Sunday, 22 April 2007

Let's hear it for St Luke

I was not aware until coming to live in Singapore that the apostle was also the patron saint of prickly heat. At least I suspect this is the case, as his name adorns a well known brand of powder designed to combat the sweatiness of the tropics.

The title also suggests a British pedigree but this powder which was formulated sixty years ago is actually produced in Thailand. It is marketed in other parts of the world under the Snake brand.

St Lukes Prickly Heat powder has one disturbing problem - it is mentholated. An overly liberal application to the nether regions can leave the unfortunate crying out to their maker. Perhaps this is where the true religious association comes from?

Which brings me none to subtly to the point that we have been living in Singapore for more than six months and our bodies are acclimatising. Two weeks ago we stopped using the airconditioning throughout the night in our bedroom and now sleep with a fan in perpetual motion instead.

This is not to say that either of us actually enjoy the very draining effect of the humidity, especially from mid-morning to mid-afternoon.

However a quick glance at the minimum temperatures on the internet remind me of just how miserably cold a New Zealand winter can be, so I am not complaining too much.

A case in point. Today we took buses to the Singapore Botanical Gardens leaving as the sun reached its zenith. There was not a breath of wind when we got there and apart for one or two of the lunatic fringe who were out jogging ( yes, jogging!) in the noon day sun, everyone else was seeking the shade. The shade seekers included clusters of Filipinas who, released from their maids' duties on a Sunday afternoon, congregate for picnics in the Gardens.

It was Sir Stamford Raffles who established the first Botanical Gardens in Singapore in 1822. His interest was largely economic as he wanted to establish the viability of crops such as cocoa and nutmeg. The existing gardens were established on their current site a little later, in 1859.

I vividly recall my first visit to the Singapore Botanic gardens in the early 1980's as I was cornered by a troupe of monkeys, baring their teeth and demanding to be fed.
These Macaques became such a problem that they were removed (exterminated?) and no longer harass visitors. They remain a problem in other parts of Singapore, especially where housing estates border wildlife reserves.

The highlight of our trip today was the National Orchid Garden, a feature in its own right within the boundaries of the Botanic Gardens. A $5 entry fee gets you into this garden. The orchid is the national flower of Singapore and it is easy to see why.

There are some examples at the bottom of this page.

Saturday, 21 April 2007

New Images from Vivo City

We spent much of the day at Vivo City today which is down at Harbourfront overlooking Sentosa Island. This was not without some consternation as The Great Navigator inadvertently placed us on the wrong bus. Near Chinatown TGN and I realised the errors of our ways and took the MRT back to the correct location.

Here are some prints that were taken with the 3 megapixel camera in my new phone. I realised later that barely five years ago I was using a 3 megapixel Fuji camera, which was then state of the art. How the technology has advanced since then.

Lime Mao - Artist Roger Smith

Fountain - Artist Roger Smith

Pool Legs - Artist Roger Smith

Monday, 16 April 2007

Out With The Old

It goes in cycles - one item of property 'gives up the ghost' and then a second, a third and so on.

So it has been here in Singapore. Fortuitously this city is a shopping mecca and finding a replacement for any item is relatively easily and usually the latest model is featured.

A fortnight ago I adopted my wife's sensible suggestion (one that she had made many times before!) that I jettison my heavy attaché case and buy something lighter. I am now the proud owner of a soft leather case of Japanese design which is about half the weight of the former one.

Seven days ago my watch, which caused sane jewellers to shake their heads in dismay every time I had it serviced, took on an even more decrepit look. Its winder threatened to detach from the inner mechanism. I opted for a new Seiko as a replacement as value for money they bettered the Swiss versions. Most other new models on offer were so chunky that every elevation of the wrist reminded one of lifting weights in the gym.

I had also promised myself the replacement of a further piece of technology - my IPAQ (PDA if you will). This replacement came sooner than expected as my mobile phone, which I had brought over from New Zealand, developed a fault. Rather than buy a new phone and a new IPAQ, I seized the moment to buy a device that combined both.

My new "brain in a box" is an IPAQ rw6828 Multimedia Messenger (see image). It does just about everything except cook crumpets. About a year from now I hope to have discovered all of its functionality and features.

