Wednesday, 31 December 2008

Additional back-up mechanisms to be installed at S'pore Flyer

Additional independent back-up mechanisms are going to be installed at the Singapore Flyer, over and above the current standby generator, to ensure the wheel keeps moving - Straits Times

Sunday, 28 December 2008

Ibrahaim The Kite King

Ibrahaim was the kite king of Orchard Road some fifty years ago. He owned a small salibat stall; a more primitive version of Kopitiam stalls found around Singapore today.

He was well known to the children of Kramat Lane for his prowess with kites, even though he was then in his early thirties and they were in the main, under ten. Kramat Lane as it was then, with its open canal-sized drains, no longer exists. These deadly ditches have long since been covered over and hotels have taken the place of factories and shop houses.

Kite flying was and remains very popular in Singapore and in a weekend evening of Marine Parade you can often see kite contests underway. And I do mean 'contests' as kite flying here has a competitive edge to it.

References to
Malay kite flying were recorded early in the 16th century with the very earliest using a skin of leaves, reminiscent of the early Maori kite's use of plant materials. 'A study in Polynesian Tradition' 1931, by Nora K. Chadwick suggests that kites were long used in the Malay archipelago to catch fish. There are other references to kites being used by fishermen in the Malay-Polynesian archipelago, a system used to this day.

The aim of kite fighting is to severe the string one's opponent through the use of a carefully prepared
abrasive string.

In the '50's children used to carefully save blown filament light bulbs, They would surreptitiously 'borrow' their mothers pestal and mortar and grind the glass bulbs into an abrasive dust. The metal filament itself was removed from the mix.

A block of the red builders glue made from cow skins would be heated up in old and cleaned tin cans and the powdered glass would be added.

One of the most important attributes was to secure an extremely long and unbroken reel of cotton as any knots and joins in the reel were a potential weakness.

The cotton was pulled through the glue and glass mixture and then strung between trees or poles to dry. There were often many cut hands during this preparatory process but the end result was a strong cutting string to which the kite was attached.

Kite fighting and
tactics to defeat an opponent remain a serious business as the number of Singaporean blog and web sites testify. There is even an active association to promote the sport.

Clearly and unlike in the West, the expression "Go Fly A Kite' has a more positive meaning.

Saturday, 27 December 2008

How to Tell If You’re Eating Made-in-China Food

One of the most interesting sites in Singapore is Talking Cock.com. Their humour can be hard hitting but often very funny at the same time.

I particularly enjoy their Singlish Dictionary of commonly used terms. This was one of their contributions that appealed:
------------------------------------------------------------

So we’re all worried now about buying food that’s made in China because of all the melamine and donno-what-else their unscrupulous manufacturers are putting into it. But sometimes even products that are labelled as coming from elsewhere could have used Chinese ingredients. Seow leow! Like that, how? Dun scared!

Here’s a handy guide on: How to Tell If You’re Eating Made-in-China Food

1. You’re not actually enjoying a romantic candelit dinner. It’s just that your vegetables are glowing.

2. Before you drank that made-in-China milk, you had only two nipples instead of eight.

3. Your family of five ordered a made-in-China turkey for Christmas, and somehow, everybody managed to get a drumstick.

4. After eating, whenever you burp, the TV switches to Channel 8.

5. The slogan on your microwaveable meal is “Just like your peidu mama used to make.”

6. You can tell your chicken comes from China when it’s always loudly spitting phlegm.

7. Think clearly: when was the last time you had to peel a pork rib before eating it?

8. When you squeeze the Chinese tomato, it says in a Beijing accent, “Mmm, bu yao ma, da ge!” (“Ooh, big brother, don’t!”)

9. Those made-in-China Mentos? Made from 100% real Men’s toes.

10. You keep having to visit the Great Bowl of China.

Friday, 26 December 2008

A Head for Heights

I do not enjoy heights any more. This is why I prefer to be on the 7th floor of our condo rather than in a penthouse on the 38th floor. Well actually there is also another reason for this decision - price - but I digress.

Why do I mention this? Well last year a new tourist attraction opened in Singapore with a great fanfare.

The Singapore Flyer aimed to better the London Eye by providing a view from a great height of Singapore and neighbouring Malaysia (if the heat haze or smog had dissipated enough to see the landmass). The "world's largest observation wheel" we were informed was a marvel of engineering and reliability.

