Sunday, 30 December 2007

I walk Alone

I often walk alone

through the black sands of memory

fleet footed past twisted driftwood

of thoughts on a fast running tide


Jagging at the blood shoot

and the sound of steam whistles

mutton on the chain

and then again

silver finned catches chasing whitebait

over the painted pole


Faintly now

the sound of wild West Coat surf

receding with time

from place and time


Far away and further still

from Egmont's cone

cold winds upon the breath of Tasman storms

Your In The Army Now

The heat has returned.

The past two days have been hot and humid without the respite of the rains. In truth we have not had anywhere near the amount of rains as we did last rainy season, which is between November and January.

This means that the body embraces a totally lethargic state for much of the day and we keep our condo vertical blinds closed from about 8 am to 4 pm. One of our best decisions was to install these wide vertical blinds in preference to the usual curtains that most condos have. We can filter the light as and whenever we wish.

Yesterday saw us on the MRT to the end of the line at Boon Lay. We had decided to visit the recently opened Singapore Army Museum. Not that an Army museum is my first cultural preference but I was interested to see the quality of the exhibits and the narrative they had adopted.

Mindful of our previous experience at the Jurong Bird Park which is in the same locale, we packed some bottles of water in anticipation of the heat. That part of Singapore does not appear to benefit from any moderating coastal breezes.

When you get to the Boon Lay MRT there are two choices of bus to get to the Museum - the 182 which is non airconditioned and the 193 which is. Well that was the theory anyway. The airconditioning of the 193 we caught was not working and the interior was very uncomfortable.

The instruction on the museum's web site said " located at the SAFTI Military Institute, near to Singapore Discovery Centre" so when the bus arived at the SAFTI Institute we duly got off.

Wrong decision! The Museum's entrance is actually located right beside the Science Centre's. Not that you would know it, as the road front signage for the Museum is nowhere to be seen - just the Science Centre's that visually dominates everything.

The upshot was that we had to trudge in the noon day heat from SAFTI to the next bus stop which was by the entrance we were seeking.

We finally found sanctuary in the airconditioned foyer of the Museum where we stayed for a while to compose ourselves.

The museum was officially opened four months ago so everything is pristine in appearance. One starts at the top level of the building and winds one way down to the bottom through a variety of exhibits and audio-visual montages. There were very few other patrons when we were there.

A highlight for many is the opportunity to test 'fire' army rifles at a simulated rifle range. My wife could not even see the rifle sights let alone line them up against the 'enemy'.

For my part, the last time I had handled a military rifle was during my army cadet days some forty years ago. We were taught to fire both bren and sten guns on the range (with live ammunition) as well as 303 rifles, which had the kick of a mule on young shoulders.

My aim at the museum was nowhere near as true as it once had been. I dispatched only two of the 'enemy'.

So how did it compare to other such military museums? There was no reference to the brutal actuality of combat which one finds in other institutions. Not that the Singaporean museum glorified war either - the exhibits and storyline just seemed a safe and rather sanitised rendition of real life.

However it is early days for the museum and the displays themselves were elegantly mounted. I should also record in fairness that we did not see either of their feature shows.

As a history of the modern Singaporean Army, which is what is, it suceeded admirably.

Thursday, 27 December 2007

Never Work With Animals

Am I alone in thinking that the old adage of never working with animals and children is somehow apt?

Two events have happened in the past 24 hours that reinforces this perception.

Firstly Tatiana, the Siberian tiger in San Francisco's zoo got hungry and went for a stroll. The result one dead and two patrons seriously injured.

If that wasn't bad enough, now we have reports of a man being crushed by a circus elephant in Australia.

Given that tigers in particular are large, aggressive and agile beasts it has never ceased to amaze me that more of them have not leapt across their moated enclosures and escaped.

The Singapore Night Safari has featured their Bengal white tiger and several years ago when I watched it leaping to the top of poles with relative ease I remember thinking, what was to stop it doing the same over the nearby fence?

Now apparently, the tiger is the USA has done just that.

Wednesday, 26 December 2007

Tuesday, 25 December 2007

A Scientist's View of Christmas

I am not the author of this elegant prose but enjoyed it nevertheless. Given the season of goodwill, I share it with you:

Twas the nocturnal segment of the diurnal period preceding the annual Yuletide celebration, and throughout our place of residence, kinetic activity was not in evidence among the possessors of this potential, including that species of domestic rodent known as Mus musculus.

Hosiery was meticulously suspended from the forward edge of the wood burning caloric apparatus, pursuant to our anticipatory pleasure regarding an imminent visitation from an eccentric philanthropist among whose folkloric appellations is the honorific title of St. Nicholas.

The prepubescent siblings, comfortably ensconced in their respective accommodations of repose, were experiencing subconscious visual hallucinations of variegated fruit confections moving rhythmically through their cerebrums.

My conjugal partner and I, attired in our nocturnal head coverings, were about to take slumberous advantage of the hibernal darkness when upon the avenaceous exterior portion of the grounds there ascended such a cacophony of dissonance that I felt compelled to arise with alacrity from my place of repose for the purpose of ascertaining the precise source thereof.

Hastening to the casement, I forthwith opened the barriers sealing this fenestration, noting thereupon that the lunar brilliance without, reflected as it was on the surface of a recent crystalline precipitation, might be said to rival that of the solar meridian itself - thus permitting my incredulous optical sensory organs to behold a miniature airborne runnered conveyance drawn by eight diminutive specimens of the genus Rangifer, piloted by a minuscule, aged chauffeur so ebullient and nimble that it became instantly apparent to me that he was indeed our anticipated caller.

With his ungulate motive power travelling at what may possibly have been more vertiginous velocity than patriotic alar predators, he vociferated loudly, expelled breath musically through contracted labia, and addressed each of the octet by his or her respective cognomen - "Now Dasher, now Dancer..." et al. - guiding them to the uppermost exterior level of our abode, through which structure I could readily distinguish the concatenations of each of the 32 cloven pedal extremities.

As I retracted my cranium from its erstwhile location, and was performing a 180-degree pivot, our distinguished visitant achieved - with utmost celerity and via a downward leap - entry by way of the smoke passage. He was clad entirely in animal pelts soiled by the ebony residue from oxidations of carboniferous fuels which had accumulated on the walls thereof. His resemblance to a street vendor I attributed largely to the plethora of assorted playthings which he bore dorsally in a commodious cloth receptacle.

His orbs were scintillant with reflected luminosity, while his submaxillary dermal indentations gave every evidence of engaging amiability. The capillaries of his malar regions and nasal appurtenance were engorged with blood which suffused the subcutaneous layers, the former approximating the coloration of Albion's floral emblem, the latter that of the Prunus avium, or sweet cherry. His amusing sub- and supralabials resembled nothing so much as a common loop knot, and their ambient hirsute facial adornment appeared like small, tabular and columnar crystals of frozen water.

Clenched firmly between his incisors was a smoking piece whose grey fumes, forming a tenuous ellipse about his occiput, were suggestive of a decorative seasonal circlet of holly. His visage was wider than it was high, and when he waxed audibly mirthful, his corpulent abdominal region undulated in the manner of impectinated fruit syrup in a hemispherical container. He was, in short, neither more nor less than an obese, jocund, multigenarian gnome, the optical perception of whom rendered me visibly frolicsome despite every effort to refrain from so being. By rapidly lowering and then elevating one eyelid and rotating his head slightly to one side, he indicated that trepidation on my part was groundless.

