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


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.