Unboxing the Xiaomi MI-2

I am bad at writing reviews. So I will spare everyone the technical details and go into how I felt about the Xiaomi MI-2 instead.

First of all, there is really much room for improvement in its packaging. When I showed it to a friend, he mentioned that it gives him the impression that this was something that fell from the back of the van. While I personally don’t place much emphasis on the aesthetic aspect of the device and its packaging, other consumers often felt otherwise.

Either way, I didn’t let the packaging bother me much. I went straight to getting the device and the accessories out of the box. It wasn’t any bigger than the Omnia 7 and one of my colleagues commented that it looked very much like an iPhone. It is of no wonder a friend working in China calls it an iPhone imitator when I asked him about this phone. Unlike the iPhone, it does not comes with a non-removable battery. So I had to open the back cover to insert the battery and simcard, which took me a long time even though it sounded pretty simple on the instructions in Chinese. In the end I used a small screwdriver to pry it open, placing extra care not to scratch or damage the surface. It then took me several days to master the technique to force it open with my bare hands but I didn’t really mind that since there are very little reasons for me open to back cover again after I have inserted the simcard and battery.

Once I got the set powered up, I noticed that it comes preloaded with the MIUI and Android 4.1.1 ‘Jelly Bean’. The interface is smooth and fast but that is expected since it’s a Quad-core device anyway. However, unlike most Android phones it did not come with the Google Apps (such as Google Maps, Google Play) pre-installed. There’s also a whole bunch of other apps that came bundled with the set. For e.g. Weibo, which I believe is China’s equivalent of Twitter and Mobile QQ, probbaly China’s main instant messaging software. I uninstalled a few and there didn’t seem to be any ill effects on the phone so I guess it is safe to uninstall them all if you don’t want them to be around. The only app I think shouldn’t be uninstall as yet would be the default ‘MI Market’ app. After all, I used it to find and install the Google Apps. In fact, I was able to find the other common apps like Facebook, Twitter, Google Plus, Foursquare etc without much of a fuss even before I installed Google Play. I had only decided to install Google Play as well, because it’s “the devil I am familiar with”.

By the way, just don’t install any apps right away just like I did above because the GPS (or the location services) “doesn’t work”. Very often it either does not pick up my location, and when it does it tells me that I am in a city called Hefei somewhere in the Anhui Province of China. According to what I read on the MIUI forum, the reason is that the default ‘location provider’ in MIUI is set to Baidu. For those who intend to download the customises MIUI ROMs for their own devices, please take note of the solution posted here on the MIUI forum. Unfortunately, it isn’t that straight forward for the MI-2 because I had to wipe the pre-loaded JLB30 ROM in the handset and reload it with something called the “Development ROM” (v 2.11.9) before I can apply the above solution. The reason being that the 2.11.9 ROM basically allows you to gain root permission simply by enabling it, while that feature is disabled on the JLB30 ROM. For the less tech savvy and those who just want something that can be used out of the box, this can be extremely frustrating. I am not sure if the guide to flash (or update) the set with a new ROM is available in other languages but I found my way around using the Chinese instructions. Even when I believed myself to be moderately tech savvy, it took me some time to figure out the technical terms in Chinese before I get down to updating the ROM. (It is sad I am turning into a “banana-man” myself.)

Nevertheless, I managed to get that resolved. The location services now reports my current position correctly. In the process of getting this resolved, I noticed that with location services turned on, the 2000mAh battery loses half its charge roughly in 3 hours even though I had it fully charged. With the location services turned off, the battery survives pretty well in an environment whereby 2G/3G signals are stable. Even with WIFI turned on, it lost only 45% of its charge after 23 hours primarily on standby with some short calls, and light surfing in between.

As for surfing, I cannot really tell whether the set is faster or better as the 3G services in Singapore is really cranky, if not deplorable. In fact, I still get the same bad 3G performance at what I would call a ‘3G dead zone’ in Jurong Point. On the MRT during the morning and evening rush hours, it can also be bad depending on which stretch of the tracks you are on. Basically, I experienced the same agony on the MI-2 just as I did on my Galaxy Tab 10.1 and also my old Omnia 7 at the usual places. I have come to the conclusion that the web surfing experience on any handset is primarily determined by the service provider and my take is that all three of Singapore’s service providers fell short because I had 2 handsets (a Blackberry from the company) and a Galaxy Tab tablet which allowed me to swap the simcards between them just to verify it isn’t a device specific issue. Even though subscribers may not get the same shitty experience at the same location from all three providers, the fact is that it shouldn’t even be happening constantly and without fail at specific locations for specific providers! That is the reason why I didn’t go for a contract renewal and pay less for a ‘better’ 4G handset (as some would believe) from one the providers!