Without utterance and with dispatch, he commenced filling the aforementioned appended hosiery with various of the aforementioned articles of merchandise extracted from his aforementioned previously dorsally transported cloth receptacle. Upon completion of this task, he executed an abrupt about-face, placed a single manual digit in lateral juxtaposition to his olfactory organ, inclined his cranium forward in a gesture of leave-taking, and forthwith effected his egress by renegotiating (in reverse) the smoke passage. He then propelled himself in a short vector onto his conveyance, directed a musical expulsion of air through his contracted oral sphincter to the antlered quadrupeds of burden, and proceeded to soar aloft in a movement hitherto observable chiefly among the seed-bearing portions of a common weed. But I overheard his parting exclamation, audible immediately prior to his vehiculation beyond the limits of visibility: "Ecstatic Yuletide to the planetary constituency, and to that self same assemblage, my sincerest wishes for a salubriously beneficial and gratifyingly pleasurable period between sunset and dawn."

Merychippus and a Hippo New Year

Sunday, 23 December 2007

Today's Print

Moon Over Queenstown
Roger Smith
- December 2007

Saturday, 22 December 2007

Brand New

In 1981 when I first set foot in Singapore. I recall going into the Cold Storage supermarket to buy toothpaste. To my surprise there was a rack resembling the old-style Black & White Minstrel show with row after row of a toothpaste called Darkie.

In this politically correct day and age such a brand would not survive and as Toothpaste World reports:

Hong Kong’s Hazel & Hawley Chemical Co. would probably still be hawking Darkie toothpaste had the company not been acquired by Colgate. The Darkie brand’s Al Jolson-inspired logo, a grinning caricature in blackface and a top hat, was as offensive as its name. Colgate bought the company in 1985, and then ditched the logo and changed the product’s name to Darlie after US civil rights groups protested. However, the Cantonese name - Haak Yahn Nga Gou [้ป‘ไบบ็‰™่†] (Black Man Toothpaste) - remains.

Man's Imagination Knows No Bounds

We have just returned from an outing at Bugis Junction. In the old days, Bugis Street had rather a sleasy reputation but in typical Singaporean style it has been 'cleaned up' and sanitised into another shopping mall.

It was notable today that the place was packed with Xmas window shoppers. Not that many were carrying shopping bags and the younger set were there to see and be seen as well as going for the food.

Today's attraction to draw the punters was the "world's most expensive jewellery box" - all $2.37 million dollars of it.

You can see it in the foreground of the image at left. Unfortunately it was placed en-situ with an enormous, revolving mannequin. Most of the crowd were content to be photographed with the mannequin and missed the drawcard completely.


Also at the Mall I noted yet another stunning creation. This being the automated yakatori machine which grills satay-sized skewers of meat with convey belt consistency. It also is programmed to dunk variations into a marinade as part of the process.

Whatever happened to the satay vendor with the charcoal stove and palm fan?

The stall vendor got quite agitated when I used my mobile phone to take the photo at left.

Possibly this machine was a "rip-off" copy of a similarly patented device?

The smell of hawker-crafted satay on the evening air, once smelt, is never forgotten. But times change and the younger Singaporeans are more mall dwellers than their parents ever were.

The true satay stall is be coming increasingly harder to find as the old timers pass on and their children seek different employment.

Wednesday, 19 December 2007

I Saw Santa...Queue Jumping

He's gaunt, bewhiskered and eternally vegetarian.

A string of Thai love beads on a soiled string adorns one wrist.

From the surreptitious scratching below his belt that is probably not the only thing he got in Thailand.

As luck would have it I have the only vacant seat and he sits languidly beside me, completely devoid of intelligent conversation.

This, on one of the few days recently when the 95 bus offered is clean and relatively new.

"Bus" is probably a bit of a misnomer, more like a refrigerator on wheels. There is something uncontrollable about Singaporean buses and that something is more often than not the air-conditioning. It is either like sitting in a blast freezer or a sauna and rarely an ambient temperature in between.

The irony is that on the dirty buses (which are in the majority on the 95 route) my fellow passengers are well groomed and spotlessly dressed Singaporeans. On the one day the bus is clean, my companion is a 'shop-soiled' and dishevelled European.

On the subject of transport, the prices for taxis in Singapore has risen, particularly in the central city. The theory is that if the take is higher for the cabbies more of them will venture into the CBD at peak times.

The verdict is out as to whether this is actually working in practice.

Last Sunday while we were passing the taxi queue a jolly and rotund Santa (again of European stock) and a small green elf of doubtful parentage rushed to the front of the line on the pretext of getting to the next Mall appointment.

Needless to say this did not go down to well with those who had waited patiently for their turn.

So much for the spirit of Xmas.

Saturday, 15 December 2007

Chicken Cutret

The English language can prove difficult to a Chinese tongue.

To break the monotony of having the same diet each lunch time I have taken up the habit of having the occasional meal from the 'Western Food' stall. The interpretation of "western" in this case being a desert spoon sized portion of luke warm bake beans and an equal portion of coleslaw cringing on a wafer thin slice of tomato. I use the term slice in the singular.

This accompanies a handful of thin potato chips ('fries' for those with a US bent) and a crisp section of crumbed chicken. Although slightly thicker than the tomato, the meat too has been run through the mangle of life before reaching my plate.

Upon receiving my order the proprietor yells to the kitchen at the back "Chicken Cutret!"

She, for it is a she, has a powerful voice that resonates around the walls of her hawker stall.

While the difficulty of pronouncing "l" for a native Chinese speaker is reasonably well documented, my attempts at Mandarin are far more comical and my Hokkien (a common dialect in Singapore) virtually non existent.

Despite all of the above mentioned , I confess to enjoying my fare at the 'Western Food' stall.

It will however be a different fowl that graces my Christmas dinner plate. Turkey and goose are on the menu at Le Meridien.

Christmas reminds me of the gifts I received as a boy from an Aunt Nancy, my Mother's sister. Nancy lived in various exotic places in Africa (and other far flung outposts of the British Empire). Here husband Ralph was ex-British Army and a senior member of the British Civil Service.

There was always something exotic in my Christmas stocking from Aunt Nancy - a beaded leather belt from Tanganyika or a multi-hued conch shell from African shores, crafted into a bedside lamp. The lamp remained in my parent's house until the day they passed away.

I sometimes think that my dreams of exotic places was first engendered by the gifts received from my far off Aunty. It was she who gave me my sense of wanderlust and I am wandering still.

Chicken Cutret anyone?

Monday, 10 December 2007

A Calendar for 2008

I thought I would produce an art calendar at this time of year so friends, colleagues and readers of this blog could download and print up a larger version if they felt so inclined.

I have placed the image on a free virtual drive for ease of access. Click on the caption below the image and feel free to share the link for the free download with friends.

The Dancing Uncle And Running Goats

Anaheim has come to Redhill.

There is a hawker at the Redhill Food Centre who specialises in desserts. Not that this in itself is unusual as most hawker centres have at least one outlet that provides local delicacies such as chendol (an iced concoction covered with green 'worms' of a gelatinous texture - pictured), soursop and iced kachang.

This gentleman's claim to fame is that he is a Mickey Mouse fanatic. His stall is festooned with Mickey collectibles and all of his decoration echoes the same theme.

His modus operandi is pure theatre. We observed an hour of set up which involved turning on a set of snake lighting, various illuminated signs and a driving dance beat from a set of battered speakers. A mini Las Vegas in the heartland of Singapore.

Standing at the front of his enterprise he moves between customer and consumables with rhythmic ease. There is a certain frenetic pace about his actions that in itself attracts the crowds.

And crowds there are. They queue up to sample his wares like moths attracted to the pulsating bright lights. The locals refer to his stall as 'the dancing uncle store'.

The only other stall at the Redhill Food Centre that attracts similar patronage is the satay hum stall, which I have mentioned before. There are many versions of satay to be found in South East Asia including one called Satay Torpedo, made from goat's testicles that have been marinated in soy sauce. I have not yet tried this variation - the goats run faster than I do!

