Saturday, 19 May 2007

A Day At The Races

"Don't do it..."

"Don't go.........You'll find out why when you get there"

This is common advice proffered to which I have now learnt to respond, " Have you been there or experienced this yourself?"

Almost invariably the answer is "No... but a friend of mine........."

And so it was when the subject of the Singapore races was raised with an acquaintance of ours. We had thought it might be interesting to go to Kranji and experience the wonders of the Singapore Turf Club. His endorsement was a luke warm at best.

Fortunately we ignored this second hand advice. I should mention at this junction that my wife and I are not what you might term 'hardened punters'. We never place a bet unless it is on a racecourse and our visits to such places are very rare - perhaps once in three years.

When the fire siren in our neighbourhood signalled 11 am (as it does every Saturday) we packed our bottled water and newly-purchased binoculars and headed for the Queenstown MRT station down the road.

Our train took us to Jurong East junction where we changed to the green line and proceeded towards our destination.

Kranji's more sobering claim to fame is the Kranji War Memorial which contains 4,000 graves of servicemen who died under Japanese occupation.

Alighting at the station we confirmed that the racecourse was immediately opposite and linked by a covered way. No exposure to the hot midday sun which was a real plus.

We had a choice of paying a $3 entrance fee or $7 for the air-conditioned, covered stand. I don't have to explain which option we decided upon. Up the escalator and into air conditioned bliss.

I had been concerned that smoking would be allowed in the 2nd storey area but this proved to be an unnecessary worry. We went through the electronic turnstiles and found ourselves seats with a good view of the winning post. Here we paused to do justice to a large bowl of noodles before getting down to studying the form in the racebook we had purchased - another $3 painlessly extracted by a smiling Singaporean vendor.

The facilities were first class with large video screens providing commentary and analysis as well as results - which seldom went our way! Not even a passing thunderstorm changed the odds in our favour and we went home a little lighter in the pocket than when we came.

All in all it was most pleasant day out and an experience that I would recommend to others.

"Have you been there....?"

"Well yes, actually I have"


Monday, 14 May 2007

Sentosa

Yesterday, we paid a quick visit to Sentosa Island. It has been nearly twenty years since I was last there and all I recall from the previous visit was the bike hire facility and dusty tracks.

The Sentosa of today is a far more vibrant place with reclaimed, sandy beaches and escalators for those who feel disinclined to trudge up the steep gradient to the lookout.

Getting to the island is also much easier and we opted for the monorail or Sentosa Express as it is known. A $3 return ticket provides a choice of options for transport as it allow you not only the monorail but also a range of free buses and the Siloso beach tram.

I noted that the wrecking ball was already swinging in preparation for the Sentosa Integrated Resort. This is planned to open in 2010 but knowing Singapore's project efficiency I would not be surprised if a section of it opens earlier. Building sites here run 24 X 7 with no down time for public holidays. The night shift seamlessly makes way for the day shift in a never ending cycle.

Singaporeans enjoy packing a picnic lunch and spending time on the Sentosa beaches and the place remains a tourist mecca.

We visited one of the attractions - that is, we paid an entry fee. Butterfly Park and Insect Kingdom was interesting and a good introduction to the wonderful array of 'bugs & butterflies' one sees in the tropics. Some of the live exhibits in the outside enclosure were a little 'moth-eaten' if you will excuse the pun. A good web site for Singapore butterfly identification is at this address .

We will undoubtedly make a repeat visit to Sentosa in the near future. It is a breath of fresh air away from the hustle and bustle of the metropolis.

Sincere Mattresses and the Appellation Hinterland

The sign said Sincere Mattress Company.

It made me wonder just what a 'sincere mattress' actually is. I have possibly experienced an 'insincere mattress' in the past, one that pretends to provide a good nights sleep and delivers not a jot, but a 'sincere mattress'...never .

The moniker, 'Sincere Mattress' is just one of many titles that appear to the western eye to be an odd juxtaposition of English names.

My all time favourite was a sign I spotted in Malaysia many years ago - Ah Choo's Medical Centre. For non-native speakers of English, the language is enough to give anyone an allergy.

A close second in the 'believe it or not' signage stakes was the Swastika Piles Clinic, also seen in Malaysia.