But more on the providers later… let me get on with the last thing I tested on the MI-2 – photo taking. Since I am not much of a cam whore I have not tested the front facing 2-megapixel camera. But I have taken a few with the 8-megapixel rear facing camera and by my standards the photos are actually quite good. In fact, I think the day photos and the macro features are way better but some of my friends said the photos at low light seems more grainy than the Omnia 7 I had used previously. I won’t debate that, since we all have very different appreciation of what is nice. I’ll just upload them here and let everyone judge for themselves.


So, that’s all about the MI-2 for now, and now return to my long rant about the local mobile providers. Let me explain also why I decided against a contract renewal. First of all, my 3G experience on my primary mobile provider (I will refrain from naming it) has gone from bad to worse. These days I spent more time clicking on refresh or staring at the blank screen instead of getting the data I need. It is my considered opinion that all of Singapore’s mobile providers simply didn’t have the capacity to serve all their subscribers because I often noticed that the signal strength from the base station is ok and yet no data is received on the device! I suspect a data cap is thus implemented in hope it would serve as a “brake” on a subscriber’s data consumption because providers did not find it not profitable to upgrade and maintain the equipment to match a demand which only spiked at specific locations during certain hours. Even though the cap presently doesn’t matter to me because my current usage didn’t exceed 2GB, I am in the opinion that I (and a lot of users) may actually consume more data had the provider’s service been up to par. It doesn’t take much brain cells to conclude that if I can download 3 web pages of the same size in the same time I have been waiting for that one page to download, I would have consumed more data collectively over the month. The current situation reminds me of those days when SingNet was the only Internet Service Provider (ISP) providing dial-up access to the Internet before Pacific Internet, and subsequently Cyberway (now StarHub) came around. The pricing was ridiculous and it was a long time before things become better – either due to a desertion of subscribers to competitors or perhaps SingNet finally made enough money from early adopters to finance their equipment upgrades.

In any case, I am sick of Singapore’s way of running things – be it public transport, tele-communications, and even public housing – in which making huge profits is the management’s only overriding priority. I refused to upgrade to a 4G handset and even downgraded my plan to a cheaper one because I am sick of being an early adopter and sucker who pays a premium to a local provider so it can finance its future upgrades to meet demand which it already knew exists based on its current subscriber base. The management of certain companies in Singapore, along with our political leadership, ought to understand that we are willing to accept some pains and pay for the future in the old days, that was because our country were less well off back then. Now with the astronomical profits made by all these companies every year, it’s hard to make us accept it anymore. Just because some of these services are basic necessity that we need to use everyday, doesn’t mean we should be subjected to exploitation by some companies, especially when they are clearly linked to the government some what.

I hate being fleeced like sheep. Enough is enough already!

Photos – Night at the Merlion

Went to check out the renovated Starbucks at Raffles City after dinner and half guessed I would met DK there since this was his favorite joint. So it was no surprise I saw him at the counter waiting for his order. He mentioned that he is heading off to the Merlion to take some photos and asked me to come along because September 15th is the Merlion’s 40th birthday.

I felt bad that as a Singaporean I didn’t even realise the eight-meter tall sculpture was set up in 1972 even though I have seen it all my life. I recalled I even tried to draw it when I was a boy and failed dismally. This is the icon that has watched over our nation for almost as long as it has separated from Malaysia. Since I have nothing to do and I also happened to have my camera in the bag, I went along to take some photos of our national icon and popular tourist attraction. After all, I haven’t really tested the Nikon D5100 at night. Met Geng Hui there as well while DK is set up and waiting for the musical show at 9:15pm.

I am glad I went because it’s been a really long time since I see the Merlion up close, even though until September 2009 it was just a short distance away from the office. The organisers of this event had put up a dazzling seven-minute light show titled “Merlion and I: An Inspiring Journey”, complete with a nice song, dance and pyrotechnics. The shows are repeated at 45 minutes intervals and it starts at 7:15pm tonight. Even for those who are not into photo taking, they can still enjoy the show and if I am not wrong, tonight maybe the last night so go catch it before it’s gone.