In the past a rather gruff old man took the Satay Hum orders and relayed these to his son and grandson who did the cooking.

As the Centre has been closed for the past month for renovations we have been unable to patronise it. Yesterday when we visited, the old man's place had been taken by two youngsters of the family - the next generation. Upon enquiry we learnt that the great grandfather (for this was he) had passed away.

The other event of yesterday was the confirmation of our Xmas Day lunch booking at Le Meridien. This is our second Xmas in Singapore and we decided to go back to the same venue as last year. They have an excellent spread, including treats such as roast goose to which I am very partial! For $38 ++ per person this has to be the best value for money in town and the quality is excellent.

One other booking confirmation occurred last week - our Chinese New Year trip to San Francisco and Vegas. CNY happens early February so it is going to be cold in the States. Based on my winter holiday in Perth this past July, I suspect I will find the plummeting temperatures a challenge.

My body seems relatively acclimatised now to Singapore and last night for the first time, I was even cool enough to get up in the middle of the night and pull a duvet cover over myself.

Saturday, 8 December 2007

The Beast Of The Night

I am the beast of the night
my yellow eyed
steel jawed existence
at runway's end
Preying, preying

I am at at ease with the night
and a blood red Singapore moon
In the solitude of my thoughts
Praying, praying

You are asleep to my right
quiet 'neath air blanket blue
and a family below
Staying, staying

Sunday, 2 December 2007

Our Daily Bread

You have no idea how difficult it is to find good, wholesome bread in Singapore. Most of the bread sold in the small bakeries is of the very soft white variety.

We bought some breadrolls at a local Chinese bakery last week and were looking forward to the cheese-topped buns. On closer inspection however we noticed that as well as cheese there was an additional white chrystalline layer - white sugar!

If you are in search of a wholesome, wholegrain then you need to dilgently search the supermarket shelves.

With rice being the staple diet in Asia one simply does not get the variety of breads that are found in the West - a solid slab of German pumpernickel is unheard of.

There are some exceptions. In the basement food hall at Takashimaya we discovered Spek, which sells Italian style bread of good quality. Not cheap but a pleasant change. Our local supermarket, Fairprice also has a 'wholemeal' loaf which has a modicum of grains and linseed in it.

On the subject of shopping, we regualarly stock up our coffee and muesli from Carrefour - a large French chain which is spread throughout Suoth east Asia

Friday, 23 November 2007

15 Seconds Of Fame

So said the US artist Andy Warhol referring to "fleeting condition of celebrity that attaches to an object of media attention, then passes to some new object as soon as the public's attention span is exhausted" (Wikipedia). In my case it has so far proved to be a mere one second.

A local media channels in Singapore is currently soliciting entries for a show called 'ArtLander'.

I thought I would enter a work and sent off an enquiry with a couple of examples of my work. Yes they were interested could I send an official entry, which I duly did.

Lo and behold as I sat in front of television last night looking at the channel in question - Arts Central - two of my 'enquiry' images flashed across the screen.

This morning I checked their web site and spotted the following on the front page:

Interestingly, the print that I submitted as my 'official entry' was "Can Can" and that does not appear in the tv promo.

The second print of mine that they used was "MRT" (below)



Not that I am reading too much into any of this as I also note that the deadline for entry submission has been extended until early December. Presumably they were not overwhelmed by entries.

I did not pay too much attention to the paramaters of the Artlander promotion but have since discovered there is a public vote with a prize attached at the end. I am not holding my breath about the result of my entry! Still it is fun to enter.

Thursday, 22 November 2007

Sudoku Man and Architectural Revelations

Sudoku man was on the MRT again this morning.

Gaunt and leaning against a glass partition, a position that many Singaporean like to adopt in transit, he was studiously studying the puzzle torn from the Straits Times.

I have decided it takes an intellectual focus to endlessly pursue sudoku solutions and I have neither the motivation nor the mind set to spend the time in doing so.

Looking out the window and observing Singaporean life is much more to my liking.

This morning, after passing Commonwealth station I noted once again the collection of headstones which are surrounded on three sides by HDB flats.

It transpires that this is the Yin Foh Kuan Cemetery and they were the first Hakka clan association in Singapore.


Click here to view map
Yin Foh Kuan Cemetery

According to Wikipedia the Hakkas constitute 8% of the Chinese Singaporean population. Probably the most famous Hakka alive today in Singapore is Minister Mentor, Lee Kuan Yew.

I noted as I passed today, a young man in track pants and a yellow T shirt paying his respects so clearly this is still a place of veneration.

One of the principle puzzles of Singapore is not Sudoku but the challenge to discover what remains of the traditional Chinese architecture. Much of it was pulled down in the past for the sake of commerce and renewal.

There are now blog sites dedicated to this rediscovery. One such example is Historic Chinese Architecture in Singapore devised by Kent Neo and I commend him for his excellent work.

Saturday, 17 November 2007

H is for Haze

Those Hazy, Lazy Crazy Days of Summer mean something entirely different in Singapore.

The haze has returned today with a vengeance and as I look out our condo window the horizon is obscured by a greyish brown smog.

Late in 2006 the prevailing windows below the smoke from the Indonesian forest burn-offs across the island. The pollution index rocketed up and visibility was significantly reduced especially in the evenings.

If you suffer from any respiratory disease or predilection then the haze spells trouble.

Large sums of money from grants have subsequently disappeared into Indonesian coffers (or pockets) on the pretence that that government would crack down on illegal burn-offs and logging.

Of course little has been achieved from this ASEAN support. The Indonesians go their own sweet way, regardless of the effect of their activities on their neighbours.

It is therefore a rather pointed irony that, on the most polluted day of the year, ASEAN ministers are about to commence their annual conference in Singapore. Not that the current smog can necessarily be attributed to Indonesia?

Blame should not be laid exclusively at the feet of the Indonesians. Hot spots today were recorded in Laos, Myanmar, Thailand and Vietnam as well as the usual culprit, Sumatra.

Singapore runs an online haze map for its citizens to follow the build up of pollutants. The locally generated haze can also be problematic when there are light monsoonal winds.

Another kind of fog is the 'fog of memory', a problem that occurs with advancing years.

Today we discovered some of the old acts from the '60's that my wife enjoyed during her youth in Singapore.

One of these groups was John Jet and Jumping Jewels. When she first mentioned the group's name I misheard her and thought she was talking about the Black Adder skit, The Jumping Jews of Jerusalem.

But I was wrong. There was actually a Dutch group from the Hague who rode on the coat tails of The Shadows success and tried to copy Hank B Marvin and Co. I confess I had never heard of The Jumping Jewels, yet I too played my first electric guitar and tried to master "Shadoogie"

Enjoy the aforementioned Jumping Jewels in all their splendour.



And now listen to the 'Masters' - The Shadows


And they even sound good in Black and White!
Here's some more, just for nostalgia's sake. And no... after a few attempts at emulating Hank I gave up and took to the drums instead.

Thursday, 15 November 2007

The Self-Cleaning Bus

I have grumbled before about the state of some of Singapore's buses. In particular those that ply the 95 route to and from NUS, which is my place of work.

Yesterday morning there were heavy rains. It is not unusal on the '95' to spy two rows of seats towards the rear that are vacant. The reason for this owes nothing to ritual.


These are the seats that are covered in water. Quite naturally passengers would rather endure the jerky machinations of an errant driver than arrive at their destination with a wet derriere.

So it was yesterday. The interior of bus SSB 772G on the 95 route was its usual grimy self. With every corner in the road or swerve, a shower of water descended upon those unfortunate enough to be in the proximity of the leaking.

Today, I had the singular misfortune to catch the same bus. SBS 772G was still oozing its liquid charm upon those who chose a rear seat near the wheel arches.

