Sunday, 13 January 2008

The World's Your Oyster

Well not quite...

News today that oysters are off the menu for lovers of that asian delicacy, the oyster omlette. As with many food stuffs from China this product has a bad press in Singapore.

80% of oyster imports from China into Singapore were rejected in 2007 and hawkers are resorting to the use of prawns as a a substitute.

Orh Luak (a name for the omlette) has a delicate taste but the oysters are very small. They bear no resembance to the large rock or Bluff oysters that I used to eat in New Zealand.

One of the more interesting food blogs in Singapore (and there are many!) is 'ieatishootipost'. Its author has three reviews of omlette eateries that are worth noting.

One final word on the subject of this food blog. I note it has a section dedicated to the Margaret Drive Food Centre which is a short walk from where we live. One look at the fried You Char Kway, Chicken Rice and Popiah and it is easy to see why my waist line is increasing.

Minister Mentor appears from time to time on our television screens. His observations are profound especially when one consider his advancing years. I particularly related to his latest comments that retirement means 'death'. He was speaking at the Silver Industry Conference and Exhibition and was widely reported.

The Christmas decorations have been taken down only to be replaced immediately by those celebrating the forthcoming Chinese New Year.

New Year goodies are 30-40% more expensive in 2008 as the price of flour has gone up, due to the world wide shortage of wheat.

As we will be travelling in the USA over Chinese New Year it will be interesting to see how San Francisco's Chinatown celebrates the festival?

Friday, 11 January 2008

Momentous Days In Many Ways

It has been a momentous couple of days.

Towards of the beginning of the week came the totally unexpected news of my appointment as an Associate Director at NUS. I felt very humbled to be acknowledged in this manner, especially as I have been at the university less than six months.

Singaporeans live and work by the creed of meritocracy. In other words, should a person demonstrate ability then this will be noted and rewarded.

Such recognition makes very pleasant change from hierarchical structures and political correctness that I left behind in New Zealand.

In Singapore the reward is not confined to an elevation in the ranks, but can also be reflected in the pocket, through the annual bonus scheme. This applies within government and universities as much as it does in private industry.

Performance bonuses are usually announced in January, so the canny Singaporeans do not leave their current employment for another company until they have the have banked their bonus cheques.

The other excitement has been our two day 'advance' (a 'retreat' is deemed too negative) on the island of Sentosa which concluded today. A most enjoyable couple of days staying overnight at the Sentosa Resort, which is extremely well appointed.

Yesterday we went to the nearby Spa Botannica for a choice of 'East West' or 'Swedish' massage. The 'East West' is purportedly more vigorous than the 'Swedish' so I opted for the latter.

Given the vigour of my masseuse and the fact that I am finding it rather difficult to walk downhill post-treatment, I would hate to think of the side effects of the 'East West' application. Presumably they try to align your body to all points of the compass, hence the title!

Several of my colleagues also revelled in the spa's mud bath but having lived in Rotorua I felt no such inclination.

We went to a beachside restaurant for a buffet evening meal and followed this up with a performance of Sentosa's Songs of the Sea (video below). While the screen play was somewhat corny the laser light, pyrotechnics and water display were spectacular.

Other events in Singapore this week included the rather embarrassing revelation that Singapore Airline's show piece A380 has been 'cast' on the grass verge of a runway and had been extricated after a day of effort.

On matters aeronautical I should also mention that Changi's Terminal 3 has opened and it was outside this spanking new structure that the A380 came to rest.

On a sadder note came the news today that the quintessential New Zealander and conqueror of Everest, Sir Edmund Hillary, had passed away.

Non-Kiwis may not even have heard of this laconic and unassuming man, but to most of my generation he epitomised everything that was best about being a New Zealander. Peter Calder of the New Zealand Herald wrote a fine tribute to him. His work for the Nepalese post-Everest was also the stuff of legend.

As Calder records "He was the New Zealander most admired by New Zealanders".

It is sad to end the week on such news, but a joy to reflect on Sir Ed's contribution to mankind.

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.