Tuesday, 8 January 2008

Black Letter Days

Today's a black letter day. Print journalism in Singapore has taken another step forward, albeit out of the same stable that controls most of the country's print media.

On my morning run into work I have to run (and I use this term figuratively as no one in their right mind actually runs to work in Singapore's humidity) a gauntlet of curry puff salesmen, itinerant and discordant erhu players and newspaper distributors.

As I have written before, speed of mobility is not much in evidence in a Singaporean morning and most of my fellow commuters look and act as if they are still half asleep - which probably they are.

This in turn translates to the bovine gait that effectively blocks anyone with the motivation to get to work quicker along the crowded pavements.

Normally the few hardy souls who are in a rush walk around the pavement blockers, often taking to the road verge to do so. The problem is exacerbated when the person you are trying to pass takes a call on their mobile phone (often) or slows even further to pick up the free morning paper, My Paper. Not content with this collection they then slow still further to read the headlines.

Up until now, My Paper has had little appeal to me mainly because it was written entirely in Chinese, a language in which I am woefully deficient.

However today, the first bilingual edition of My Paper hit the streets. If one includes the advertising lift-out there are sixty five English pages to digest enroute.

While not the highest quality of journalism and leaning toward the tabloid end of the spectrum, My Paper nevertheless fills a market niche. So today I weakened and did what thousands of Singaporeans do - I slowed down and grabbed a copy.

Now all I need is a curry puff.

Sunday, 30 December 2007

I walk Alone

I often walk alone

through the black sands of memory

fleet footed past twisted driftwood

of thoughts on a fast running tide


Jagging at the blood shoot

and the sound of steam whistles

mutton on the chain

and then again

silver finned catches chasing whitebait

over the painted pole


Faintly now

the sound of wild West Coat surf

receding with time

from place and time


Far away and further still

from Egmont's cone

cold winds upon the breath of Tasman storms

Your In The Army Now

The heat has returned.

The past two days have been hot and humid without the respite of the rains. In truth we have not had anywhere near the amount of rains as we did last rainy season, which is between November and January.

This means that the body embraces a totally lethargic state for much of the day and we keep our condo vertical blinds closed from about 8 am to 4 pm. One of our best decisions was to install these wide vertical blinds in preference to the usual curtains that most condos have. We can filter the light as and whenever we wish.

Yesterday saw us on the MRT to the end of the line at Boon Lay. We had decided to visit the recently opened Singapore Army Museum. Not that an Army museum is my first cultural preference but I was interested to see the quality of the exhibits and the narrative they had adopted.

Mindful of our previous experience at the Jurong Bird Park which is in the same locale, we packed some bottles of water in anticipation of the heat. That part of Singapore does not appear to benefit from any moderating coastal breezes.

When you get to the Boon Lay MRT there are two choices of bus to get to the Museum - the 182 which is non airconditioned and the 193 which is. Well that was the theory anyway. The airconditioning of the 193 we caught was not working and the interior was very uncomfortable.

The instruction on the museum's web site said " located at the SAFTI Military Institute, near to Singapore Discovery Centre" so when the bus arived at the SAFTI Institute we duly got off.

Wrong decision! The Museum's entrance is actually located right beside the Science Centre's. Not that you would know it, as the road front signage for the Museum is nowhere to be seen - just the Science Centre's that visually dominates everything.

The upshot was that we had to trudge in the noon day heat from SAFTI to the next bus stop which was by the entrance we were seeking.

We finally found sanctuary in the airconditioned foyer of the Museum where we stayed for a while to compose ourselves.

The museum was officially opened four months ago so everything is pristine in appearance. One starts at the top level of the building and winds one way down to the bottom through a variety of exhibits and audio-visual montages. There were very few other patrons when we were there.

A highlight for many is the opportunity to test 'fire' army rifles at a simulated rifle range. My wife could not even see the rifle sights let alone line them up against the 'enemy'.

For my part, the last time I had handled a military rifle was during my army cadet days some forty years ago. We were taught to fire both bren and sten guns on the range (with live ammunition) as well as 303 rifles, which had the kick of a mule on young shoulders.

My aim at the museum was nowhere near as true as it once had been. I dispatched only two of the 'enemy'.

So how did it compare to other such military museums? There was no reference to the brutal actuality of combat which one finds in other institutions. Not that the Singaporean museum glorified war either - the exhibits and storyline just seemed a safe and rather sanitised rendition of real life.

However it is early days for the museum and the displays themselves were elegantly mounted. I should also record in fairness that we did not see either of their feature shows.

As a history of the modern Singaporean Army, which is what is, it suceeded admirably.

Thursday, 27 December 2007

Never Work With Animals

Am I alone in thinking that the old adage of never working with animals and children is somehow apt?

Two events have happened in the past 24 hours that reinforces this perception.

Firstly Tatiana, the Siberian tiger in San Francisco's zoo got hungry and went for a stroll. The result one dead and two patrons seriously injured.

