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


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.