Here are the selected “spoils” of the night. I didn’t bring the stand out so some of the shots end up blurry and was deleted. And before I go, here’s my belated greeting to the Merlion –

Happy 40th Birthday, Merlion!

Short Takes

On the visit of Prince William and Duchess Catherine of Cambridge

3:45pm 12-Sep-2012
A very “typical” afternoon in Queenstown

WAYANG – a Javanese word for particular kinds of theatre (Wikipedia).

During my National Service days, wayang simply means putting up a good show. A wayang is often initiated by the pending visit of a very high ranking officer (usually of rank Colonel and above), or someone of high office (e.g. a minister). I am not sure whether it still happens these days in the Singapore Armed Forces [SAF] but when i was in an overseas base for a year between 1993 and 1994, there were several visits involving the formation chief, the Chief of Medics, and the brother of our Prime Minister, Lee Hsien Yang (who was then Brigadier-General, if I recalled correctly). The typical SAF wayang usually involves what I called “environmental engineering” – whereby every bit of trash is cleared from the dumps, clogs in the drains are cleared, floors are washed thoroughly, fluorescent lights along common corridors, bunk fans etc that has long broken down are hastily repaired, vehicles and car-park lots are repainted, and rusty metallic equipment scrubbed, oiled and greased to create the impression that they are all well maintained and serviced. Even the grass is cut, often with shears. In some cases, weeds are plucked with bare hands since life is often harsher and better equipment not available to us in the pre-3G SAF back then. Most of us felt utterly stupid and ridiculous doing all that crap, but everyone just do because no one wants extra duty, or to be charged summarily for insubordination.

With the exception of the Chief of Medics, who made the effort to highlight the issues of hygiene and areas where camp cleanliness fell short, the other visitors spent no more than a few minutes (or even seconds) at a particular location. According to the camp grapevine, BG Lee himself actually walked past an ad-hoc dumping area that was somehow overlooked. Well, we treated it as nothing more but a camp myth, since no one was punished for that boo-boo as the state of the dump was horrendous, not to mention God-knows how many SAF regulations was violated considered the stuff that was disposed there. But the wayang at Queenstown on September 12 is definitely unprecedented.

Kids playing at 3:45pm in the afternoon? Senior citizens using the facilities and practising Taiji or Qigong? Come on, it is so fake that it retches my guts. Had it not been near dinner when I saw the photograph, I would have puked my lunch out. Not only has what was done made me felt personally utterly stupid, I felt quite shameful about it because it puts us right there beside countries like North Korea. While we Chinese have a saying – 禮多人不怪 (literally: the abundance of politeness causes no offense) – I am sure Prince William and the Duchess of Cambridge probably knows about it by now (from Facebook) that everything at Queenstown was nothing but a charade and an utter farce. I wondered how the royal couple would have felt.

However, I am not surprised that this stupidity was actually carried out when I consider who is at the helm of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs right now. It almost made me miss George Yeo. Just almost… *wipes a tear from the corner of an eye*

~ * ~

On the iPhone 5

One of the biggest mistake of Research-In-Motion (RIM) was simply this: trying to be somebody else. It tried very hard to be cool and funky, to move away from the image of being square and only for the business type. To do so, it made a whole bunch of uninspiring devices (the Blackberry Storm for e.g.) which irked many existing users and charms no one else. In spite of the criticisms, I actually liked the Storm very much until its screen died on me. Unfortunately, RIM also reminded me of Lucy Pevensie in the movie Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader. Lucy doubted her self worth, and in a dream she completely disappeared because she wanted so bad to be like her sister Susan. Lucy’s fate in the dream may well turn out to that of RIM’s, unless its bet on BB10 (its latest OS) pays off. I won’t place too much hope on that considering how Palm’s bet on WebOS turned out.

More than a year ago, I read an article which defended the form factor of previous versions of iPhones. The writer argues that the width of the iPhone is such because it allows people to hold and operate in one hand, as the thumb can easily reach all across the screen. The writer went on to boast about how that demonstrates the effort Apple put into designing its stuff, and dissed Samsung’s “haphazardly designed” and generic array of products. That probably explains why Apple designed a longer phone and not a wider one, because it is too stubborn to concede to its competitors that the iPhone’s form factor has become a shortcoming (if not a liability). With the iPhone 5, Apple is right now about where RIM was when it released the Blackberry Storm. Steve Job’s “Reality Distortion Field” is apparently failing after his demise, and now Apple has to try and catch up to with the rest because the market has irrevocably spoken in favor of larger screens. Even the stylus has made a come back in the Galaxy Note!

