Saturday, 26 January 2008

Let's Hear it for the Beeb

Sometimes I am reminded that this blog is not just a self indulgent stream of consciousness. There are actually people who break, or add to, the daily tedium of their lives by reading it!

So it was when I received some feedback recently from an expat recently relocated to Singapore and who had followed my ramblings, as an information source prior to her shift.

Having lived in Singapore since September 2006 it is easy to forget the little things one needs to know when moving to a new country. With such readers in minds I thought I would recap on my early comments and suggestions

The efficiency of local public transport has been mentioned in this blog before and there is news in today that the MRT system is to be further extended with two additional lines. The buses are in the main very efficiently run although the quality & cleanliness of some vehicles leaves a lot to be desired. Taxis are comparatively cheap when compared to other countries and private cars are expensive to own and operate.

I have no desire to own a car here for the above reasons and with the possible exception of supermarket shopping, there is no reason to do so.

One big suggestion I would make is to bring with you, or purchase upon arrival, a radio capable of tuning into overseas stations. While I listen to a lot of radio via the Internet nowadays if you are a person who likes to hear what is happening in the big wide world, don't rely on the local Singaporean media to inform you.

In the main the programming of both radio and free to air television is parochial in its vision and content is very patchy. There are a few exceptions and Channel News Asia is one, although as its title suggests its focus is largely Asia. Not that I personally have any problem with the control of media here, it is simply a case of variety in one's listening diet.

BBC Radio has been a godsend in keeping us informed. Fortunately the 'Beeb' has a station base (relay?) in Singapore which has a powerful signal. I also use the web to subscribe to various podcasts from around the world and to scan online newspapers. That way I can create my own media channel and view it and as when I like.

A word about the local Mediacorp artistes (and I used this term advisedly). As Mediacorp owns and operates the free-to-air channels and there is a very small talent pool, the same faces can be found in situation comedies, gameshows, introducing documentary features and traipsing around the food courts, sighing orgasmically at every mouthful of local hawker fare.

This is not to suggest that there aren't a couple of talented people amongst the performers, it is just that they are totally over exposed.

Eating Noodles

Thursday, 24 January 2008

Year Of The Rat

It's also the cold and flu season. I sense this because there is a cacophony of coughing and rowdy throat clearing throughout the MRT cabin. I have also managed to catch the head cold virus that is going around and for the past couple of days it has laid me low.

At least it happened now and not next week when we will be getting ready to board a long haul aircraft to the States.

Preparations are in full swing for the forthcoming New Year. This Chinese New Year is the Year of the Rat, my sign. Equally importantly & according to Chinese mythology it is more precisely known as the year of the Earth Rat.

Talking of Rattus Rattus, there is a nest of them just outside the entry of my place of work. Sometimes in the early morning I will spot one disappearing under the large concrete slab that protects their nest.

Also at this time of year the price of Bak Kwa rises dramatically. I note that this traditional barbequed meat has joined the age of the internet and one can actually purchase it online. In older times it was only available around New Year but now one can buy it at any time. The current online price is $43 but this will no doubt rise further, which is more than can be said for world share markets at the moment.

Buying shares is a passion for many Singaporeans and I fear many of them got burnt in the spate of panic selling that has traversed the globe in recent days. It is hard to know if the worst is over as today there has been a 4% rise in value across the Singaporean board.

Today's Image

Dusk - Sentosa

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.