Singapore, the Glass City

18 Sep

Midin Rahman, a Malay, was proud of the position he had achieved in Singapore’s expanding, thriving industrial landscape.

In the city-state dominated by the Chinese who made up 74% of the population, he was a member of the Malay minority of 18.9%. The field of big business had for centuries been primarily a Chinese garden. But it was in the leading industry of this “pearl of the Orient” that Midin had climbed up to a prominent, leading position as a manufacturer of nano-glass materials and products. His firm, Sing-Fiber, had become the number-one producer of advanced glass in the industrial complex of Singapore. It was industrial titans like Midin who had made their city the most important manufacturer of new forms of glass in Asia.

Sing-Fiber had its corporate headquarters in its own Sing-Fiber skyscraper in the area where China Town and the Central Business District came together. It was, as the tallest structure in the city, a visual challenge to Chinese economic primacy and dominance. The building of structural nano-glass was a symbol of the rise of the Malay population to positions of wealth and power.

From his penthouse roof office, Midin could look out at the skyline of the city’s economic center. He could see the shorter towers of the Tanjong Pagar Centre, One Raffle Square, Republic Plaza, and the Overseas Union Bank Centre. Sing-Fiber, at a hundred stories, loomed as the highest. It was a social-ethnic symbol of the rising status of the group to which Midin Rahman belonged.

The short, spare man of middle-age smiled to himself. He had possession of a new nano-colloidal glass that was fifteen times stronger than steel. That would soon be coming forth from the plant now manufacturing nanocrystal-coated glassfiber. Midin sighed with excited breath. He and Sing-Fiber were in the process of revolutionizing Singapore’s industrial landscape. Who could stop this progress to world leadership in glass? This fiberglass skyscraper represented the lofty dream that motivated and inspired him.

But a frown came to his broad forehead when he thought of his primary competitor, his personal rival and foe, Paul Yeo.

Paul Yeo was always happy when he listened to his research chief, Zhang Wei, describe the future developments planned for nanoglass products from the laboratory of Yeo Glass.

“There shall be no limits to our company’s ability to replace steel and most other building materials. Thousands of new uses for advanced glass, both crystallized and non-crystallized varieties, will surface on all continents of our planet,” said the small, bantam-like scientist.

Paul Yeo leaned back in his glassfiber chair behind his huge marmoglass desk. His thoughts centered on the potential markets for what Dr. Zhang was promising to provide the firm in days to come.

“We must leap ahead of Midan Rahman and Sing-Fiber,” growled the industrial magnet. “That upstart must not be allowed to outperform our business. My family has a long tradition of primacy in glass to uphold and advance forward.” The heavy, rotund billionaire frowned, wrinkling his brow. “By any and all means, we have to main our prime position in the glass industry of Singapore.”

Zhang Wei grinned with deep inner delight. “I believe that our future victories will come from the revolutionary changes that we shall make in electronic and computer components. That is where Yeo Glass will take a position of world domination. Victory in that area will make Singapore the center of the most advanced technology in the world.”

The industrialist grimaced. “You are lost in a dream, my good man. What you are thinking of is too risky and speculative for us. We must stick with what we have and know. Construction materials are our main focus, and must remain so. There are no magic formulas to business success. We will stay away from computers and electronics. Let America, Japan, China, and India keep their advantages in those areas.”

Midan Rahman was continually interested in new developmental possibilities in the glass industry. One of his sources of news were his friends in the Malay community of Singapore. Closest to him was an old chum from schooldays, tall, gaunt Kicil Bahar.

The latter was head of a small firm that specialized in nanoglass ceramics used in solar panels and computer screens.

Kicil, a Malay Muslim, lived in a small apartment in the Joo Chiat district of Singapore, known as a Peranakan community of mixed Chinese, Indian, and Malay residents. These separate cultural groups, each with its own history and language, produced a confluence of intertwined cultures and ways of life. The basic core were the Chinese migrants who had arrived over three hundred years of time. Acquired Malay folkways had conjoined with Mandarin traditions brought from Imperial China. A complex blending and fusion had occurred in this part of the international metropolis.