I can only presume that water trapped from yesterday was finally releasing itself from the roof lining. The other possible reason was that the aircondioning had decided to join the fray.

I should point out at this juncture that there was not a cloud in the sky this morning and the sun was shining. The only inclement weather was inside the '95'.

Sunday, 11 November 2007

Where is this Blog read?

Singapore
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Hong Kong
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Taiwan
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South Africa
Brunei
Brazil
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Romania
Turkey
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Ivory Coast
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Macao
Greece
Malta
Oman
Myanmar
Micronesia
Guam
Iran
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Nepal
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Panama
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Egypt
(as at November 11th 2007 - source GOOGLE Analytics)

Beethoven With Fried Onions

I no longer sing in the shower.

It's not that the vocal chords that once fronted a rock band have lost any of their timbre. Nor is it decreasing lung power. It is simply a case of living in a condo.

Rarely is one made aware that there are 700 other people living in our Queens Condominium. Once the front door is closed the proximity of others ceases to be relevant. I have come to really enjoy living in this manner.

The only place in our condo that remind one of other lives going on around us is the bathroom. Open the window in preparation for an evening shower and the beautiful notes of a concert pianist in full flight greet you. I am not sure who she or he is, but they are certainly gifted and have a wonderful touch. I now shower to the solemnity of Beethoven or the exuberance of Mozart.

But the sensations are not all auditory. The open window also reveals the smell of various ethnic cuisines in preparation around us. Thus I often have Beethoven with fried onions and garlic or Rachmaninoff with a pungent Indian curry.

On the rare occasion there is even a dash of Liszt with Chinese herbal soup.

There are many Japanese families who rent apartments in Queens. They tend not to mix with other occupants and form collective huddles as they await the arrival of their children on the returning school buses.

They do however have a passion for barbeques and from our other bathroom window, we will from time to time catch the odd whiff of over-done steak.

The Japanese restrict their shopping activities to two Japanese (and very pricey) supermarkets. The ingredients and basic food stuffs in places such as Isetan are very expensive, compared to the supermarkets that we and most Singaporeans frequent.

A trip today down to our supermarket of choice for western style foods (Carrefour), was memorable in one regard - the Xmas decorations are already up along Orchard Road! And this being early November. In addition, the faux Xmas cottage and plastic reindeer that embellish the frontage of Tanglin Mall have returned. This same cottage incorporates a small water feature and coloured lights - 'nuff said.

Even though I no longer celebrate the festival, I cannot help but think that the commercialisation of Xmas has become an absurdity. It might get merchants excited but my memories from distant childhood remind me that it should be bells and not tills that are jingling.

Wednesday, 7 November 2007

Tales from the Marble Bar

My main meal of the day is lunch.

This taken at one of the local hawker centres or during the working week, at the student canteen at NUS. The pattern of dining out for lunch is not one that is practised in New Zealand preferring instead to take home sandwiches to work.

The quality and price of bread in Singapore precludes this option. It is difficult to find good whole grain bread at a reasonable price. Locals prefer soft white bread or bread creations from such outlets as Bread Talk .

The only other time in my life when I regularly partook of bought lunches was as a very small child.

I can recall at the age of two, when my mother was giving birth to my sister, that I was in the tender care of my father. He and I used to bike down to a local eating house in the main street of the small NZ provincial town where we lived.

This eatery was rather grandly titled, The Marble Bar. I cannot recall the naming rationale but I suspect it referred to the counter top. The waiting staff were dressed in neat and uniform attire and the food was the standard NZ fare of the 1950's - fish and chips, sausage and vegetables etc.

Food in the NUS student canteen is markedly different. There is an excellent Nasi Padang stall which serves Malay food. Here you can get two choices of meat and two vegetable on rice (with a nice curry sauce) for the princely sum of $3.

Nearby is the Fruit and Juice stand where for $1.20 a large glass of freshly blended Papaya juice is to be had.

Someone has even published a blog site dedicated to NUS Canteen food so they are as equally impressed as I with the quality and selection.

Tuesday, 30 October 2007

Today's Prints


The Malay


Fish - Baconesque



Monday, 15 October 2007

Rotting Sandals & Worldy Affairs

T'is the season of the Rotting Sandal.

In other words the wet season looms once again, although it is noticeable that as yet we have not had the deluges experienced last year.

Why rotting sandals?

Well, the uppers on leather footwear tend to part company with the sole after prolonged wet weather. No amount of glue seems to remedy the situation and it is entirely desirable to choose footwear that is sown rather than glued.

Then there is the 'mould surprise' where, after a period or prolonged storage in a non-airconditioned environment, strange fungi-like growths of varying hues sprout from the sandals. The moral is to frequently air any stored leather goods, especially shoes.

A visit to Isetan today revealed that the insidious American commercial culture is alive and well in Singapore. Halloween is gaining a strong following amongst the young.

Given the foothold that fundamentalist Christianity has gained in Singapore in recent times, it seems an odd juxtaposition of values.

Not to be outdone, the Brits have sent us a container load of out-of-season Xmas puddings. These are now proudly displayed in that most British of establishments, Marks and Spencers. Mind you, at $19 per modestly sized pudding, there are few takers.

So a year and a bit on, what are the thing I miss from my former life in the 'West' ? Firstly life in the 'West' is a misnomer. It should be 'Life Down South'

Not a great deal. In my day to day life, probably the ability to hold an in-depth discussion on world affairs - in fact hypothesising on anything in a global context.

I am not sure why this is so (and it certainly doesn't apply to everyone I live and work with), but it is often very difficult to strike up a conversation of any topic beyond the boundaries of Singapore.

I don't think this is because Singaporeans are any more insular than other races. Perhaps there is a level of prosperity and contentment here that narrows their focus?

It would also be wrong to suggest that all Singaporeans respond in this way - they do not. I have met many who have travelled or lived overseas who are more than happy to put the world to rights.

My second observation relates to hierarchy. At times there appears to be an almost a departmental paralysis when it comes to decision making. I have experienced this inertia in the telcos and banks in particular.

Few are prepared to stick their neck out on an issue or make a creative suggestion for fear of being wrong. Decision making is often governed by a desire to please those higher up the pecking order.

There is however hope in the creative contribution now being made by the better educated young. They have been prepared to ask questions of politicans here on the matters that they see of significant importance.

I am currently reading the first autobiographical volume of Lee Kuan Yew's memoirs entitled "The Singapore Story".

Having seen the Minister Mentor in action on local television I have marvelled how a man in his eighties still has such a sound judgement of world affairs and Singapore's opportunities.

Monday, 8 October 2007

The Six Degrees Of Perspiration

My morning MRT is a microcosm of Singaporean society.

At 7 am it is usually standing room only and so, if one adopts the six degrees of separation principle it is a fairly safe bet that the dozen people in your immediate proximity are related by birth or association.

However there is another observation I have made - certain stereotypes amongst the passengers.

There is the "Overt Preener". The OV is often (but not uniquely) of Indian ethnicity and primps his hair and adjusts his clothing in the reflection of the trains glass door as he prepares to alight.

Another group is the "Slumbering Locals". As observed in an earlier blog entry, they have the ability to fall into seemingly hypnotic trances aboard any form of public transport

Then there are the Expats. They stand out both literally and figuratively. A glance down the train's interior may them easy to spot as their stature or girth gives them away at a glance. The EP's can be further divided into subgroups based around what I shall coin as the six degrees of perspiration.

In ascending order we have the following:

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The "EF"s - Florid expats of the beetroot pink variety and usually newly arrived.

The "EE"s - The Exertion averse group. Having weathered the initial two weeks of settling in they still look and feel like wet dish rags. This is also the group that purchases a selection of reflective umbrellas of ever-widening diameter.