Anyway, the iPhone 5 is still inspiring and awesome. It was inspiringly boring and awesomely unexceptional. After all, Samsung, LG and HTC have phones with larger screens and LTE for at least a few months already. That would have been the iPhone 4S, if not for Siri. Even so, Siri was nothing more than an idea copied from Star Trek and a rather meaningless gimmick that probably few people even use these days. Alfred Siew put it very well in this article on Techgoondu:

Apple is the laggard when it comes to technology and is banking on users who only know the iPhone as the one smartphone they’d own. It is using its dominance to sell underwhelming products to users who don’t know better. Ironically, rather like Windows and the boring PC in this post-PC era.

To put it bluntly, it is not just like Windows and the boring PC in this post-PC era. What Apple is doing here is much like what Microsoft did with… *gasps* Windows Vista! Fortunately for Apple, its large base of fanbois will keep the iPhone 5 from suffering Vista’s fate.

Apple fanbois would be screaming about how the new iPhone 5 has a more powerful processor and whatever technology gizmos. But the fact remains, just how much of that translate into real perceivable improvements for the user? These days computers have quad-core processors too, and really, even if you have 32GB of RAM in that box you can’t tell the difference when you use it to surf the Internet or do your word processing. Perhaps everyone would notice how great the new iPhone 5 is when they tied them together and do supercomputer calculations to design the next nuclear bomb like India. Apple iFreaks will no doubt be exceptionally upset and indignant that others are dissing something which they have never, and possibly never will use. In fact, they How ironical that they hate getting served the shitty dishes they’ve been cooking and serving others all along. Apple is now into uncharted water where there are no longer the wrecks of Palm, Nokia and RIM to serve as an example on what to avoid and it has to figure out the perils on its own. I won’t go so far to say that the copycat company who pretends to be an innovator will do better than those which have fallen, but if will bring me joy to see it fall and never get up again.

Before I end, let me explain why I hate Apple so intensely. While I would not deny that many companies (and patent trolls) resort to patents for “rent seeking”, Apple took it way too far. There is no company more hypocritical than Apple. It claims to be protecting innovation – by killing innovation. It calls others a copycat when it has been a copycat in the past! Had Apple’s methods been used in the automobile industry, it would mean that the steering wheel, the placement of headlights on the vehicle, the placement of instruments on the dashboard, and the use of proximity sensor (not the sensor itself) for warning when reversing the vehicle will be patented. Apple will even also apply to the courts to ban its competitors from selling anything that had 4 wheels because it would look like one of theirs.

I can hardly tolerate something so utterly ludicrous.

Random Discourse – Journey of the West and Real Life

Typical portrayal of
Journey to the West

In my previous post, I mentioned that it is of no surprise why more people seems unable to act, or simply refused to do the right thing. After all, if doing something comes with the risks of taking the rap when it goes wrong, then it is best to just do nothing. It reminds me of Pigsy (or Bajie [猪八戒]) in the Journey to the West story, which often did nothing and is the fastest to take credit. Meanwhile, Wukong [悟空] often gets the rap and punishment from the monk Tripitaka (or Xuanzang [玄奘]) for doing what is right and necessary, and in the best interest of the party.

That comment was inspired by an article in Chinese which I read sometime ago, which made comparison to the Chinese classical fiction Journey to the West [西游记] to the present political plight of Singaporeans. Unlike the original article, I find that it describes pretty well what generally goes on in life at the present right here. One of my drinking buddies even pointed out that it is actually a parody good for all time.

There are five main characters in that story – the monk Tripitaka, his three disciples namely: Wukong the Monkey god, Pigsy, Sha Wujing [沙悟净] (or the ‘Sand Monk’ [沙僧]), and the often forgotten White Dragon Horse [白龙马].