It was quite common for a Malay like Kicil to have close Chinese friends and neighbors. For him, one of his oldest acquaintances was the head of research at Yeo Glass, Dr. Zhang Wei. The pair had known each other from earliest childhood and had grown up with close personal ties.

Both of them had attended the Singapore University of Technology and Design, Wei majoring in glass chemistry and Kicil in electronics and computer science. They had traveled to school together on local mass transit vehicles. Each had an interest in the professional specialty of the other and talked with his friend about problems encountered at work. They often went together on summer evenings to the waterfront recreational and amusement area along Marine Bay Promenade.

High apartment and condo buildings of illuminated white Marmoglass rose into the star-studded sky. Small, swift water taxis sped over the dark waters of the bay. Crowds of revelers strolled in all directions.

Kicil and Wei stopped at a convenient tea shop for a late shack. The latter spoke in a saddened, depressed tone.

“It is frustrating to be in such a helpless position as mine,” he declared with a moan. “I am certain that I know what has to be done in order to make Yeo Glass supreme. But our president will not listen to what I tell him about the possibilities of nanoglass within the future generations of micro-computing. There is no other way to reach the nanoscale necessary for further progress in miniaturization of electronic processors. Only super-tiny glass fibers can accomplish what industrial technology has been hunting for these last several years. There is no other path, yet Paul Yeo refuses to take it. He will not listen to what I advise him to do.”

“What are you going to do about it, Wei?” asked the sympathetic Kicil, staring at his friend.

“I have proposed to our corporate president that we work out a system of producing the tiniest microprocessors that are physically possible. These can be envisioned as microscopic computer chips that are composed of billions of nanoglass transistors. Yes, I am talking of billions of nano-transistors within a single chip consisting of special glass. This microprocessor will be capable of manipulating the actual spin of individual electrons in a patterned, organized way.

“I can envision the placement of glassy particles of silica with a unique electronic and atomic structure within nanoglass fibers of an infinitesimal size. Such chips will be able to outdo any existing silicon or germanium fibers now in use around the world. The entire microprocessor will be an aerogel and a xerogel, as well.

“As I see it, nanoglass on this nanoscale will revolutionize computer electronics and make obsolete all existing microprocessors. Computers will never be the same after we bring fiberglass into the picture.”

“Will that be possible?” breathlessly asked Kicil, unable to conceal his excitement and astonishment.

Wei smiled with supreme confidence. “I know that it can be done, but so far I have not been able to convince Mr. Yeo to begin work on the practical details of turning out such a nanoglass computer chip.”

No more was said by the two on this subject that evening.

Can one reveal a secret given one by one friend to another one?

That was the painful dilemma that Kicil faced that night and all the following day. Which loyalty should govern his behavior? he asked himself over and over. There was no clarity of moral vision for him.

Kicil decided that he had to see Midan Rahman in order to clear up the questions that were plaguing him. Perhaps he could obtain some hint on what to do indirectly or directly from talking with his old chum.

A telephone call to the headquarters office of Sing-Fiber brought him in contact with Rahman.

“Can I see you this evening, Midan?” asked the industrialist once greetings were out of the way. “There are some matters that I would like to kick around with you, if I can.”

“I have nothing scheduled tonight, nothing at all,” said Midan. “Come to my apartment around seven. I’ll have some wonderful food sent up from a Peranakan restaurant down on the ground floor.”

Kicil thanked his friend and told him he would be there. He smiled as he cradled his speaker-receiver.

The high-rise condo building where Midan Rahman lived was adjacent to the prestigious Robertson Quay. As soon as Kicil arrived there, he got down to business on the subject that was motivating him.

“I have come up with a concept of making computer microprocessor out of nanoglass,” said the visitor as soon as he was seated in the porch room of the condo. “What I have established is that a silica particle within a glass chip can act as a vastly improved central component in computer devices.

“What do you think about that? Certainly, Sing-Fiber is large and competent enough to become an efficient, profitable manufacturer of such a super-chip. It can be of microscopic size, yet promise to outdo any microprocessor that is being produced today anywhere in the world.