Sunday, 15 April 2007

...Maketh The Man

I can't remember when I had my first meal of Phoenix Claws but I can certainly recall my first Yum Cha meal in Hong Kong.

On that occasion in a multi-floored restaurant, bemused by the loud vitality of the eatery and not being able to read or understand a word of Cantonese, I summoned up courage and pointed at the first wicker basket atop a passing trolley.

With a deft movement my card was marked both literally and figuratively. A steaming container of Duck's web (feet) was placed in front of me. No other part of the duck was attached to the feet - it was just the webs with no strings (should that be tendons?) attached.

While not the easiest of introductions to Yum Cha I record with pride that I did at least attempt to eat these items. Which brings me to Phoenix Claws - a euphemism for chickens' feet. Evidently, the only real trick to preparing these is that you trim off the toenails first!

I discovered early on that I rather enjoyed this delicacy but one has to choose the company in which to devour these glutinous morsels. A former colleague who once shared a table turned a decided shade of green when he saw me devouring the contents of the small bamboo basket and never again accepted my invitation to Yum Cha.

Over the years I have learnt the staccato skill of spitting the left over bones with unnerving accuracy into my rice bowl. This is the Chinese way. My English mother would have been mortified by such a practice as she drummed into her children the elements of refined English table manners and the removal of bones was neither to be seen nor heard.

It is interesting how living in a different culture brings with it different customs and manners. I am sure that I unintentionally offend through my lack of knowledge in such fundamentals as chopstick etiquette . The reckless placement of these eating utensils is thought to bring bad luck to your fellow diners.

I can assure you that learning to expel a stream of chicken bones into a tiny receptacle can be equally distressing for those who witness it.

Saturday, 7 April 2007

The Hired Help and Samsui Chicken

I start early. My aim is to be in the office by 7:20 am each morning. I am not however the first to get there as the cleaning staff commence their duties a good quarter hour before my arrival.

The cleaners are in the main a mix of Malays and Indians as well as a smattering of Chinese "Aunties" seeking extra retirement income. What I didn't fully appreciate was that many of our cleaning staff don't actually live in Singapore - they reside in Malaysia's state of Johore Bahru and come across The Causeway each day to take up their employment.

Their day starts at 7 am and doesn't finish until 7 pm (Monday to Saturday) and they then face a two hour bus journey back across the border. I questioned one of the younger Indian cleaners and discovered that she rises at 3:20 am each morning to ensure she catches her bus. She doesn't usually get back to her home until about 9:30 pm so by my calculation ,after completing a full days work, she gets about five and a half hours sleep before the cycle starts all over again.

It is therefore little wonder that there is a high staff turnover and our cleaning contractors are recruiting replacements all the time.

But why is it necessary for 25,000 Malaysians to cross the border to fulfill these necessary services? The short answer is that few, if any, Singaporeans wish to underatke these menial tasks anymore.

The same applies to other service areas and the construction industry. To overcome this shortage Singapore has an active policy of fostering 'foreign manpower'. These are temporary residents and in the year 2000 government statisitics indicated that 29% of the workforce were in this category.

Not to be forgotten are the 160,000 domestic helpers, mainly comprised of women from the Philippines and Indonesia, although there are also a significant number from the Indian sub continent. The former gather each Sunday at Lucky Plaza and spill out onto the footpaths of Orchard Road in gregarious huddles.

Today's food recommendation is The Soup Restaurant in Basement Two of Centrepoint on Orchard Road. The set lunch for two is $38++ and has a wonderful home-cooked quality to it with traditional (they term it heritage) cuisine of the Cantonese variety. Despite the name, soup it just one hearty component of the menu and their Samsui Ginger Chicken is excellent. Their sliced cod dish is equally yummy!

Tuesday, 3 April 2007

Here's To You In Robinsons

Here's to you in Robinsons - artist Roger Smith

I visited Robinsons Department store in Orchard Road over the weekend and by chance discovered these wrapped mannequins which I have used as the basis for this print.

The Escape
- artist Roger Smith

Down their corridor enroute to the public conveniences were more boxed dummies. This inspired the second print.


