Sunday, 2 December 2007

Our Daily Bread

You have no idea how difficult it is to find good, wholesome bread in Singapore. Most of the bread sold in the small bakeries is of the very soft white variety.

We bought some breadrolls at a local Chinese bakery last week and were looking forward to the cheese-topped buns. On closer inspection however we noticed that as well as cheese there was an additional white chrystalline layer - white sugar!

If you are in search of a wholesome, wholegrain then you need to dilgently search the supermarket shelves.

With rice being the staple diet in Asia one simply does not get the variety of breads that are found in the West - a solid slab of German pumpernickel is unheard of.

There are some exceptions. In the basement food hall at Takashimaya we discovered Spek, which sells Italian style bread of good quality. Not cheap but a pleasant change. Our local supermarket, Fairprice also has a 'wholemeal' loaf which has a modicum of grains and linseed in it.

On the subject of shopping, we regualarly stock up our coffee and muesli from Carrefour - a large French chain which is spread throughout Suoth east Asia

Friday, 23 November 2007

15 Seconds Of Fame

So said the US artist Andy Warhol referring to "fleeting condition of celebrity that attaches to an object of media attention, then passes to some new object as soon as the public's attention span is exhausted" (Wikipedia). In my case it has so far proved to be a mere one second.

A local media channels in Singapore is currently soliciting entries for a show called 'ArtLander'.

I thought I would enter a work and sent off an enquiry with a couple of examples of my work. Yes they were interested could I send an official entry, which I duly did.

Lo and behold as I sat in front of television last night looking at the channel in question - Arts Central - two of my 'enquiry' images flashed across the screen.

This morning I checked their web site and spotted the following on the front page:

Interestingly, the print that I submitted as my 'official entry' was "Can Can" and that does not appear in the tv promo.

The second print of mine that they used was "MRT" (below)



Not that I am reading too much into any of this as I also note that the deadline for entry submission has been extended until early December. Presumably they were not overwhelmed by entries.

I did not pay too much attention to the paramaters of the Artlander promotion but have since discovered there is a public vote with a prize attached at the end. I am not holding my breath about the result of my entry! Still it is fun to enter.

Thursday, 22 November 2007

Sudoku Man and Architectural Revelations

Sudoku man was on the MRT again this morning.

Gaunt and leaning against a glass partition, a position that many Singaporean like to adopt in transit, he was studiously studying the puzzle torn from the Straits Times.

I have decided it takes an intellectual focus to endlessly pursue sudoku solutions and I have neither the motivation nor the mind set to spend the time in doing so.

Looking out the window and observing Singaporean life is much more to my liking.

This morning, after passing Commonwealth station I noted once again the collection of headstones which are surrounded on three sides by HDB flats.

It transpires that this is the Yin Foh Kuan Cemetery and they were the first Hakka clan association in Singapore.


Click here to view map
Yin Foh Kuan Cemetery

According to Wikipedia the Hakkas constitute 8% of the Chinese Singaporean population. Probably the most famous Hakka alive today in Singapore is Minister Mentor, Lee Kuan Yew.

I noted as I passed today, a young man in track pants and a yellow T shirt paying his respects so clearly this is still a place of veneration.

One of the principle puzzles of Singapore is not Sudoku but the challenge to discover what remains of the traditional Chinese architecture. Much of it was pulled down in the past for the sake of commerce and renewal.

There are now blog sites dedicated to this rediscovery. One such example is Historic Chinese Architecture in Singapore devised by Kent Neo and I commend him for his excellent work.

Saturday, 17 November 2007

H is for Haze

Those Hazy, Lazy Crazy Days of Summer mean something entirely different in Singapore.

The haze has returned today with a vengeance and as I look out our condo window the horizon is obscured by a greyish brown smog.

Late in 2006 the prevailing windows below the smoke from the Indonesian forest burn-offs across the island. The pollution index rocketed up and visibility was significantly reduced especially in the evenings.

If you suffer from any respiratory disease or predilection then the haze spells trouble.

Large sums of money from grants have subsequently disappeared into Indonesian coffers (or pockets) on the pretence that that government would crack down on illegal burn-offs and logging.

Of course little has been achieved from this ASEAN support. The Indonesians go their own sweet way, regardless of the effect of their activities on their neighbours.

It is therefore a rather pointed irony that, on the most polluted day of the year, ASEAN ministers are about to commence their annual conference in Singapore. Not that the current smog can necessarily be attributed to Indonesia?

Blame should not be laid exclusively at the feet of the Indonesians. Hot spots today were recorded in Laos, Myanmar, Thailand and Vietnam as well as the usual culprit, Sumatra.

Singapore runs an online haze map for its citizens to follow the build up of pollutants. The locally generated haze can also be problematic when there are light monsoonal winds.

Another kind of fog is the 'fog of memory', a problem that occurs with advancing years.

Today we discovered some of the old acts from the '60's that my wife enjoyed during her youth in Singapore.

One of these groups was John Jet and Jumping Jewels. When she first mentioned the group's name I misheard her and thought she was talking about the Black Adder skit, The Jumping Jews of Jerusalem.

But I was wrong. There was actually a Dutch group from the Hague who rode on the coat tails of The Shadows success and tried to copy Hank B Marvin and Co. I confess I had never heard of The Jumping Jewels, yet I too played my first electric guitar and tried to master "Shadoogie"

Enjoy the aforementioned Jumping Jewels in all their splendour.



