time to exchange pleasantries when we met. Then one evening in 2012, I met up with him at the coffee shop after work to discuss some issue. After the discussion ended, he ordered beer and we drifted into casual chat. From then on, we would meet once a week at the coffee shop to chat over a few beers.

To me, sitting down for a beer at the coffee shop was somewhat “inelegant”. I would never do it alone. Because of the negative image often portrayed on TV, I would look too much like a loser if I did that. Some of the folks were drinking alone and some with friends. Some kept to themselves, lost in their own thoughts. Some flirted with the beer ladies. Society often judges them harshly. But over many of these beer sessions, we opened up to each other. We shared our life stories, saturating the colourful and dramatic episodes, inadvertently repeating when we couldn’t remember whether we had told that one before.

I used to be a complete outsider to the beer scene at local coffee shops. For a long time, I couldn’t understand how so many of these uncles could sit alone and drink till everyone at home is asleep. They were like a world apart from me. Little did I realise that regardless of background, many of us end up in the same predicament. As I got to know the uncles who were regulars at these watering holes, I discovered many stories with a common theme. Their wives must have been telling their daughters not to marry someone like Daddy or some variation on the same theme. Nobody wants to leave behind a loving family to indulge in mediocre beer and chat up churlish beer ladies; unless the family is no longer loving.

Walking home from the supermarket the other day, I was suddenly reminded of one of the stories that S told me. As his life was mundane compared to mine, I had no trouble remembering his most intriguing story. It was his first love; also his most unforgettable and unforgivable.

40 years ago, S was in his 20s when he went on a trip to Pulau Tioman with his friends from poly. One of them brought his sister along. At the beginning of the trip, S noticed that the young lady moody and unengaged. She seemed to have joined the trip to escape something. S tried to cheer her up. He found out that she had just broken up with her boyfriend and was still feeling hurt and miserable about it. With all the coddling from S, her face grew a little brighter with every sunrise on the beach. The others found them holding hands as they swam in the crystal clear waters. S was in love. The waves, the sand and the sun, his heaven on earth, hummed in the background as he was completely drawn by her lustrous hair, her glowing eyes and the delicate imprints that her little feet left in the sand.

He took many pictures of her and though that week spent in Tioman was the most surrealistically beautiful that he had lived through in his life, S couldn’t wait to get back to Singapore. He needed more options, more settings and more privacy. He could then meet and date her without the others around. Back in Singapore, he quickly developed the photos as she was anxious to see them. When the photos were ready, he asked her to collect them at his office. He thought she would be impressed if she knew where he worked.

She came by on a motorbike. She thanked S for the photos and introduced the one sitting in front as her boyfriend! S could almost feel tears oozing out from the corners of his eyes as they rode away. His heart felt like it had been torn, still beating, into a hundred shreds. The pain was unbearable even as he told me this story 40 years later.

I’ve heard this story a few times. I didn’t bother to stop him when he repeated it. It was so unforgettable and so unforgivable. And whenever S told this story, he would ask me in exasperation – why did she do that? Was it because she derived pleasure hurting him that way? Or could she be so ignorant that she didn’t know how much he hurt?

It has been 40 years and S was still not able to figure out why. He had married another woman. His children had all grown up and were gainfully employed. One of them is already married and he was about to be a grandfather. What could have crossed his mind when he suffered from a stroke and realised that he was on the path of transmigration? Could he had wished for an answer to this question before he passed on?

This episode had been a break in the continuum of his mundane existence. It tore him apart, but I know for sure that he would rather have experienced than not experienced it. Joy and sorrow are both needed to give life meaning. That burning question had followed him to his grave. I don’t have the answer. Do you?

Dewdrop Books – Fiction and non-fiction with a focus on the colourful and exotic Asian realm. Check out our titles.

You Think Democracy Sucks?

When I was young, there was practically no debate over whether democracy, communism or dictatorship is better. Nobody would have taken you seriously if you lived outside China or the USSR and wished to migrate there.

Nowadays, things have gone a bit grey as authoritarian regimes start growing a prosperous shell and countries that used to be great and progressive go on the path of decline due to a variety of social and political issues. As the lines begin to blur, there is an emerging group of simplistic, apathetic and shallow individuals from ailing democratic countries who think that democracy doesn’t work anymore and there is a better path steered by benevolent depots heading towards a socialist paradise.