The thunder grey above the fronds
silent birds
signaling a time for shelter

Saturday, 31 March 2007

The Cold Shoulder

Early last week I awoke with a shoulder that refused to work and when I attempted to use it, proved to be extremely painful. I was apparently one of the 'lucky 2%' 0f the population that succumbs to an ailment called Frozen Shoulder or, if you want its medical title, adhesive capsulitis.

Until you lose the use of a limb you are never truly aware just how debilitating it can be. Everyday tasks become mountains to climb and sleep becomes elusive. I was never even aware such a condition existed but I have subsequently discovered scores of web sites dedicated to the subject.

I did however have one ace up my sleeve, in the form of a great physician, Dr. Toh who is based in the Camden Medical Centre (photo left) .

Toh Keng Kiat is one of the old school of doctors who actually listens to his patients and has the experience to provide sound advice. He is also very keen on using new technologies where they might assist and he hooked me up to the latest Japanese machine.
For those interested its full title is: ASIAS, AH 300 series, Encoded Electronics Therapy Equipment (see image below)

This amazing device provides pain relief and heals tissues etc. down to the basic DNA building blocks. It should not be confused with the much simpler electropulse massagers which simluate acupuncture techniques

Frozen shoulder can take months to correct but three sessions with the electropulse device have seen me regain more than 80% mobility in the past few days. The fact that I can type this blog entry is largely down to him.

In our conversations I also became aware that is a former Singaporean MP and he provides some interesting perspectives on the challenges that lie ahead for Singapore.

Dr Toh is a visiting consultant haematologist at Singapore General Hospital and also crosses the Causeway to tutor medical students at Monash's Johore Bahru campus in Malaysia. All in all a busy man and I consider myself lucky to be under his care.

Today is my first working Saturday in Singapore. The library is open from midday until 7pm each Saturday during the semester and we take it in turns on the management roster. It would be fair to record that we have not exactly been inundated with students thus far! In fact we are lucky if one appears at all.

With seven hours to kill I have taken the opportunity to update the Image Gallery I am building for the university. Our large screen television in the Library has also provided me with coverage of Aussie Rules and NRL games so time passed relatively easily.

I can now look forward to the Monday off and shopping in Singapore without the accompanying weekend crowds.

Sunday, 25 March 2007

Avian Aspirations

In the late 70's I spent three years on contract working in the Eastern Highlands of Papua New Guinea. As so often happens, one remembers most of the more interesting times and forgets much of the rest. A highlight for me was a trip in my Landcruiser up the Highlands Highway to Wabag and a two night stay at the lodge there.

The lodge consisted of thatched huts and I recall that the tradionally-clad cook delivered an inspired western style three course meal complete with carrots in a white sauce. The other thing I vividly recall was a visit to a nearby nature reserve to view the many and varied Birds of Paradise.

I hadn't seen a Bird of Paradise since, until yesteday when we paid a visit to the Jurong Bird Park here in Singapore.

To get there we took the MRT to Boon Lay, the last stop on the line and then boarded the 194 bus from the interchange which is right next to the station. This took us directly to the park.

Having been in the museum / heritage business I am always judgemental when it comes to such attractions but I have to record that the $20 (which included a monorail ride around the park) admission price was well worth it.

Jurong Bird Park is a tastefully and thoughtfully operated attraction and conservation values are skilfully integrated into their displays. Be warned though, even with strategically placed fans, on a hot day such as it was yesterday it can be quite exhausting if you choose to walk everywhere.

The highlight is undoubtedly the huge Waterfall Avery (photo above) and this is also a very goood place to pause on your journey through the park as it offers a shady respite from the Singapore sun. If you are visiting Singapore, or are living here and have visitors, then a visit to the Jurong Bird Park is well worth the effort and a colourful introduction to tropical flora and fauna.

'Flamingo' watercolour - Jurong. Artist Roger Smith

We did not lunch at the Park and decided to have a look around the adjacent neighbourhood to see if there were dining alternatives. A walk across the car park from the Bird Park brought us to the Reptile Park and what a sorry state of affairs this former attraction was. It had obviously closed down sometime before and was rapidy decaying in the tropical environment. Only a small prawn restaurant survives nearby with a few locals fishing for their supper - yes you had to catch the prawns yourself.

The Reptile Park provides a salutory lesson for all attractions - that they either adapt or die. It is a lesson that no doubt the Jurong Bird Park is well aware of.