The "ED"s - The Determined variety of expat has been in Singapore for more than a month and is determined to keep a stiff upper lip even though they really 'can't take the weather'.

The "EC"s - Have adopted the Singaporean phrase "can" and use it at every opportunity. An example being "Can catch a taxi if I feel I am going to pass out waiting for the overdue bus"

The "EB"s are Bold and Brassy. They have survived the first year and are writing 'home' at every opportunity extolling the virtues of "no more winters". Deep down though they know that the June to September dry season is going to see them quickly revert to "EE" status.

And finally at the top of the Expat tree are the "EA"s. This elite group are the Actives. They jog in the noon day sun, much to the amusement of the locals who remain quite sensibly in the shade. They seem immune to sunstroke and heat exhaustion and scour the local newspapers for weekly Ironman events. You will also find them monopolising the condo gymnasium facilities at odd hours of the day or night.

As for me, I am probably rated an "EC" and rising.

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A Dash of Kulture

This sign is on the side of a caricature booth in a Children's Play Arcade in Great World City.

Quite what the Impressionists would have made from this, I don't know, especially poor old "Dega" (surely they mean "Degas"?)

As for "Modigliani" he is rather to robust in the proboscis to qualify as being authentic.

We visit Great World City once a month to have a meal at Jack's Place - a nostalgic and none too expensive flashback to our previous Western diet. A nice NZ steak with soup and vegetables for about $13.

Outside the restaurant is the above mentioned games enclave.


It was also noticeable that the 'Dads' seem to be monopolising the games as much as their children. This of course is world-wide phenomonon

Thursday, 4 October 2007

He's Back!

Begging at Redhill Station


I wrote about this Indian gentleman in an earlier article and for a while I suspect the authorities moved him on. However he is back and 'begging' and (as I stated previously) in modern Singapore there is absolutely no need that this should be so.

The practices of Calcutta should not be transported to the Republic. If there is a genuine case of need, which seems very unlikely in this case, then the Community organisations are there to step in and help.

Sunday, 30 September 2007

Rejuvenation


Seen at the Goodwood Park Hotel

Wednesday, 26 September 2007

Fantastic Plastic and Dengue Doses

Yesterday the Robinsons Card arrived.

This elevates one into the foremost ranks of 'serious shoppers'. For those of you who are not familiar with Singapore, Robinsons is a large department store in Centrepoint, Orchard Road.

While it has not reached the same institutional status as Raffles, it is nevertheless a well known entity in its own right. It has been in existence since 1858. The company also owns John Little and the franchise for Marks & Spencer.

I know Marks and Spencer well as despairing Singaporean sales staff constantly refer me to this department store - the only one that caters for Expats of a certain proportion.

When Robinsons has a sale it's a real sale with good bargains to be had. In the past we have garnered the general public's 20% reduction of items but now armed with our Robinsons Card we will have an additional 1o% or more on top of this.

Mind you, the sale items offered are rarely the items I actually want. There are only so many toast racks that one can buy in a lifetime.

I have been eyeing a pair of Clarke's leather sandals that have been on display in the store for the past few months. Each sale cycle seems to pass them by and they are always excluded and remain rigidly at a fixed price.

A new strategy is called for. Instead of expressing overt interest in this footwear (as I have done in the past) I shall now cast derogatory comments whenever I pass the display and within earshot of the sales staff.

"Phew...old stock" is a phrase I have in mind, delivered with an aloof shake of the head. Maybe this subterfuge will motivate them to include my items of interest in the next sale - I suspect not.

Plastic cards are de rigueur in Singapore. I know several colleagues who collect them from different banks and merchandise outlets just for the 'exclusive benefits' they carry with them.

So desperate are these places for your custom that the card annual fees are often waived. If such a fee is ever suggested the holder immediately relinquishes the card and moves on to the next.

In a more serious vein (which is a terrible pun in itself), the incidence of Dengue Fever in Singapore has risen this year. This mosquito borne disease is most unpleasant and often fatal.

Two days a go we received a pamphlet at our door from the Environmental Agency, requesting an appointment to view our condo and assess its mosquito breeding risk.

When the office arrived the reason for the visit became clear. One of our neighbours in another block had contracted the disease and was hospitalised. It doesn't of course mean that Dengue is rife in our neighbourhood as the patient could have contracted the disease elsewhere.

We also learnt an interesting fact that the mosquito that carries dengue, the Aedes, is mainly active between the hours of 7am and 1 pm.

In theory therefore, if you are bitten by 'mozzies' in the evening these are more than likely not the variety that transmits the fever.

I am not sure what the mosquitoes would make of daylight saving but Singapore doesn't have this anyway. If New Zealand cows can become confused by time clock adjustments imagine the predicament of the humble mosquito.

Meanwhile the rainy season hasn't really got underway but when it does so, the dengue situation will improve as the weather is cooler.

The state of my current pair of sandals will not however improve in the forthcoming rains - now where's that plastic card?

Sunday, 23 September 2007

Lantern Festival - Chinese Garden







Take The East West MRT line past Jurong station and you end up at Chinese Garden.

Once a year to celebrate the Autumn Lantern festival, there is a special display mounted in the gardens surrounding the lake and the pagoda.

We enjoyed the spectacle last evening and it was well worth the $S12 per adult admission.

The evening was sultry but there was a gentle breeze off the water which cooled things down.

The other noticeable thing about the Mid-Autumn festival is the re-appearance of the ubiquitous Mooncake.

Being a traditionalist at heart I enjoy the white lotus paste filling with double duck egg yolks in the Cantonese style. The combination of the saltiness of the duck egss and the sweetness of the lotus paste may not be to Western tastes but one bite and I took to them like a duck to water, if you will excuse the pun!

This year the cake have been a bit pricier as thousands of the duck eggs from China were rejected by the Singapore Food authorities.

Another moon cake popular in Singapore are Teochew Yam Mooncakes which have a spiralled, flaky crust.

Other traditonal festival foods include the eating of Pomelo (the Ipoh variety from Malaysia are very sweet), piglet biscuits, baby yams and a most unusual nut called Niu Jiao Jian (Bull's Horn). They were on sale in our local Cold Storage supermarket (see image above left). I have yet to sample Niu Jiao Jian but shall do so when there is a chance to try some.

Friday, 21 September 2007

The 'Dry' Season

The air was still and steamy
and my clothes were damp and dank
not a breath of wind was stirring
while the drains beside me stank

Just a plaintive throaty warbling
ahigh the pong pong tree
the dry season's come a'calling
for the bird as much for me

The fumy buses passing
by the shelter where I stand
I wave in desperation
with make shift fan in hand

The dry seasons come a'calling
to the Queenstown MRT
I stand upon the platform
just my plastic card
and me

Sunday, 16 September 2007

With A Pinch Of Snuff

This weekend we visited the Chinese snuff bottle exhibition at the Asian Civilisation Museum.

From the Sanctum of Enlightened Respect III is the third part of the exhibition installment from the collection of Singaporean collector, Denis Low.

There were 355 snuff bottles on display and the artistic interpretations in miniature were quite outstanding.

Unlike many of the exhibitions on view, this was in a free section of the museum and open to all. Denis Low's collection is regarded as one of the worlds finest.

It takes us next to no time to get to the museum as we take the MRT from our station direct to Raffles Place and exit at the Battery Road entrance. A quick stroll across the Cavenagh Bridge and we are there.

All in all a most pleasant afternoon topped off with another splendid duck curry at the Museum's Indochine restaurant.

This entry has taken place over a couple of days and yesterday, Monday September 17th, marked the anniversary of our arrival in Singapore exactly one year ago. It is therefore appropriate to pause and reflect on what has happened these past twelve months.

