Monday, 11 June 2007

Coming Up Roses?

Readers of this blog will have noticed that it has been a while since I last made an entry. There is no element of sloth on my part, it is simply that life has been topsy turvy this past three weeks.

I have been caught up in the debacle that is UNSW Asia. That is to say, my wife and I relocated to Singapore in September last year so that I could join the new university that UNSW Asia promised to be.

I say 'promised' because this was exactly as it transpired and we were not alone in our decision. Close on 100 academic and professional staff and 150 students were similarly beguiled by the vision of being part of something new in Singapore, supported by the credibility of a leading Australian university, UNSW.

It is now clear that the incoming Vice Chancellor of UNSW did not share this vision. Just three months into our first semester he arrived from Sydney with the news that he was closing the place down - so much for the credibility of UNSW, especially in Asia and for many decades to come.

My last day in the office is in late July but already there are other staff who have received their notice and left.

Having bought a condominium here and obtained Singaporean PR status we have a few months breathing space, unlike others who are left paying large rents, supporting families and facing the prospect of no employment in the forseeable future.

Our first choice is to remain here and for me to secure alternative employment. My life is very focussed on this at the moment. Second choice would be a location elsewhere else overseas (Middle East perhaps?). Failing all else we will aim for Australia.

The UNSW Asia fiasco is big news both here and in Australia. The pull-out was undertaken with indecent haste. Yes, UNSW was losing money in the venture but this is often the case in the first couple of years when one establishes a new business. What they clearly did not factor in nor understand, was the financial impact of the loss of international students from Asia for the years to come. This is already happening with China warning students about studying overseas.

The big question remains. Why, when they clearly had reservations about the Singapore venture mid 2006, did they still recruit staff and make promises to students? At best it is a "head in the sand" attitude. At worst it is living a lie and as usual it is the innocent who suffer.

Thursday, 7 June 2007

Today's Print

Fungi - Roger Smith

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


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.