And now listen to the 'Masters' - The Shadows


And they even sound good in Black and White!
Here's some more, just for nostalgia's sake. And no... after a few attempts at emulating Hank I gave up and took to the drums instead.

Thursday, 15 November 2007

The Self-Cleaning Bus

I have grumbled before about the state of some of Singapore's buses. In particular those that ply the 95 route to and from NUS, which is my place of work.

Yesterday morning there were heavy rains. It is not unusal on the '95' to spy two rows of seats towards the rear that are vacant. The reason for this owes nothing to ritual.


These are the seats that are covered in water. Quite naturally passengers would rather endure the jerky machinations of an errant driver than arrive at their destination with a wet derriere.

So it was yesterday. The interior of bus SSB 772G on the 95 route was its usual grimy self. With every corner in the road or swerve, a shower of water descended upon those unfortunate enough to be in the proximity of the leaking.

Today, I had the singular misfortune to catch the same bus. SBS 772G was still oozing its liquid charm upon those who chose a rear seat near the wheel arches.

I can only presume that water trapped from yesterday was finally releasing itself from the roof lining. The other possible reason was that the aircondioning had decided to join the fray.

I should point out at this juncture that there was not a cloud in the sky this morning and the sun was shining. The only inclement weather was inside the '95'.

Sunday, 11 November 2007

Where is this Blog read?

Singapore
United States
New Zealand
Australia
United Kingdom
Malaysia
Canada
India
Germany
Japan
Philippines
Hong Kong
Thailand
Indonesia
Netherlands
China
Taiwan
Spain
France
Italy
Vietnam
Sweden
South Korea
Ireland
Switzerland
South Africa
Brunei
Brazil
Portugal
Romania
Turkey
United Arab Emirates
Pakistan
Czech Republic
Saudi Arabia
Sri Lanka
Poland
Norway
Russia
Belgium
Denmark
Chile
Mexico
Antigua and Barbuda
Ivory Coast
Peru
Nicaragua
Jamaica
Dominican Republic
Papua New Guinea
Macao
Greece
Malta
Oman
Myanmar
Micronesia
Guam
Iran
Namibia
Nepal
Israel
Panama
Luxembourg
Egypt
(as at November 11th 2007 - source GOOGLE Analytics)

Beethoven With Fried Onions

I no longer sing in the shower.

It's not that the vocal chords that once fronted a rock band have lost any of their timbre. Nor is it decreasing lung power. It is simply a case of living in a condo.

Rarely is one made aware that there are 700 other people living in our Queens Condominium. Once the front door is closed the proximity of others ceases to be relevant. I have come to really enjoy living in this manner.

The only place in our condo that remind one of other lives going on around us is the bathroom. Open the window in preparation for an evening shower and the beautiful notes of a concert pianist in full flight greet you. I am not sure who she or he is, but they are certainly gifted and have a wonderful touch. I now shower to the solemnity of Beethoven or the exuberance of Mozart.

But the sensations are not all auditory. The open window also reveals the smell of various ethnic cuisines in preparation around us. Thus I often have Beethoven with fried onions and garlic or Rachmaninoff with a pungent Indian curry.

On the rare occasion there is even a dash of Liszt with Chinese herbal soup.

There are many Japanese families who rent apartments in Queens. They tend not to mix with other occupants and form collective huddles as they await the arrival of their children on the returning school buses.

They do however have a passion for barbeques and from our other bathroom window, we will from time to time catch the odd whiff of over-done steak.

The Japanese restrict their shopping activities to two Japanese (and very pricey) supermarkets. The ingredients and basic food stuffs in places such as Isetan are very expensive, compared to the supermarkets that we and most Singaporeans frequent.

A trip today down to our supermarket of choice for western style foods (Carrefour), was memorable in one regard - the Xmas decorations are already up along Orchard Road! And this being early November. In addition, the faux Xmas cottage and plastic reindeer that embellish the frontage of Tanglin Mall have returned. This same cottage incorporates a small water feature and coloured lights - 'nuff said.

Even though I no longer celebrate the festival, I cannot help but think that the commercialisation of Xmas has become an absurdity. It might get merchants excited but my memories from distant childhood remind me that it should be bells and not tills that are jingling.

Wednesday, 7 November 2007

Tales from the Marble Bar

My main meal of the day is lunch.

This taken at one of the local hawker centres or during the working week, at the student canteen at NUS. The pattern of dining out for lunch is not one that is practised in New Zealand preferring instead to take home sandwiches to work.

The quality and price of bread in Singapore precludes this option. It is difficult to find good whole grain bread at a reasonable price. Locals prefer soft white bread or bread creations from such outlets as Bread Talk .

The only other time in my life when I regularly partook of bought lunches was as a very small child.

I can recall at the age of two, when my mother was giving birth to my sister, that I was in the tender care of my father. He and I used to bike down to a local eating house in the main street of the small NZ provincial town where we lived.

This eatery was rather grandly titled, The Marble Bar. I cannot recall the naming rationale but I suspect it referred to the counter top. The waiting staff were dressed in neat and uniform attire and the food was the standard NZ fare of the 1950's - fish and chips, sausage and vegetables etc.

Food in the NUS student canteen is markedly different. There is an excellent Nasi Padang stall which serves Malay food. Here you can get two choices of meat and two vegetable on rice (with a nice curry sauce) for the princely sum of $3.

Nearby is the Fruit and Juice stand where for $1.20 a large glass of freshly blended Papaya juice is to be had.

Someone has even published a blog site dedicated to NUS Canteen food so they are as equally impressed as I with the quality and selection.