Firstly, apart from good friends left behind, I have no regrets about leaving New Zealand and coming to Singapore. I rarely even look at the NZ Herald online but when I do so it seems to be a litany of violent assaults in South Auckland, police on trial for various offences, news of an increasingly moribund Labour Government and politically correct nonsense such as allowing illegal Algerian overstayers a right of passage into the country. Not forgetting of course the continuing failure to address the severe traffic problems in the major cities. Lots of talk and no action!

In direct comparison, I can walk the streets of Singapore at most hours of the day and night in relative security, there is no major 'P' drug problem that threatens the fabric of society, the economy is booming and the air of optimism in the Republic is invigorating.

Not everything should be viewed through rose coloured spectacles of course. The heat at times can be oppressive, even for the locals. The positive side of this is no more winters! It does mean that a lot of time is spent in an airconditioned environment.

Singapore is not a big country and it has a lot of buildings and (increasingly) people. This means that one needs to escape from time to time to places such as the Botannical Gardens for some quite reflection but generally speaking I enjoy the hustle and bustle that accompanies the day.

I remain employed by a university even though it was not the same one that I left new Zealand to be part of. The UNSW Asia debacle still rankles, not because I wish to retain any association at all with UNSW, but because of the pain and suffering inflicted on everyone left high and dry by the Vice Chancellor's actions. Working at NUS is far more productive and the university far better endowed than most.

All in all, a stimulating 12 months.

Thursday, 13 September 2007

The Day the Earth Moved

Last night the earth moved for me - and for most of Singapore.

Just after 7 pm as I was sitting at the keyboard our condo building started to sway gently. At first I thought that my chair was not level but then the sensation started again.

There was one immediate explanation - an earthquake.

Coming as I do from "the shaky isles" as New Zealand is sometimes known, I was no stranger to this type of disquieting event. But is is a rare phenomonon in Singapore which is well over 700 kilometres away from any seismic plates.

It was clear that for us to feel it there must have been a massive rupture of the earth near Indonesia and this proved to be so. An earthquake of 8.5 on the richter scale was recorded in Sumatra. This morning there was another of similar magnitude.

So far there have been no reports of any damage in Singapore and the government has reassured residents that buildings here are designed for such events.

However I am glad our own condo is not built on reclaimed land as much of Singapore is. Liquefaction can be a serious problem even when the epicentre of a 'quake is far away.

Today I joined my colleagues for a staff event. We bussed to the recently refurbished National Museum and spent a very pleasant coupe of hours enjoys the spaces and exhibits.

I was reminded by one feature that has been retained - a wrought iron spiral staircase - of the ghostly apparitions that are said by some to frequent the building.

When my wife was a school girl they were told by their teachers that if they ever dared to climb the stair unspeakable horrors would befall them.

Later when I told this story to a former director the museum (who is a personal friend) he shared another version of this story, that a taxidermist lived at the top of the stair, lying in wait for recalcitrant children. No doubt an excellent control measure for school groups!

Sunday, 9 September 2007

Pearls Before Tourists

I'm not an oyster shucker
but an oyster shucker's son
and I'll keep on shucking oysters
'till the oyster shucker comes

This ditty paraphrases a bawdy student drinking ditty, but is rather apt never the less. The reason being, that we hosted some friends from New Zealand this afternoon and together experienced the great OG Store Bonus Offer.

Here is how the Bonus Offer works.
You buy an item and are given a voucher to redeem, on the third floor of the store.

The free offer is a genuine pearl. The novelty being that a store attendant (who clearly drew the 'short straw' and is up to his or her armpits in 'airflown' Suzhou oysters) shucks a fresh oyster in your presence and extracts your pearl.

So far, so good with no additional money changes hands. However when you come to claim the pearl the hard sell begins.

"Surely madam would be more interested in having your personal pearl mounted in a customised silver setting?"

"Your ear would be unbalanced with just one pearl mounted, so how about a second one at a discount price?"

" See how we have the latest equipment to provide a secure mounting for your pearl - it's a very good colour and deserves the best."

$50 dollars later and clutching two small black jewellery boxes that house your marine treasures, you leave the store.

You know in your heart that if you hadn't weakened, the raw pearls in their small, zip lock plastic bags would have been more than adequate in their natural state.

But.... and it is a very big but....... you have to be made of steel to weather a persuasive Singapore sales pitch. Few succeed.

Friday, 7 September 2007

Things Happen In Threes

Things always happen in threes and yesterday was no exception.

First there was the death of Luciano Pavarotti. While not being a great fan of opera I would have to concede that his was a 'mountain' of a voice and his decibels were matched by his imposing stature.

Pavarotti's version of Nessun Dorma sent emotional shivers down one's spine. (see this You Tube clip)



As with all great artists, his life and times were almost as interesting as his music. I recall seeing a documentary entitled "Pavarotti in China", which although panned by the critics, clearly showed the reverence accorded him by the Chinese.

The second thing that caught my eye was the sacrifice of two goats by Nepal Airlines. Faced with mounting technical problems they resorted to the Hindu god of sky protection to rectify the situation.

I don't know about you, but I see this as a worrying precedent and not one that encourages me to contemplate long air journeys.

Perhaps we shall see Air New Zealand addressing its falling international capacity by sacrificing an All Black forward or two?

Mind you; if the national team does not do well in the Rugby World Cup which starts today, it could well be that the entire New Zealand population would be willing to observe this ritual.

This leads me to the third event, the Cup itself. In Singapore the emphasis is on Soccer not rugby. There have been some belated feature stories this week in the Straits Times but rugby as a sport is very much second fiddle to association football.

I went to our local cable provider - Starhub - to see if they would be screening any of the games. The sales staff member thought they would be but could not tell me what channel or programme it might be, except to say that it would be a 'special package' which would cost me extra.

"But don't worry" he enthused "When the time comes we will release the details".

"It is tomorrow" I informed him. Not surprisingly, he was unable to continue the conversation.

I have therefore resorted to the Internet and having paid the princely sum of $US49.99 will have access to all of the games, albeit 24 hours after they have taken place!

Saturday, 1 September 2007

Hair Today, Gone Tomorrow

A short and curly observation:

It's one of the inescapable facts of life - hair thinning is the barometer of age.

Men have concocted a variety of ways to sweep their hair across a balding pate. Inevitably the result is Hitlarian.

In Singapore however I have noticed a strange phenomenon. Both hair and nails grow with greater alacrity than they do in the Antipodes. This is good news for men of advancing age, chiropodists and hairdressers.

I am not sure of the science behind this observation but is clearly not just wishful thinking on my part. Perhaps it is the change of diet or climate?

There is some scientific evidence that hair grows slightly faster in the hot months according to at least one study.

A 1991 article in the British Journal Of Dermatology explored "androgen-dependent" hair growth in bald men living in temperate climate. Androgen-dependent hair includes some scalp hair and other hair whose growth is influenced by a kind of hormone called androgens. By contrast, androgens do not affect the growth in other types of hair such as eyelashes and eyebrows.

According to Tobin, the 1991 study suggested that androgen-dependent hair growth is faster during the spring and summer months and slower during the winter months in temperate regions such the US. Althought this study was conducted in men, the results may also apply to women

Thursday, 30 August 2007

East Meets West


Saturday, 25 August 2007

Beggars Can Be Choosers

There are two things that have stuck in my mind about today and both relate to the disadvantaged. We have just returned from Redhill, an estate not far away from our own.

There is an old Indian man who can be found most days, strategically positioned at the corner of the building and adjacent to the Redhill MRT station exit. In this location he can hustle pedestrians as they make their way to the road crossing.

He is begging. As people approach his hand will extend, palm upwards, seeking money. This is common place in cities such as Calcutta but was never publicly on view in Singapore when the current Minister Mentor was PM.