The central figure would be Xuanzang. Though of humble birth, Xuanzang became the sworn brother of the Tang Emperor in the story. He is also the central authority of the party, as all the disciples defer to him for decision. Yet he is also the most helpless in defending himself, even though the reader is often convince about the importance of his objectives, so they are led to believe in the sacrifice he is making for the good of everyone and the generations that comes after. Even so, he would have been long dead – eaten by demons craving for his flesh which supposedly will grant them immortality – if not for his three powerful and capable disciples. Because Wukong is rash and often disregard Xuanzang’s authority in the beginning, the bodhisattva Guanyin [观音] (or Avalokitasvara) gave the monk a magical headband whereby Wukong was tricked into putting on. The monk would activate it by chanting which will cause Wukong an excruciating headache and thus forced Wukong to obey and submit. In the real world, Xuanzang maybe a government scholar who got parachuted into a position of authority, or some so-called foreign talent who got employed by merit of his qualifications with none of the experience or the capabilities he boasted about. At times they have powerful backers which sort of act like the magical headband which forces even the more capable subordinates into submission. In a certain sense, the monk would also describe some ministers perfectly, since propaganda would often refer to their… *erhem* humble beginnings.

A not so typical portrayal of
Wukong as a great ape

Wukong is the most powerful character in the whole story. This is the monkey god that run amok in the Chinese heavens without any regard of the Jade Emperor’s authority nor any fear of the heavenly soldiers. In spite of his quick temper and often rash and unthoughtful actions, Wukong only overriding priority in the entire adventure is to see the monk (or teacher) Xuanzang complete his mission – i.e reach his destination safely to obtain the Buddhist scriptures, and then return to China. As it is often said, with great powers comes great responsibilities. Wukong does most of the unpleasant tasks – fighting demons, or running about to get help when the tasks are too much for him to handle alone. He is also the best equipped to do so, since he also has a pair of eyes which can spot a demon in disguise. Yet, he often gets the most blame and punishment simply for his manner of executing his tasks. However, no matter how many times he has been wronged and cast out, the immensely loyal Wukong never hesitates to return and save his teacher once he hears that Xuanzang is in danger. This is a character we often do not see in a company, or in government agencies or departments. Such a character ceased to exist in real life because there is no appreciation and compliments when things goes well, but the axe would be quick to fall when things go wrong.

Pigsy womanising

Pigsy has great powers too. In spite of the traditional Chinese image of pigs being stupid, Pigsy is in fact the smartest. In general, Pigsy’s order of the day would be that of “No pain! No pain!”, since as long as he does nothing there will be no blame and no punishments when things goes wrong. Furthermore, there is always the more capable Wukong to put things right. Above that, Pigsy often rushes to curry favor with his teacher and take credit for things he didn’t do. At times, he even carry tales to his teacher causing Wukong to be punished. That is typically what we often see in government agencies and departments as shown in the movie Just Follow Law. I am sure we will all find some of those possessed by the Pigsy spirit hiding at a cubicle in a dark corner of our own office too. Unfortunately, many Pigsys are also in position of authority. So they are able to made someone take the fall when they screwed up. Worst of it all, Pigsy is also easily swayed by physical beauty which are often demons in disguise. I can’t help but to draw comparison with the recent sex scandals surrounding the SCDF and CNB chiefs.

Sha Wujing acting
as a human pack horse

Sha Wujing, is a character difficult to write about. He is a sharp contrast to both Wukong and Pigsy. With Wukong being the superhero, and Pigsy the idle bum, Sha is often overlooked and treated as a character the story can possibly do without. It doesn’t help that Sha is portrayed as carrying the luggage in drama series or movies based on the story, which further reinforces the impression that he is simply a character created to perform the mundane tasks that are beneath the notice of his fellow disciples. In a certain way, Sha Wujing is just like any other employee working quietly to do their part in a company. While there are generally considered dispensable and easily replaceable, everyone often felt a sudden sense of loss and helplessness without this person around. Basically, Sha Wujing is like many of those who just do their job without excelling in what they do. He keeps a low profile, but not so low where he would shirk from his own responsibilities while expecting someone more capable to take up the slack. Fortunately for him, at least no one tries make him the scapegoat when things go bad in the story. The same cannot be said of the modern day Sha Wujings in the corporate world.