“It can be the item that takes your company to planetary primacy. What do you think of what I am proposing for you to do?”

Midan, deep in thought, did not say anything till he had formulated a definite decision.

“It may be possible today, but perhaps not. Many years, even decades, will have to pass before Sing-Fiber can do anything positive on the matter. There are major risks for a company as large as mine to become involved in any such pioneering project.

“It could be a task that only a small unit such as your outfit can deal with. You are more agile and flexible than Sing-Fiber. Your company can take greater chances and do riskier things. Why don’t you go ahead with the concept rather than a giant like my corporation?”

Kicil appeared to be dumbfounded by this response from his friend. He was uncertain, for a time, on how he should go on.

“You believe that a small firm like mine stands any chance of success with such an innovation? How would I ever be able to market such a radically new invention as what I described for you?”

Midan gave a wise, knowing grin. “When the world is prepared to accept a new concept, it does not matter who realizes it. Any producer anywhere can be he first to offer what humanity is in need of.”

“I have to do some very serious thinking and calculation,” said Kicil, thinking aloud.

“Keep me informed on how you shall be progressing with it,” indicated the head of Sing-Fiber to the smaller operator.

The crowded, narrow streets of the Joo Chiat district were lined with angsana and tropical palm trees.

Burdened with heavy, uncertain thoughts, Kicil telephoned Zhang Wei and arranged to meet with him at a small neighborhood park where no one could overhear what they said.

Kicel discovered his friend, the research director, sitting on a marmoglass bench. He sat down beside him and related what Midan Rahman had told him. “He is unwilling to do anything himself at Sing-Fiber, but advises me to proceed on my own, with the resources of my own company, despite its smallness and lack of resources.”

Zhang Wei turned his face directly toward the other. “If the major corporations refuse to touch the possibility of nanoglass microprocessors, there may turn out to be no practical alternative to going into the field yourself, my friend.”

Kicel started to become excited. “I would need your scientific knowledge and experience to guide me, Wei. Would you be willing to leave Yeo Glass and come over to work for my company? I cannot afford to pay you a great deal at the beginning.”

The research director laughed. “I will be part of your team as soon as possible. But first, I have to give Paul Yeo one last chance to change his mind and start a nanoglass chip program of his own. Only if he gives me that final refusal will I make a break with him and come over to you. Isn’t that the right thing to do?”

Kical gave an affirmative nod. “It proves that you are a person of character, my friend.”

Both men were now smiling.

Paul Yeo sensed that his research director had something of importance weighing on his mind. He had asked to see the company president in the middle of the workday, in his executive office. The two sat facing each other across the president-owner’s marmoglass desk.

“What is so urgent, Wei?” asked the industrialist.

The answer came slowly, carefully worded.

“It has to do with the concept I told you about: computer chips made of nanoglass, with microprocessing fibers. I am determined to go forward with its development, even if I have to leave the firm and go elsewhere.”

Paul Yeo perked up. “Are you making a threat to me?” he asked.

“I do not understand it that way. Alternatives always exist, whatever the situation. A person always has the freedom of making some necessary change when the time arrives for it.

“It is now the moment when I must decide what and where my own future shall be.” He looked at his employer sternly.

“I shall be very sorry to see you leave our company, Wei. But the decision must be yours and no one else’s.”

“Then I will no longer work here,” said the bantam-like little man, rising to his feet and making a speedy exit out of his boss’s office.”

With the now independent Zhang Wei in charge of the microprocessor project, the operations progressed with rapid successes.

The small company of Kicil Bahar became the sole owner of the patents involved with the revolutionary nanoglass components that soon became desired and used around the world. Growth of production and sales soared. New plant facilities had to be built and put into production, at first in Singapore, but later in China, India, America, and Europe. Demand for the invention became infinite.

First Sing-Fiber, and then Yeo Glass were compelled by market conditions to turn to the nanoglass computer chips that they had at first refused to consider at all.

It was Kicil Bahar who was now the star figure in Singapore business, and Zhang Wei who dominated both science and technology.

Singapore was more than ever the capital of glass, but now the center of glass electronics as well.

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