Monday, 10 December 2007

A Calendar for 2008

I thought I would produce an art calendar at this time of year so friends, colleagues and readers of this blog could download and print up a larger version if they felt so inclined.

I have placed the image on a free virtual drive for ease of access. Click on the caption below the image and feel free to share the link for the free download with friends.

The Dancing Uncle And Running Goats

Anaheim has come to Redhill.

There is a hawker at the Redhill Food Centre who specialises in desserts. Not that this in itself is unusual as most hawker centres have at least one outlet that provides local delicacies such as chendol (an iced concoction covered with green 'worms' of a gelatinous texture - pictured), soursop and iced kachang.

This gentleman's claim to fame is that he is a Mickey Mouse fanatic. His stall is festooned with Mickey collectibles and all of his decoration echoes the same theme.

His modus operandi is pure theatre. We observed an hour of set up which involved turning on a set of snake lighting, various illuminated signs and a driving dance beat from a set of battered speakers. A mini Las Vegas in the heartland of Singapore.

Standing at the front of his enterprise he moves between customer and consumables with rhythmic ease. There is a certain frenetic pace about his actions that in itself attracts the crowds.

And crowds there are. They queue up to sample his wares like moths attracted to the pulsating bright lights. The locals refer to his stall as 'the dancing uncle store'.

The only other stall at the Redhill Food Centre that attracts similar patronage is the satay hum stall, which I have mentioned before. There are many versions of satay to be found in South East Asia including one called Satay Torpedo, made from goat's testicles that have been marinated in soy sauce. I have not yet tried this variation - the goats run faster than I do!

In the past a rather gruff old man took the Satay Hum orders and relayed these to his son and grandson who did the cooking.

As the Centre has been closed for the past month for renovations we have been unable to patronise it. Yesterday when we visited, the old man's place had been taken by two youngsters of the family - the next generation. Upon enquiry we learnt that the great grandfather (for this was he) had passed away.

The other event of yesterday was the confirmation of our Xmas Day lunch booking at Le Meridien. This is our second Xmas in Singapore and we decided to go back to the same venue as last year. They have an excellent spread, including treats such as roast goose to which I am very partial! For $38 ++ per person this has to be the best value for money in town and the quality is excellent.

One other booking confirmation occurred last week - our Chinese New Year trip to San Francisco and Vegas. CNY happens early February so it is going to be cold in the States. Based on my winter holiday in Perth this past July, I suspect I will find the plummeting temperatures a challenge.

My body seems relatively acclimatised now to Singapore and last night for the first time, I was even cool enough to get up in the middle of the night and pull a duvet cover over myself.

Saturday, 8 December 2007

The Beast Of The Night

I am the beast of the night
my yellow eyed
steel jawed existence
at runway's end
Preying, preying

I am at at ease with the night
and a blood red Singapore moon
In the solitude of my thoughts
Praying, praying

You are asleep to my right
quiet 'neath air blanket blue
and a family below
Staying, staying

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

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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.