But many don’t realise that this is only the start of the prosperous phase in these newly wealthy states and not the finish. Sure, you can prosper under somebody else’s dictatorship, but when does the party end and do you know when to get out before the fruits of your labour are taken away and you have no recourse? Or are you so enamoured of the authoritarian system that you don’t think that the party will ever end and you even want your own country to follow the same system?

In this video, disillusioned former China expat Matt Tye interviews North Korean escapee Park Yeon Mi and discuss the mentality of some emerging Western socialists.

The second video is my review of Miss Park’s book which details her escape from North Korea, her hellish ordeal as a sex slave in China and finally gaining freedom with help from a Chinese church which helped her escape to Mongolia and then to South Korea.

Miss Lee was miraculously released after being caught by the Chinese police. That might have been possible in the 1990s, but probably not with today’s technology. Like Miss Park’s sister, Miss Lee went through Southeast Asia where her family was arrested and imprisoned in Laos. It’s a miracle that a good Samaritan paid the bribes and got them out.

Miss Lee also has a book and her story is completely different from Miss Park’s. I’ve read it and I would encourage everyone to do so as well.

The Girl with Seven Names: A North Korean Defector's Story by Hyeonseo Lee

Dewdrop Books – Fiction and non-fiction with a focus on the colourful and exotic Asian realm. Check out our titles.

赵咏华 Taiwanese Singer

Many years ago when I was writing for the Straits Times, I had a robust debate with a journalist on the need to segregate and discriminate between high brow and low brow literature. I felt that all genres, can be written well or written badly. There are only well-written books and badly-written books.

The low brow works should not be treated with disdain if they are good reads. Almost all local writers should at least deserve some mention, not just those who write “serious” stuff which are not necessarily good just because they are serious. If our newspapers put the them on a pedestal and ignore the rest, then the majority in the reading public may get the impression that good writing must be boring and pretentious.

I must have struck a raw nerve with the high brow guardians of Singapore literature in the newsroom. From then on, I was never asked to contribute anymore to the Straits Times. I stumbled on a 费玉清 programme on YouTube a couple of days ago. This episode features Taiwanese singer 趙詠華, a serious singer who ended up on the “other side”. As a child, she had already been singing theme songs for children programmes. She received formal voice training and was poised to be a “serious” singer.

At the age of 17, she sang folk songs at restaurants to earn some pocket money. From then on, she began to appreciate popular music and realised that she actually could blend her formal training with well-written popular pieces without being seen as condescending. Listen to and watch 趙詠華 in action. Her highly trained voice is never wasted on nice songs, whether high brow or otherwise.

Dewdrop Books – Fiction and non-fiction with a focus on the colourful and exotic Asian realm. Check out our titles.

The Era Of Powerful Voices 蕭孋珠

During the early 1980s, before the likes of Su Rei exploded on the Taiwanese music scene, female singers were mostly soft and gentle. Some were downright “feeble”. In the 1970s, however, Mandarin pop was dominated by the powerful voices of Feng Fei Fei, Teresa Teng and the not so well known Xiao Li Zhu 蕭孋珠, officially spelled Shiao Lih Ju.

Shiao rose to fame after singing the theme songs of many popular films based on Chiung Yao’s 琼瑶 novels, like 一帘幽梦 Fantasies Behind the Pearly Curtain (1975), 处处闻啼鸟 Everywhere Birds Are Singing (1978), and 踩在夕阳里 Love Under a Rosy Sky (1979). In the mid-1980s, she moved to Singapore, where she sang the theme song for the Singaporean historical drama 盗日英雄传 The Sword and the Song (1986) based on the legend of Song Dynasty hero, Yue Fei.

踩在夕陽裡 left a very strong impression on my teenage years. The music was so haunting and lyrics simple and down to earth. Ironically, my young mind was curious and immature, constantly dreaming and exploring. Another one of my favourites was 青色山脉.

At the age of 16, I moved from Queenstown to Telok Blangah. With my new home surrounded by hills which often got enshrouded by mists on rainy days, this song blended into my pensive moods, gazing out of the window. I’ve always mistaken 處處聞啼鳥 to be a song sung by Feng Fei Fei.

Having said that, I must say that Shiao sounded so unusually “refined” in 處處聞啼鳥. Frankly, I don’t remember watching any of the Qiong Yao movies mentioned above. As Liu Jia Chang once said, the trashy movies were soon forgotten but the songs became classics. He was willing to write theme songs for trashy movies as they gave him the break he needed.