Perhaps even more disturbing was a second old man in his late seventies, doing his rounds of the recently vacated tables in the Redhill Food Centre.

When he thought no one was looking he would cast a furtive look around, sit down and finish the dregs of a soupy noodle bowl or munch on a cast aside chicken bone.

He must have spent a good hour going up and down the tables in this fashion. Whether he was suffering from dementia or genuinely hungry I do not know. The old man's actions made me feel profoundly sad.

In the first case, the law against begging should be strictly enforced. There is no need for it in modern Singapore as there are safety nets ranging from community charity to government assistance for the most needy. You cannot walk down a main thoroughfare without being propositioned by tissue sellers and that too is an activity akin to begging.

No one needs to beg. The government is aware of the dire financial straits of some of the elderly and recent budgets have identified funding to support his group. What appears to be missing is sufficient policing of these regulations.

I cannot help but wonder what the begging on the street situation will be when the two casinos come into action in 2010. There will need to be a crack down on this activity well before then and I am sure the authorities will do so.

In the second case, I would hope that some of the Redhill hawkers will quietly refer the old man's plight to community workers.

It's been a sobering afternoon all round.

Power Napping Par Excellence

The opossum is a canny creature and coming from New Zealand I know that there are millions of the critters destroying the indigenous forest.

When accosted, our furry friend feigns slumber and adopts a deathly pose. In so doing it often escapes a confrontation and when danger passes, goes about its business in a self contented manner.

I have observed that Singaporeans on the public transport have also developed this capability. No sooner have they found a plastic MRT seat than they descend into a trance-like state.

Any effort at engaging in a morning conversation with one of them is utterly futile. No matter that a canned voice intones "Please mind the platform gap" and "Please report any suspicious parcels under your seat". All such entreaties fall on deaf ears. The ears in question being strategically blocked by an array of iPOD cables.

I have also noted that often if a young person is seated and an elderly person is about to board the public transport, the seated party's descent into sleep is all the more rapid - no doubt to avoid having to give up their seat to someone more deserving.

From conversations with Singaporean friends and colleagues it would appear that many of them travel long distances to and from work so frequently arrive back home late in the evening. After their evening meal they do not get to bed until 11 pm or later. With an early start the next morning, sleep deprivation is clearly a factor influences their transport behaviour patterns.

So in the main, my morning ride into work on the MRT and bus are accompanied by a deathly hush - 'vigour mortis' if you will excuse the pun.

I've grown to enjoy this period of quiet contemplation where the observation of one's fellow passengers can surreptitiously take place through lowered lashes.

After all they do say that power napping is good for you.

Tuesday, 21 August 2007

Set Pieces And Set Lunches

Two days ago we had the Prime Minister's National Day Rally message broadcast on all local channels. The video has been archived on the Web.

The first thing that impressed me was Lee Hsien Loong's linguistic abilities and stamina - he delivered the entire address in Malay before switching to the English presentation.

When I asked a Singaporean colleague the next day what she thought of the speech she said that the PM has "broken the record". I was somewhat taken aback as I was not sure what she was referring to.

"Well", she said "When the Old Man (meaning the Minister Mentor and father of modern Singapore, Lee Kuan Yew) was the PM he was known for lengthy presentations. His son's effort was even longer".

Then she went on to add, "We liked Goh Chok Tong (PM from 1990 until the current incumbent took over) as his National speeches were short and to the point"

This was not the sort of analysis I had expected.

From my own perspective I found Lee Hsien Loong's address interesting as he set out the path the country needed to follow over the next decade or two. The information was clear and succinct and punctuated with well chosen multimedia presentations and the odd dash of humour thrown in.

Certainly it is a carefully orchestrated 'set piece' for public consumption but I found it a profound contrast from the political doggerel we used to be fed in MMP- dominated New Zealand. At least with the Singaporean Government, when they say they are going to do something they do it!

There is to be a lot of emphasis on addressing the realities of an aging population, including re employment opportunities for those who reach the official retirement age, which is currently 62.

The HDB estates are to receive heavy investment and in our own area of Queenstown, the Dawson subdivision will become a fully fledged estate with all of the park and community facilities. This includes the ability to house an additional 10,000 people which will be a huge boost to our neighbourhood. No doubt land and property values rise still further.

Education was the other piece of the jigsaw that received considerable prominence. A fourth university is to be built to cater for pent up local demand. In my opinion this makes far better sense than continuing to pursue often fraught partnerships with external providers, as typified by the ill fated UNSW Asia project.

As I work in the tertiary sector this news has been well received. Colleagues bent on career progression no doubt foresee opportunities arising as a result.

Today is the second day of my second week at NUS. You will note from the above that 'food' has not been mentioned once - it is about to be now.

Across the road from our offices is the student canteen and a good lunch of rice with two vegetables and a two meat option costs less than $3. Adjacent to this canteen is a Japanese 'fusion' restaurant and having decided to treat myself, I partook of their Chicken Cutlet Curry set. The "CCC" cost me just over $7 and included miso, a free lemon tea and a dessert.

I hasten to add that this is my main meal of the day and we have a very light evening meal. Such dining preferences are a source of wonderment amongst my Singaporean acquaintances who can not contemplate going without a substantial evening meal. We have however got used to this routine and make up for it with a hearty breakfast the next morning, something that many Singaporeans go without.

Friday, 17 August 2007

The Wet Fish Slap

It's the end of week one of my new job so why do I feel why do I feel like I have been slapped between the eyes with a wet fish?!

A new transport system to negotiate coupled with the need to adjust to a new work environment is always tiring.

My routine sees me leaving the house just after 7am and taking the MRT (two stops) to Buena Vista. This leg of the journey is air-conditioned comfort and takes 15 minutes at most. Then it's a brisk stroll across the overhead bridge to catch the 95 bus. It is here where the quality of the journey deteriorates markedly.

The aforementioned '95' is invariably a clapped out vehicle with shabby livery and a malfunctioning air-conditioning system. Cleanliness may be next to godliness but it is certainly not next to my clothing.

Maybe the powers that be have figured that a large proportion of those onboard are university students on reduced fares, so they provide a reduced service to match?

Either way, there is a definite need to get on board before the "breakfast crowd" arrives. This description identifies staff and students who breakfast at the university canteens before lectures or work. If I am running late and caught up in this group, it is standing room only on the 95.

Usually it takes me half and hour from our condominium to our office door. I discount the additional quarter of an hour, post arrival, to freshen up after the sapping humidity that literally dampens the day.

The NUS food outlets are very good and the pricing reasonable. As befits its stature as the pre eminent Singaporean university, NUS is well endowed with facilities. In April of next year our Alumni staff will be moving in to the new Shaw Alumni House. This complex has some exciting architectural features and should be a pleasure to work in.

I have been made to feel most welcome by my colleagues and they also signed a greeting card and presented it to me. Today we all shared a Malay lunch brought in from outside caterers. I don't think that I shall be losing much weight here either.

With several major projects ahead of us I suspect that time will pass quickly.

There are others who are feeling the "wet fish slap" and I refer to investors with major share portfolios. At time of writing, the sharemarket is similar to a rollercoaster and large sums have been lost in the process. Investing in shares is a popular Singaporean past time which no doubt explains why there are some fairly glum faces visible on the streets - and not a wet fish in site!

Sunday, 12 August 2007

Prickly Delights

It's the 'prickly season' in more than one sense of the term.

Prickly because the weather is hot and for that we have Prickly Heat powder. Prickly also because it is durian season - a fruit resembling the head of a medieval mace. Given the weight of each fruit and the hard spiky exterior I would not want to be walking under a tree when one fell.