The most pitiful of the whole lot would be the ‘White Dragon Horse’. People often talked about the monk and his three disciples but forgot about the origins of the horse and an important role it played in the entire story – as a ride for the delicate monk. Originally a dragon princeling who was cast out of heaven as punishment for arson, it also ate the monk’s original horse by mistake. Ultimately it chose to turn into a replacement horse to atone for its earlier misdeeds and lost its ability to speak throughout the journey. Its job is hardly enviable, since the monk rides on it most of the time. When not serving as a ride, it is the pack horse which carries the luggage. The fact that the dragon princeling chose to turn into a horse is that it believes it is serving a higher purpose. It fulfills its role without much fuss, while everyone completely overlooked its contribution. Typically, the white dragon horse which suffers in silence but has no voice is most alike to the Singaporean worker, because the trade union which presumably should be its voice no longer speaks up for it and sings a completely different tune to remind it why sacrifices are necessary.

Sadly, in most situation at the work place, there are probably no Wukongs but a small lot of Xuanzangs and Pigsys. The rest of the workforce of Sha Wujings basically slog on like the White Dragon Horse without a voice. When this blog post was originally conceived and posted as a status update on my Facebook wall, a friend asked me what I consider the heavenly soldiers and the Jade Emperor. In my opinion, they would fall under the same category of the PTB (powers that be) which tries to enforce their authority upon us. In extrapolation, the Buddha and Guanyin would be the equivalent of “foreign talent” in the Singaporean context – used by the PTB to beat down any monkey god among us with its abilities and news ideas which proved too challenging for them.

It is my considered opinion that the PTB would prefer no Wukongs at all, and would replace us with all the arhats or bodhisattva aka “foreign talents”. Unfortunately, in singing the praises of the “foreign talents”, it failed to see how that also demonstrated their own inadequacies and inspired an awakening among the people. The irony that all the traditional Taoist deities are incompetent, clueless and completely inept in the dealing with the challenges Wukong presented at the beginning of the story is not lost on me. That said, while I was doing a bit of researching on the Journey to the West story, I noticed that even the character Wukong is borrowed from the concept of the Hindu deity Hanuman. Again, the irony is not lost on me that the PTB often tells us that our ancestors were immigrants too.

Commentary – Why I disagree with Kong Hee’s “theology”

First, let me make it clear that the opinion I expressed in the post below does not represent the opinion of any church. I write this knowing that I will earn the enmity of many, but failing to speak out would be the equivalent of a sin of omission – i.e. failing to do what is required to alert someone to the perils before him and allow harm to come to that person. Here goes…

When the matter of financial irregularities in CHC hit the news, I was two minded about what stand to take. After some consideration, I felt that there is no reason for me to be blackmailed by the opinion that good Christians should always stand together with other Christians and pray for them. Faith should not blind us, nor should it negate our ability to reason. What exactly is the point of praying in this case unless the irregularities found are planted evidence? Kong Hee and the other five have hired some of the best lawyers in this country and are fully capable of explaining to the Courts what has been done. Whether their explanation will be to the Courts’ satisfaction that no wrongdoing has been committed is another matter entirely. While CHC’ers may consider this entire matter to be the schemes of the Devil or some form of persecution, it is hard for me to accept that considering my objection and revulsion to Kong Hee’s teachings. It is even more repulsive when some said Kong Hee will have to suffer like Jesus. The image of the anti-Christ comes immediately to mind. Therefore, if I were to pray, it will be for God to open the eyes of CHC’ers to see things objectively, and also for wisdom upon the judge presiding over the case. It wouldn’t do for the innocent to be convicted, nor for the guilty to go scot free.

I admit I know very little about CHC as I have only been there twice. Nevertheless, how well I know CHC is not a prerequisite to what I have to say as I am only speaking out against what I do know. My first impression of CHC after my both of those visits was that it is very much like a pop concert. I decided I preferred the church I was still attending then as it was the place where Christ came looking for me again after seven years or so. I had visited CHC because two fellow believers who went over from their previous church invited me. One of them actually left CHC not long after in 2003 because of the blatant use of the church as a platform to promote Sun Ho’s music albums.

I wouldn’t have given more thought about those two visits or the sermons preached in those services. Suffice to say they were forgettable. Though I often hear about how supposedly anointed a speaker Kong Hee was and how the church numbers have increased, I did not feel edified by his messages and a church’s numbers really meant very little in my personal opinion. After all, people go to church for all sorts of reasons and not necessarily there to seek God. On top of which, how much of that “growth” came from members leaving other churches is another matter entirely. Even so, I thought at that time it was a good thing people are going to church. Since salvation belongs to God, having more people exposed to the Gospel cannot be bad. In any case, I would have completely forgotten about Kong Hee, since he is but one of the many preachers. God could anoint anyone with His Holy Spirit to speak and I have often felt attachment to a pastor (or even to pop stars and soccer players) to be akin to idolatry.