While Shiao’s powerful voice is probably no longer fashionable these days, she had a powerful effect on the dreams, romances and sad realities of many young people growing up during that time.

Dewdrop Books – Fiction and non-fiction with a focus on the colourful and exotic Asian realm. Check out our titles.

Tam Ping Man

Tam Ping-man (14 November 1933 – 5 September 2020) was a Hong Kong actor and singer. He was the first horse racing commentator in Hong Kong. He was also the voice behind many dubbed movies. From behind the scenes, Tam also starred in a number of successful movies and television shows where he also played host. His charming voice was much sought after in advertisements and public service announcements. He also dabbled with singing, but his albums were only marginally successful in Hong Kong. Still, he had many fans in Southeast Asia and he often made his concert tours around the region.

Many of the YouTube videos below received most of their views after his death was announced.

Dewdrop Books – Fiction and non-fiction with a focus on the colourful and exotic Asian realm. Check out our titles.

Danny Chan Pak Keung 陳百強

Danny Chan Pak Keung was a Hong Kong singer/musician. At a time when piracy and the copying of Western and Japanese tunes were rife in Hong Kong, Danny wrote original pieces, making him a unique icon of Cantonese pop music (Cantopop) in the 1980s. Compared with other superstars of the same period in the 1980s, Danny’s singing career was the shortest, but his many of his songs have become classics.

Danny Chan reached the peak of his career in between 1979 and 1985. He released the most hits during this period and also played teen idol roles in movies with Leslie Cheung. After a brief two-year hiatus, he made a comeback from 1986 to 1989. I’m not a fan of his, but my favourite during this period is 偏偏喜歡你 (1983). After this period, Danny began to fade behind the scenes. He held a few concerts and recorded another one of my favourites 一生何求 (1989).

Many people who have been in contact with Danny Chan agreed that he was a sentimental person who was often melancholic. He did not hide his depression and chronic insomnia. Danny had sought medical treatment for his emotional distress and sought spiritual comfort by reading Buddhist scriptures.

His colleagues and close associates all knew that he was a victim of depression. On 18 May 1992, Danny Chan went into a coma after a drinking session with his friends. He remained in that condition in hospital until he passed away on 25 October1993.

Compared to most other HK singers with his level of achievement, Danny Chan had the shortest career which abruptly ended at age 35. Fortunately or unfortunately, he was a dewdrop that vaporised and became immortalised at a glorious moment.

Dewdrop Books – Fiction and non-fiction with a focus on the colourful and exotic Asian realm. Check out our titles.


Chinese busker playing 倩女幽魂 on her gu zheng at a beach in France. Why can’t we have buskers like that in Singapore?

Dewdrop Books – Fiction and non-fiction with a focus on the colourful and exotic Asian realm. Check out our titles.

In Order To Live

Park Yeonmi had thought that her classmates would never recognise her on TV, with her heavy make up and all, but she was recognised even by strangers on the streets. It seemed that she had worked so hard adapting to life in South Korea that many people who knew her were not even aware that she was actually a defector from the North. This book gives a poignant account of how a young North Korean defector survived the ordeal of an unnecessarily tortuous, humiliating path to freedom.

Compared to most North Koreans, Yeonmi had a rather privileged childhood. Her father was a member of the Workers Party, the state apparatus in of the totalitarian regime. Even though he had very little income from his official work for the Party, Mr Park had many contacts and connections through which he could operate his metals smuggling business for a considerable profit. The Park family was thus relatively well off. Yeonmi lived happily in Hyesan with her elder sister Eunmi and her mother. Like many North Koreans, her greatest wish was to visit Pyongyang. Unlike most North Koreans, Yeonmi fulfilled her dream when she was only 8.

All that changed when Mr Park had an affair with a fellow smuggler. When she was arrested and interrogated, she spilled the beans on Mr Park who tried to help her but ended up in trouble himself. He was sentenced and sent to a prison camp.

Their family’s fortunes plunged overnight. Yeonmi’s mother had to work, doing a bit of beautician work and a bit of smuggling herself. She had to sell the house and move to her hometown in Kowon while the two girls dropped out of school as they had no money to pay for expenses in school. While a lot of services in North Korea were supposed to be free, the service providers often demanded for payment or they would refuse to operate. With their father in prison and their mother often away from home, Eunmi and Yeonmi often had to hunt dragonflies and roast them for food. .