Here are some others I enjoyed, gleaned from various sources:


  • Teeth extracted by latest methodists - Hong Kong Dentist

  • Mickey Mouse High Fashion Apparel - Beijing department store

  • You are invited to take advantage of the chambermaid - Tokyo Hotel

  • Ladies may have a fit upstairs - Hong Kong Tailor

  • For your convenience, we recommend courageous, efficient self-service - Hong Kong supermarket

The mistranslation of English can have a more serious side and in China (more particularly Beijing where the Olympics are being held) they are endeavouring to clean up their signage translation.

Then of course there are signs in Asia, such as the one above that I photographed in the back streets of Calcutta, which do not fill one with confidence.

Friday, 11 May 2007

Favourites

For many years I have collected the songs of one singer - Teresa Teng. She has regrettably 'shuffled off this mortal coil' but had, in my humble opinion, a very pure voice.



And here's another clip just to prove the point. I am often asked what it is that I like so much about her songs, given that my grasp of the languages they are sung in is rudimentary at best.

I have always appreciated talent and this lady was clearly very gifted.

The Girl With Sad Eyes

The small girl with sad eyes
watching the fleet winged clouds
pink bag and mangy teddy
tucked behind

Empty thoughts on a vacant lot
and a frayed umbrella
propping up
her confidence

Thursday, 10 May 2007

What's That You Say, I've Got Beans In My Ears

Most of the times I see people talking to themselves in total oblivion to passers-by, I veer to the other side of the pavement, giving them a wide birth.

This is no doubt a learned response from childhood, where I often encountered a man suffering from such delusions on way to school. Mental illness can be a most debilitating thing and as a small child the strangeness of the situation encouraged such a response.

I was therefore with some consternation that I noted when I first arrived that a large proportion of the Singaporean population seemed to be suffering in a similar manner. As the streets here are somewhat more crowded than those in rural Taranaki there was no escape from being acosted by such unfortunates.

A closer examination however reveals that it is technology that is driving this self obsession, not illness.

Singaporeans of many generations have cables and plugs sprouting from just about every orifice. This is very much the 'wired generation' and they manage to maintain simultaneous conversations with multiple parties, with apparent ease. Most have an iPOD or similar, a mobile phone, a PDA or a combination device containing all of the aforementioned.

Invariably they enjoy a cocooned life safe behind their headsets which, while not being completely anti-social, makes discourse with other parties difficult.

The other observation I have made is just how prevalent instant messenger (web based) communications are, especially amongst the young. Virtual networking is the social norm and the use of wireless, laptops, cameras and messenger software appeals to this generation because its immediacy.

And what of "Beans In My Ears"?

Well there are a few of us around who recall a group in the '60's called the Serendipity Singers who recorded a song with this title. The lyrics while humourous make the point that we seldom listen to others. An earpiece in place makes such endeavours doubly difficult.

Sunday, 6 May 2007

What A Difference A Chef Makes

One of my favourite eating places in Singapore is Zi Yean Restaurant in Redhill. It has both and indoor (air-conditioned) and outdoor eating spaces and provides a very good Yum Cha lunch at reasonable prices. They have an excellent reputation built up over many years.

It was therefore with great interest that we learnt that Zi Yean were opening a restaurant in the Hotel Grand Central behind Le Meridien, off Orchard Road. Full page advertising in the Straits Times announced that there would be a 50% reduction in prices for High Tea (after 2:30pm.

So today being a Sunday we dutifully took the 111 bus into town and paid them a visit for lunch.

The experience was salutory. After an auspicious and hi-tech beginning, where our Dim Sum order was entered into a hand held PDA and "wirelessed" to the kitchen, matters deteriorated. I hope in the future they revert to writing the orders down on paper, as they still do at their Redhill operation.

Half of our order arrived in reasonable time. The rest dribbled out of the kitchen over an hour as we sat expectantly. Orders were misplaced and re-ordered. A neighbouring table had ordered the "special hotpot" (picture) and we watched bemused as the head waiter scalded himself with the broth. Staff attempted to move the dish from the at-table flaming gas ring to the table, with a pair of spoons rather than using heat resistant tongs or gloves.

Our Cheong Fun was anything but 'fun'. The dish had been forgotten about in the kitchen over steamed to a point that the wrapper resembled a mushy porridge.

At the conclusion of the meal one of the staff politely asked us what we thought of the food and we felt obliged to tell her. In justification she responded that it was a "different chef" to that in Redhill. That was no doubt the case and proves just how important it is in the food business to employ the right staff. This chef's control of his kitchen was shambolic and food quality control as it was plated clearly did not exist.

A great pity really as bad news travels quicker than good. I suspect they will have lost a lot of future business based on the experience that we and our fellow diners had.