I certainly had my doubts about Sun Ho’s career even though I didn’t really care at that time. When the charges about financial irregularities came about, I was totally puzzled when her secular career is now said to be part of something called a “Crossover Project”. There are two things that I find chronologically mind-bogging. If I remembered correctly, Sun Ho resigned from CHC in 2003 to pursue her secular singing career, due to the criticisms about the church being used to promote her personal career. Yet, CHC’s current propaganda gives me the impression that her departure then was the beginning of the “Crossover Project”, which is said to have began back in 2002 or perhaps even earlier since she spoke about 10 years of Crossover recently. If that is the case, why the necessity to resign at that time? Why even discard the “pastor-singer” moniker at all?

Anyway, I started paying attention to CHC again about 4 years ago because Sun Ho’s “China Wine” MTV was posted on Facebook. That MTV was as uninspiring and completely forgettable as Kong Hee’s sermons. I couldn’t fathom how anyone would think of Jesus in that MTV, not to mention that it might actually stumble a new convert. What came on the heels of that was an article by the titled “The Power of Pop Culture” by Kong Hee published in the CHC’s quarterly newsletter. I felt it was nothing more than self justification for the lifestyle Sun Ho is pursuing in the United States. All my theological disagreement with the teachings of Kong Hee thus began after reading that piece.

Thereafter, I viewed a few of Kong Hee’s sermons which happened to be shared on Facebook. Sadly, just like his piece on “The Power of Pop Culture”, verses were often quoted out of context as long as they justify whatever message being preached at that time to exhort the congregation to open their wallets and give in return for spectacular amount of returns and blessing from God, who would otherwise hold it back like some kind of mafia Don. Without any doubt, if that is the theological basis of the so-called “Prosperity Gospel”, I found that it is not only questionable – it is outright heresy.

Let me layout my reasons for my objection to whatever that is preached in CHC. For all intentions and purposes, I don’t think any message that preaches personal gain through endless giving is the Gospel of Jesus Christ. The Gospel is often offensive to people who heard it for the first time because it declares all men to be sinful and condemned. It is a message for all mankind to repent and turn from our evil ways, and to accept Jesus Christ as the only means of redemption and salvation (Romans 3:23 ~ 24). It would be irreconcilable for CHC or Kong Hee to preach the Gospel when their very own church leadership pursues a highfalutin lifestyle. As far as I am concerned, the Gospel of Jesus Christ has been dead in CHC for some time.

I have a rather simplistic view of what conversion means. It means one hears the Gospel, believes in it by accepting Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior, repents of his sins and be baptised by water in Jesus’ name. We often say we give our lives to Jesus, but we cannot give back to God what originally belonged to Him. In reality, when we believed, God gives us a new lease of life and then charge us with the task of the Great Commission – i.e. to bring the Gospel on to everyone who have yet believed and make disciples of them (Matthew 28:18~20). There is no fanciful way to bring Jesus to the masses. We seek to obey God by preaching the same message that all are sinful and condemned. In most cases, we earned nothing but the enmity of all whom we shared the message because very often we Christians have our own failings which invite criticisms, and in particular accusations of hypocrisy.

However, becoming a Christian does not and will not make someone the paragon of virtue or the ultimate arbiter in morality. The fact that we failed to live up to the standards set by God simply means we need them all the more to show how far we have fallen. To discard them simply means a further slide away from what God expects of us. It is exactly for this reason why a Savior is needed. God expects perfect righteousness which we cannot attain no matter how much “good” we do. Our good works are counted as filthy rags – or in the original Hebrew, used sanitary cloth – before God (Isaiah 64:6) and only Christ offers that perfect righteousness that He has imputed to us through faith in Him. Simply put, if a church isn’t preaching the Gospel, then its claims to be fulfilling the Great Commission is an utter sham. All the more so when it panders to the world by the means where it’s most acceptable and well received. This basically says a lot about what I think of the “Crossover Project”.