Mr Park was released from prison after some 3 years of hard labour. He became a shadow of his former self and was in poor health. The family was constantly underfed. Then, Yeonmi and her sister noticed that people around them had been disappearing. There were rumours that they had gone over to China. The sisters started asking around, looking for brokers who could smuggle them across the border. Then, Eunmi disappeared one night. They had no way of knowing if her escape had been successful. Yeonmi and her mother decided to go to China themselves to find out.

On 31st March 2007, Yeonmi and her mother walked across the frozen Yalu River and entered Changbai, China. Only then did they realise that they were in the hands of human traffickers to be traded like animals and sold from one household or individual to another. 13-year-old Yeonmi was introduced to the subject of sex by witnessing her mother getting raped. North Korean escapees had little choice or recourse as only one fate could await them if they were ever found by the Chinese police – repatriation.

They were slaves without a voice, trapped in a virtual paradise of seemingly endless food supplies and glitzy shopping malls. Yeonmi feasted and soon learned to practise a standard of hygiene previously unknown to her. But she and her mother were subsequently sold and separated. North Korean women were either sold into prostitution or married into families which could not afford a Chinese bride.

Yeonmi then entered into a bargain with her owner who had tried to rape her. She would surrender her virginity in exchange for being together with her parents. She became the mistress of a gang leader. Mr Park was smuggled into China, but the broker was disappointed as he was in very bad shape and would be of little economic value. He was diagnosed with cancer and soon died.

All searches for her sister Eunmi turned out in vain, but Yeonmi managed to gain some measure of freedom after getting one mafia boss to fight with her owner over her. She met and later worked for a very resourceful Korean lady who was operating a sleazy chatroom business. Yeonmi and her mother not only managed to make a living in front of webcams, they saved enough money to buy themselves fake IDs.

They then found out about a church at Qingdao which smuggled North Koreans to Mongolia. Even though South Korea was just across the sea, it was impossible for them to clear Chinese customs in that big modern city. The pastor assisted them on the condition that they read the Bible and sang Christian hyms. Though both of them found it difficult to accept Christianity after being brainwashed to worship the Kims since young, they had to oblige.

Together with other North Korean escapees, Yeomni and her mother made their way to Erenhot in Inner Mongolia. Armed with blades and poison pills, they were determined not to live if they were ever caught. Trekking across the Gobi Desert at night, they arrived at the border. After being arrested, the guards taunted them with 回中国 but ultimately brought them to a holding unit at Ulan Batar where they met up with a South Korean representative.

Both Yeonmi and her mother had great difficulty settling down in South Korea at first. Even the language was so unfamiliar. But Yeonmi was determined to fit in. She did well in school and quickly dropped her North Korean accent. While attending a Christian retreat in America, she received news that her sister Eunmi had arrived in South Korea. She was so excited that she shortened her stay and returned to South Korea immediately. Meeting a long-lost sister brought much tears and joy, but Yeonmi could sense that her sister had changed through her ordeal. Both sisters eventually graduated from university in Korea, but Eunmi had decided not to go public with her story.

Her sister had taken a different route to freedom, travelling southwards to Kunming, through SE Asia and finally arriving in South Korea through Thailand. Yeonmi could understand why so many North Korean defectors would rather take their humiliating story to their graves, but while she herself had held back a lot of information while she was being featured on Korean TV, she finally decided to write this book and not hold back any of the ugly details in China. While she respects the privacy of her fellow defectors, hers is a story that had to be told – like a contemporary version of the comfort women’s ordeal.

Not surprisingly, Yeonmi’s account has been challenged by several sources.This included the following article published by The Diplomat. Nevertheless, it should be noted that Yeonmi was only 13 when she escaped from North Korea and she was even younger when she was living in North Korea. A lot of the things she learned as a child could have been told to her by adults who were all out to get her attention. Also, she had made a deliberate attempt to cover up certain details on TV shows, so some inconsistency is to be expected. Yeonmi had also clarified that her English was still rudimentary when she was interviewed by the foreign press.

Many refugees and defectors have given interviews to foreign journalists. While they may have embellished their stories to attract attention and the details are often challenged by fellow refugees and defectors (who have not been interviewed), the bigger truth about gross human rights abuses in North Korea remains unchanged.

Yeonmi is married with a child and living in America.

Dewdrop Books – Fiction and non-fiction with a focus on the colourful and exotic Asian realm. Check out our titles.