Sunday, 23 December 2007

Today's Print

Moon Over Queenstown
Roger Smith
- December 2007

Saturday, 22 December 2007

Brand New

In 1981 when I first set foot in Singapore. I recall going into the Cold Storage supermarket to buy toothpaste. To my surprise there was a rack resembling the old-style Black & White Minstrel show with row after row of a toothpaste called Darkie.

In this politically correct day and age such a brand would not survive and as Toothpaste World reports:

Hong Kong’s Hazel & Hawley Chemical Co. would probably still be hawking Darkie toothpaste had the company not been acquired by Colgate. The Darkie brand’s Al Jolson-inspired logo, a grinning caricature in blackface and a top hat, was as offensive as its name. Colgate bought the company in 1985, and then ditched the logo and changed the product’s name to Darlie after US civil rights groups protested. However, the Cantonese name - Haak Yahn Nga Gou [้ป‘ไบบ็‰™่†] (Black Man Toothpaste) - remains.

Man's Imagination Knows No Bounds

We have just returned from an outing at Bugis Junction. In the old days, Bugis Street had rather a sleasy reputation but in typical Singaporean style it has been 'cleaned up' and sanitised into another shopping mall.

It was notable today that the place was packed with Xmas window shoppers. Not that many were carrying shopping bags and the younger set were there to see and be seen as well as going for the food.

Today's attraction to draw the punters was the "world's most expensive jewellery box" - all $2.37 million dollars of it.

You can see it in the foreground of the image at left. Unfortunately it was placed en-situ with an enormous, revolving mannequin. Most of the crowd were content to be photographed with the mannequin and missed the drawcard completely.

Also at the Mall I noted yet another stunning creation. This being the automated yakatori machine which grills satay-sized skewers of meat with convey belt consistency. It also is programmed to dunk variations into a marinade as part of the process.

Whatever happened to the satay vendor with the charcoal stove and palm fan?

The stall vendor got quite agitated when I used my mobile phone to take the photo at left.

Possibly this machine was a "rip-off" copy of a similarly patented device?

The smell of hawker-crafted satay on the evening air, once smelt, is never forgotten. But times change and the younger Singaporeans are more mall dwellers than their parents ever were.

The true satay stall is be coming increasingly harder to find as the old timers pass on and their children seek different employment.

Wednesday, 19 December 2007

I Saw Santa...Queue Jumping

He's gaunt, bewhiskered and eternally vegetarian.

A string of Thai love beads on a soiled string adorns one wrist.

From the surreptitious scratching below his belt that is probably not the only thing he got in Thailand.

As luck would have it I have the only vacant seat and he sits languidly beside me, completely devoid of intelligent conversation.

This, on one of the few days recently when the 95 bus offered is clean and relatively new.

"Bus" is probably a bit of a misnomer, more like a refrigerator on wheels. There is something uncontrollable about Singaporean buses and that something is more often than not the air-conditioning. It is either like sitting in a blast freezer or a sauna and rarely an ambient temperature in between.

The irony is that on the dirty buses (which are in the majority on the 95 route) my fellow passengers are well groomed and spotlessly dressed Singaporeans. On the one day the bus is clean, my companion is a 'shop-soiled' and dishevelled European.

On the subject of transport, the prices for taxis in Singapore has risen, particularly in the central city. The theory is that if the take is higher for the cabbies more of them will venture into the CBD at peak times.

The verdict is out as to whether this is actually working in practice.

Last Sunday while we were passing the taxi queue a jolly and rotund Santa (again of European stock) and a small green elf of doubtful parentage rushed to the front of the line on the pretext of getting to the next Mall appointment.

Needless to say this did not go down to well with those who had waited patiently for their turn.

So much for the spirit of Xmas.

Saturday, 15 December 2007

Chicken Cutret

The English language can prove difficult to a Chinese tongue.

To break the monotony of having the same diet each lunch time I have taken up the habit of having the occasional meal from the 'Western Food' stall. The interpretation of "western" in this case being a desert spoon sized portion of luke warm bake beans and an equal portion of coleslaw cringing on a wafer thin slice of tomato. I use the term slice in the singular.

This accompanies a handful of thin potato chips ('fries' for those with a US bent) and a crisp section of crumbed chicken. Although slightly thicker than the tomato, the meat too has been run through the mangle of life before reaching my plate.

Upon receiving my order the proprietor yells to the kitchen at the back "Chicken Cutret!"

She, for it is a she, has a powerful voice that resonates around the walls of her hawker stall.

While the difficulty of pronouncing "l" for a native Chinese speaker is reasonably well documented, my attempts at Mandarin are far more comical and my Hokkien (a common dialect in Singapore) virtually non existent.

Despite all of the above mentioned , I confess to enjoying my fare at the 'Western Food' stall.

It will however be a different fowl that graces my Christmas dinner plate. Turkey and goose are on the menu at Le Meridien.

Christmas reminds me of the gifts I received as a boy from an Aunt Nancy, my Mother's sister. Nancy lived in various exotic places in Africa (and other far flung outposts of the British Empire). Here husband Ralph was ex-British Army and a senior member of the British Civil Service.

There was always something exotic in my Christmas stocking from Aunt Nancy - a beaded leather belt from Tanganyika or a multi-hued conch shell from African shores, crafted into a bedside lamp. The lamp remained in my parent's house until the day they passed away.

I sometimes think that my dreams of exotic places was first engendered by the gifts received from my far off Aunty. It was she who gave me my sense of wanderlust and I am wandering still.

Chicken Cutret anyone?

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