If that wasn't bad enough, now we have reports of a man being crushed by a circus elephant in Australia.

Given that tigers in particular are large, aggressive and agile beasts it has never ceased to amaze me that more of them have not leapt across their moated enclosures and escaped.

The Singapore Night Safari has featured their Bengal white tiger and several years ago when I watched it leaping to the top of poles with relative ease I remember thinking, what was to stop it doing the same over the nearby fence?

Now apparently, the tiger is the USA has done just that.

Wednesday, 26 December 2007

Tuesday, 25 December 2007

A Scientist's View of Christmas

I am not the author of this elegant prose but enjoyed it nevertheless. Given the season of goodwill, I share it with you:

Twas the nocturnal segment of the diurnal period preceding the annual Yuletide celebration, and throughout our place of residence, kinetic activity was not in evidence among the possessors of this potential, including that species of domestic rodent known as Mus musculus.

Hosiery was meticulously suspended from the forward edge of the wood burning caloric apparatus, pursuant to our anticipatory pleasure regarding an imminent visitation from an eccentric philanthropist among whose folkloric appellations is the honorific title of St. Nicholas.

The prepubescent siblings, comfortably ensconced in their respective accommodations of repose, were experiencing subconscious visual hallucinations of variegated fruit confections moving rhythmically through their cerebrums.

My conjugal partner and I, attired in our nocturnal head coverings, were about to take slumberous advantage of the hibernal darkness when upon the avenaceous exterior portion of the grounds there ascended such a cacophony of dissonance that I felt compelled to arise with alacrity from my place of repose for the purpose of ascertaining the precise source thereof.

Hastening to the casement, I forthwith opened the barriers sealing this fenestration, noting thereupon that the lunar brilliance without, reflected as it was on the surface of a recent crystalline precipitation, might be said to rival that of the solar meridian itself - thus permitting my incredulous optical sensory organs to behold a miniature airborne runnered conveyance drawn by eight diminutive specimens of the genus Rangifer, piloted by a minuscule, aged chauffeur so ebullient and nimble that it became instantly apparent to me that he was indeed our anticipated caller.

With his ungulate motive power travelling at what may possibly have been more vertiginous velocity than patriotic alar predators, he vociferated loudly, expelled breath musically through contracted labia, and addressed each of the octet by his or her respective cognomen - "Now Dasher, now Dancer..." et al. - guiding them to the uppermost exterior level of our abode, through which structure I could readily distinguish the concatenations of each of the 32 cloven pedal extremities.

As I retracted my cranium from its erstwhile location, and was performing a 180-degree pivot, our distinguished visitant achieved - with utmost celerity and via a downward leap - entry by way of the smoke passage. He was clad entirely in animal pelts soiled by the ebony residue from oxidations of carboniferous fuels which had accumulated on the walls thereof. His resemblance to a street vendor I attributed largely to the plethora of assorted playthings which he bore dorsally in a commodious cloth receptacle.

His orbs were scintillant with reflected luminosity, while his submaxillary dermal indentations gave every evidence of engaging amiability. The capillaries of his malar regions and nasal appurtenance were engorged with blood which suffused the subcutaneous layers, the former approximating the coloration of Albion's floral emblem, the latter that of the Prunus avium, or sweet cherry. His amusing sub- and supralabials resembled nothing so much as a common loop knot, and their ambient hirsute facial adornment appeared like small, tabular and columnar crystals of frozen water.

Clenched firmly between his incisors was a smoking piece whose grey fumes, forming a tenuous ellipse about his occiput, were suggestive of a decorative seasonal circlet of holly. His visage was wider than it was high, and when he waxed audibly mirthful, his corpulent abdominal region undulated in the manner of impectinated fruit syrup in a hemispherical container. He was, in short, neither more nor less than an obese, jocund, multigenarian gnome, the optical perception of whom rendered me visibly frolicsome despite every effort to refrain from so being. By rapidly lowering and then elevating one eyelid and rotating his head slightly to one side, he indicated that trepidation on my part was groundless.

Without utterance and with dispatch, he commenced filling the aforementioned appended hosiery with various of the aforementioned articles of merchandise extracted from his aforementioned previously dorsally transported cloth receptacle. Upon completion of this task, he executed an abrupt about-face, placed a single manual digit in lateral juxtaposition to his olfactory organ, inclined his cranium forward in a gesture of leave-taking, and forthwith effected his egress by renegotiating (in reverse) the smoke passage. He then propelled himself in a short vector onto his conveyance, directed a musical expulsion of air through his contracted oral sphincter to the antlered quadrupeds of burden, and proceeded to soar aloft in a movement hitherto observable chiefly among the seed-bearing portions of a common weed. But I overheard his parting exclamation, audible immediately prior to his vehiculation beyond the limits of visibility: "Ecstatic Yuletide to the planetary constituency, and to that self same assemblage, my sincerest wishes for a salubriously beneficial and gratifyingly pleasurable period between sunset and dawn."

Merychippus and a Hippo New Year

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.