Make rice not war

  • Business
  • Saturday, 10 Dec 2016

NOTHING seems to be sacred anymore.

Last week, 5,000 bags of counterfeit rice weighing over 120 tonnes were seized by Customs officials in Singapore.

Counterfeit rice?

Yes, it turns out that plastic rice, yet another invention of China, is taking the market by form – it looks like rice, smells like rice and a bowl of it has the exact same calorific equivalent of not one but two plastic bags.

Its origins can be traced back to the time of the mighty Admiral Cheng Ho. The good Admiral was distraught that he could not find a suitable maiden as a gift to the Malacca Sultan so he sent a panda instead.

But air conditioning hadn’t been invented yet so the poor beast expired of heat stroke, a diagnosis confirmed by its then vet, a Mr Maran. That’s why the place is still called Pandamaran. History, you see, is written by the victors and, indeed, the vet’s first name had been Victor.

But I digress. The mighty Admiral could not find a suitable maiden because obesity was then commonplace, the result of too much rice. The former panda exporter realised with a pang that his countrymen were on a seafood diet: as soon as they saw food, they ate it.

But the good seafarer was also a mathematician so he reasoned it out thus.

Say Lee has 20 bowls of rice and he eats 18 so what does Lee have now? Not two, reasoned the erudite mathematician. No, not two but obesity. Lee had obesity.

It was the sort of Eureka moment that made for genius and plastic rice followed swiftly, followed even more swiftly by whole generations of lissome Hang Li Po’s.

Marco Polo was a friend and admirer of the good Admiral as the great man had bequeathed Italy the gift of noodles which the Italians swiftly renamed pasta lest they be accused of being copycats.

But Marco thought the Admiral’s dietary strictures too rigorous so he offered advice instead. “There’s nothing wrong with red meat,” the counselled the seafarer sagely. “It’s blue or green meat that you should avoid.”

Old Marco drew the line at plastic pasta because Mrs Polo already seemed to be trying to perfect it using real spaghetti. He yearned for a wife who could cook but didn’t instead of the present Mrs Polo who couldn’t cook but did.

Centuries after the passing of both great seamen, the counterfeiting of rice continues to persist. According to various news reports, the stuff has been turning up in places from Jamshedpur to Jakarta and from Phuket to, yes even, Pandamaran.

Whether it’s created a train of Hang Li Po’s in its wake is less clear although gastroenterologists could make a killing going forward.

Even so, the existence of counterfeit rice only underscores the capacity of man to commit fraud of the most outrageous proportions. It did not surprise Malaysian counterfeiters one bit although they were admiring and respectful only because they hadn’t thought about it before.

Malaysian counterfeiters had faked almost everything – from Panadol and diet pills to bird’s nests and soap.

They had risen to near-glorious heights when they had been discovered fixing global football and badminton matches. But they had never thought about rice and they felt that they had let the side, and the good Admiral, down,

At least, politicians were more scrupulous. They never bought more than one vote that was strictly necessary.

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Business , S. Jayasankaran , column


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