Saturday, June 28, 2008

A Humbling Experience

If I am walking with two other men, each of them will serve as my teacher. I will pick out the good points of the one and imitate them, and the bad points of the other and correct them in myself.
-- Confucius
Not my actual car.

This morning was a humbling experience for me. The indicator on my car dashboard flashed red, warning me-- engine was overheated. I was getting nervous because I'm right in the middle of Penang bridge. A bright clear sky, a beautiful morning about to turn into something else -- nightmare, hell, or whatever. The traffic was kind of heavy, so stopping was not an option, keep going would probably damaged my engine. I don't think I've many choices, so I turned off the air-conditioner and dragging my old faithful till I crossed the bridge. My old faithfull was groaning -- must be painful.

When I pulled over my car in Caltex petrol station, opened up my bonnet, it was not like the picture you saw, it was something worse than that, I smelled something burning. Engine oil was leaking from the engine. A man greeted me, Hi brother, what is the problem? He pulled out his tool box and started to dismantled my aircond fan, he said the motor burned. He went back to his car, pulled out a Denso motor and replaced it. I was like hypnotized, why am I allowing him to do that without even asking the price. What if he is a con man? Well what if he is the angel God sent him to save your day? Well do I have a choice?

We have to wait for the engine to cool down for an hour, if you poured liquid, thermo-shocked will damage your engine and radiator. Buffett is going be happy because I bought two cans of chilled Coca-Cola. We sat on the floor, popped our Coke and started chatting. He told me crude oil was crossing US $ 142 yesterday. Wow, I'm impressed, I have not even tracking that closely. He said we should be thankful for our petrol to be the cheapest in South East Asia with exception of Singapore with a dollar earned to a dollar spent. I'm even more impressed because some our undergraduates are not able to produce that kind of analysis. People no longer question whether US 140 is expensive, going higher will not surprise them anymore. Only politicians are trying to capitalize the issue by sending people protesting. People understand international price influences domestic petrol price.

Back to my car, after the car cooled down, we poured water into the radiator. Oops, things were not looking too good. Water was dripping, "koyak". He asked me whether he allowed me to let him fixed it? I've a choice, I can either take the risk or filled up the whole tank and drove to my regular workshop. Since he is pretty candid and straight forward, telling me the problem and suggest a solution, I think I can trust him. He never tell me everything is OK, he scolded me that I should stop my car on bridge. It could cost me thousands to fix the problem caused by bulldozing driving. He dismantled the radiator and brought me to a shop specialized in radiator in Sungai Pinang.

A small workshop with only two men working. They are pretty friendly people. This chap in his mid forties impressed me even more. He begin to talk about inflation – wow we now have main street economist but a very street smart one. He said our government should start to raise interest rate, in more technical term -- why are we living with negative real interest rate?. We must cast doubt so that speculators will be frightened. He predicted if oil were continue to remain at US $ 140 till Chinese New Year, the real economy will be damaged. He prefers to stay at home and watch TV (Astro an investment candidate?). He also told me he stocked up two year worth of lubricants and metals. He is running out of space in his small shop lot. Don't draw a conclusion of hoarding based one sample size but the inflation expectations drive behavior change is something worth noting.

In a way, I'm really humbled by the gentlemen, don't under estimate their insights, they are as good as Wall Street guys – buy low sell high, riding on commodities upward trend. This is what I call Common Sense, learn from them though they never go to university. The only thought I have is this: if a shoe shine boy give you stock tip, you can consider cashing out, what about commodities?

Back to my car, things seem to work well. The guy charging me a very reasonable price. I guess there are a few good men on this planet. My regular mechanic is checking my old faithful while I'm writing this. Have a nice weekend.

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