Other than preaching the Gospel, God also expects us to do good works. For faith without works is dead. Good works is not another way to earn us a way into heaven, or to obtain reconciliation with God. They are basically another outward manifestation of our faith in, and our obedience to God. It is part of our transformation into the image of Christ Jesus our Lord and Savior. Charitable deeds are one of the ways we perform good works, and being charitable is not limited to money – for e.g giving up our seat on the MRT to those in need is one of them. Also, being charitable does not mean giving money foolishly away or using money for whatever purposes imagined to be for good. The Bible specifically talks about helping the poor, the widowed, and the fatherless. That brings me to the matter of tithing.

During the Old Testament days in the Theocracy of Israel, the Israelites are commanded to tithe (Leviticus 27:30). The very essence of tithing is for charity, with only the tithe of the third year given to the Levites – the priesthood class (ref. Deuteronomy 12:19; Deuteronomy 14:27 ~ 29; Deuteronomy 26:12 ~ 13). In essence, it is what would pass for a modern day social security and taxation plan in the Theocracy of Israel back then. God has given very specific command on how the tithes should be used as well, making sure no one prospers from it. When Israel failed to do so, God rebuked them, even accusing them of robbing Him (Malachi 3:7 ~ 8).

Now, there is no equivalent of the Levites in the New Testament context, since Jesus has become the High Priest and now intercedes on our behalf. The pastors are different from the Levites and thus we are not tithing “to pay them”. That does not mean we should not tithe, we simply need to understand why; when or if we are feel compelled or led to give. Once we understand the reasons, obeying and giving to church simply becomes a matter of joy. God does love a cheerful giver (2 Corinthians 9:6 ~ 15), but in the context of that passage, the preceding paragraph talks about giving to those who were in need (e.g. the Macedonian Church at that time). It is not some kind of loophole in the Scriptures where we can use to strong-arm the Creator of the Universe into showering the believers with blessings.

In the New Testament church, believers are encouraged to give offerings as we are expected to help one another so there will be no lack among believers. All the more so for those who have given up their job to serve full time in church. Clearly, we cannot expect anyone to make sacrifices and eat all the way into their own savings to serve God full-time. But that money is not given for their prosperity. If they are getting so much money that they can afford to fly in private jets and to live in lodgings way above everyone else, while someone within the congregation is in dire need, then something is seriously wrong!

In any case, God has never failed to command us to look after the disadvantaged regardless of the Old Testament Temple period or the New Testament period. If a church has stored up huge amount of money, then my opinion is that should simply expand charitable services within the community where it got the money. If a church will not help the community in which it is founded and decided that it has other non-charitable priorities, then it should really just leave and stop being hypocritical.

It simply defies basic economic principles when one believes that giving beyond his capacity “will earn one many times more in return”. It also belittles the other Christians who gave time, and service to serve God in other capacities – turning them into nothing more but second-class citizens in God’s kingdom. It is simply common sense to ask Kong Hee how does God bless this other group many times in return. God certainly never intended the Holy Scriptures to become an excuse for leaders to make believers pour out their hard earn money into a bottomless pit. The Scriptures have examples on how God works when He truly intends something to be done. For example, when God commanded Moses to build the Tabernacle, Moses was told what to ask from the Israelites. But God’s servants do not take more than what is necessary because Moses immediately told the people to stop giving when he realised that there is more than enough (Exodus 36:6 ~ 7). In short, there wouldn’t be any issue asking the congregation to give as long as there is a target figure in the first place. (If one example is not enough, read up 1st and 2nd Chronicles on the first temple which King Solomon is instructed to built, and be truly amazed! Then read up on the second temple in the Book of Ezra chapters 1 ~ 3 as well. Pay special attention to where the material is coming from and see whether anyone actually gave until they wept.)

Kong Hee’s “theology” has really very little feet to stand on. If anyone justifies taking from the congregation by quoting Scriptures, then it is necessary for the congregation to evaluate whether it follows God’s modus operandi according to the Scriptures too. The Scriptures should be the very fail-safe to prevent anyone from asking fellow believers to sign them a blank cheque, and in specific to prevent someone from using Scriptures to their advantage and abuse certain parts to suit their own personal agenda. Believers are thus equipped to play the role of a watch dog over their own church leaders had they been reading their Bible. They can be sure to a certain extent when their leaders tell them to give, whether the instructions really came from the Almighty Himself or not.

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