About a 150 people a year are killed by falling coconuts but reports of fatalities from durians are rare. Some suggest this is because the fruit mainly fall at night? There are however accidents such as the 5kg durian falling on a granny's head.

Much is made a bout the stench of the durian. Public transport in Singapore will not allow its carriage but the odd 'whiff' is still discernible on the buses. Personally the smell has never worried me. Having travelled in Asia over the years I find that the smell of the durian bears little resemblance to the open sewers that many Westerners claim.

The fruit of the durian is delicious, with a capital "D" but is also very rich in taste and I find I can only eat two pieces at any one time - and never with wine!

The taste resembles as smooth Irish Cream liqueur without the alcohol. We bought our fruit for just $S1 on Friday. These were Thai durian, available at Redhill Market and of reasonably quality - the best usually come from Malaysia and Penang in particular. It was in Penang that I first tasted durian many years ago.

Tomorrow I start work at NUS and am looking forward to my new challenge. This afternoon will therefore be spent in rounding up all of the items I need to take on my first day.

Saturday, 11 August 2007

Not Travelling In The Lap Of 'Luxury'

We made an early start this morning to ensure that we were on time to catch the bus to Johor Bahru for the Shopping and Makan (food!) one day tour.

Having booked last week with Luxury Tours who are based at the Meridien Shopping Centre in Orchard Road we were looking forward to having a day out.

Be at the bus stop behind the hotel at 10am they said and we duly were. Unfortunately the bus was not.

A rather reticent and perspiring man was seen pacing to our left and we mistakenly took him to be a fellow passenger. It turned out he was a Luxury Tour company director and he ushered us back into the hotel office.

It was at this time that he enlightened us to the fact that they had cancelled the tour and yes..... it was their fault for not having rung us to tell us well in advance.

I am not a violent man - in most circumstances I can take things in my stride but on this occasion the complete lack of thought (in not advising us the night before) made my blood boil! Two hours in the morning heat of Singapore while waiting for the 'omnibus mirage' no doubt also contributed to my mood.

Having reclaimed our money I made a vow never to avail myself of the services of Luxury Tours & Travel Pte Ltd. Not even the offer of a free trip could tempt me.

My advice to readers in Singapore is to stay well clear of Le Meridien's Luxury Tours & Travel (100 Orchard Road #02-44/45). We will make any future bookings to Malaysia with someone else.

Thursday, 9 August 2007

Patriotic Fervour

Today is Singapore's National Day - August 9th - and the Republic is forty two years old.

The event known as the National Day Parade, or NDP for short, has been signalled well in advance, with media coverage of the 'world's largest floating stage' be plugged at every opportunity. Every possible angle has been covered by such pre-announcements.

There have been close ups of local citizens enraptured by the knowledge that they have won free tickets and a 'goodie bag' of snacks and bottle water.

A live web cast of the event will cater for those who are no longer domiciled in Singapore.

Nostalgic footage of past parades at the old national stadium have also featured. Nostalgia though should not be misinterpreted as maudling sentiment and the stadium in question is soon to be demolished. This is the Singaporean way - growth and redevelopment are essential drivers of the economy.

Far more interesting has been some of the documentary footage showing the role of the former Presidents in the fostering of arts and heritage activities. I recall when I first visited Singapore in the early '80's, the arts did not figure prominently on the radar of most Singaporeans. This is no longer the case. With active encouragement from the government the Republic is now blessed with world-class cultural facilities.

The populace is celebrating the day as a public holiday. In many cases this does not include the canny merchants who remain open in the hope of catching sales from the extra foot traffic through the malls.

As I have been holidaying these past two weeks before starting my employment this coming Monday, this day is much like any other. I have however been noting the large number of national flags that festoon the HDB estates. Even our condominium is appropriately clad in similar livery.

The level of patriotism is actively encouraged and promoted by the government. It is something that rarely surfaces now in my previous home of New Zealand, with the exception of a win by the All Blacks. The nearest would have been in 1953 when the Queen visited 'the colony' and each school child was given a flag to wave and a medallion to mark the event.

Small flags are still distributed to pre-school children here in Singapore and their delight at receiving the bunting is quite endearing.

Also in the media this week is a report on a group of disgruntled passengers who were meant to board the Pacific Star cruise ship for a Pacific adventure, only to find that the ships certificate had apparently expired!

P&O has a reputation for such fiascos with its Antipodean operations. Another former vessel, the Pacific Sky was forever breaking down at the most inopportune times. We travelled on the Pacific Sun through Melanesia a couple of years ago and the experience was 'basic' to say the least. There have subsequently been reports of deaths and drugs aboard this ship.

Compared to the Star Cruises that sail from Singapore, the P&O operation simply doesn't rate. Other cruise lines are now also beginning to make Singapore their Sth East Asian base which is good news for those of us who like cruising.

In Singapore you feel that you are part of a dynamic entity surging forward. I am reminded of the Singaporean Prime Minister's National Day speech last evening when he concluded by saying " "The global backdrop is favourable. The winds and tides are with us. Our spirit is high, and our ship is ready"

P&O could clearly learn a lesson from this.

Sunday, 5 August 2007

See Perth And Die

There is a much hackneyed phrase that refers to seeing a place before one dies.

Unfortunately in the case of Perth it had died before I got there. I have just returned from what can be termed a bleak experience in all senses of the word. Heading to Western Australia in winter was probably not a good idea in the first place. But the holiday package was reasonable and so we went.

My wife had visited Perth thirty years ago and dryly recorded that little had changed in the intervening time.

Not that it didn't start promisingly enough. We made the main supermarket in the city our first port of call on the evening of our arrival. It was packed with people, all jostling their way to the check out. We soon found out why - the supermarket in question closed at 5:30 in the evening. Having been spoilt with Singaporean shopping times and options it was quite flashback in terms of customer focus.

The weather throughout our stay was drizzly and cold which did not improve my mood.

On the second day of our holiday we joined Out and About Tours for a tour of the Swan Valley wine trail. This was enjoyable and a few good vintages were sampled. With the new anti-terrorist regulations in place it is no longer possible to carry wine into aircraft cabins as we once did. This meant that we bought just two bottles and took the risk of breakage by packing them into our suitcases.

The Bursewood casino had just three varieties of pokie machines, in several graphic manifestations. According to one of our fellow wine trail participants it should be bulldozed and a new one built. Having visited the resort I can but agree and maybe Mr Packer Junior will do just that when he completes his Macau fantasy.

Winter Winetrail Photo - Roger Smith


I have made my first and last visit to Perth and can state that I much prefer the eastern seaboard of Australia, especially the tropical climes.

A brief shopping trip in Johor Bahru, Malaysia this weekend seems the perfect antidote to what we have just experienced this past week.

Thursday, 26 July 2007

Flying South for The Winter

In two days time we are heading south to Perth. I am currently a 'gentleman of leisure' as I take a couple of weeks off before starting my new job at the National University of Singapore, mid-August.

Heading back into a winter climate was not our first choice. After all, one of the reasons for coming to Singapore was to escape the winter chills.

Our selection options were a bit limited at this time of year and somewhat like Goldilocks's predilection for porridge: Taipei was too hot at this time of year, a cruise out of Shanghai too expensive and Perth was just about right for our budget.

It's a short five hour flight and within the same time zone so the travel should not be too onerous. I have never lost the joy of flying and being a people-watcher at heart, don't even mind the bustle of airports. Changi remains one of the best airports in the world so we are spoilt.

Another plus about owning a condominium is that you can simply close your door and leave - no one knows if you are in or not. Not like house ownership in New Zealand where you worry about the garden, cancelling the newspaper, informing the neighbours...the list goes on.

I trust we will not be too jaded by our travels south as we intend spending the day after our arrival on the Margaret River wine trail. I've not been to Perth before so am looking forward to exploring the city and environs.