It may be an attraction to others but the idea of being encapsulated for nigh on forty minutes in an air-conditioned metal cocoon while ascending the heights has no appeal to me whatsoever.

I had turned down a previous opportunity on an NUS staff outing to go aloft and I never regretted the decision, preferring instead to stay with my feet firmly on terra firma.

On Xmas Eve a fire broke out in the Flyer's control room and the wheel ground to a halt trapping 176 people for more than six hours. Ten passengers on capsules closest to the ground were encourage to abseil down ropes to safety.




I am eternally grateful that I did not patronise the Flyer and after this incident there has been serious scutiny of the Wheel and its operations. The wheel is currently closed down and one hopes that the small matter of an ancillary backup motor to rescue stranded passengers will be addressed, should an incident such as this reoccur. Currently according to press reports there is no such backup mechanism, hence the use of ropes to 'disembark'.

The retailers at the base of the wheel are having a hard time and are calling for compensation as this time of year is normally where heavy bookings above translate to good business below.

Given the economic dowturn I intend to remain with my feet firmly on the ground - in all senses of the term.

Thursday, 25 December 2008

Lighting Up Christmas

By a conservative estimate probably 70%+ of Singaporeans awoke today with the thought of celebrating the trappings of Xmas - the unwrapping of gifts, the wails of excited children grazing their knees as they fell of new bikes and for the more religious who celebrate the festival, a visit to the nearest church.

Most of all Christmas is a time for children. My mother was English and I recall many pleasurable Xmas mornings checking out the 'stocking' at the end of the bed, in the wee hours of the morning after Santa had paid a visit. There was always an orange right at the toe of the sock and this was followed by small gifts & sticky toffees.

Infrequently a larger item was to be found in the bedroom - my first tricycle arrived in this fashion. Usually though the larger and family gifts were to be found at the base of the Xmas tree in the lounge. No artificial plastic varieties of tree here.

We always had a real tree as did everyone else in our small Taranaki town. We lived at 90 Browne Street in Waitara and the pungent of a pine still reminds me of those days and the time we took prior to Xmas in decorating the tree.

Here in Singapore there are others of different faiths, to whom this day means very little in a religious sense. It is they who man the shopping malls and food courts.

Finally there are people like myself who awoke to a full menu of spring cleaning duties scheduled in advance by my wife, which included the cleaning of lounge lights and fittings and pondering over the reasons as to why a replacement fluorescent tube was failing to illuminate?

Banal as it seems there is some satisfaction in getting these domestic chores out of the way before taking the free bus to Anchorage shopping centre for a Xmas lunch. For the past two years (as I have previously recorded in this epistle) we frequented the Xmas buffet at Le Meridien Hotel.

Two things have happened in the intervening twelve months. The hotel has been bought and renamed and we weighed up the cost of this repast and decided for the money we could do better. I used to be a fan of the esteemed Singapore buffet but no longer. This style of eating encourages gluttony and I need no encouragement at all!

So early afternoon we tucked into a meal of turkey at Jacks Place, doffed out glittery party hats to all assembled and departed to Dawsons shopping centre to pick up replacement light tubes.

This is the joy of Singapore, the shops never close and it is always possible to pick up such commodities as and when one requires them.

The rest of the afternoon has been spent loading up my new work laptop with files required for my travel to Hong Kong and trying to get my large spatulate fingers accustomed to the very small and textured mouse button that is hiding itself quite successfully in the centre of the keyboard.

Already the local supermarkets are getting prepared for the really big celebration that happens in a month's time - Chinese New Year. The festival this year will celebrate the Year of the Ox. As I sit trying to digest today's Xmas meal I feel an affinity with the oxen in question.

Sunday, 14 December 2008

A Pleasing Hum

A hard disk that develops a whine is a disconcerting thing. Mine has progressively been rising up the decibel scale and has reached the stage where the noise had to be interpreted as a plea for renewal.

When I think about it, my trusty Dell has given good service these past four years, despite the rigours of a country relocation and numerous other house shifts around Auckland before that.

It is interesting to reflect how 'state of the art' four years ago is now consigned to the dustbin of history with new computers quadrupling their performance and capacity in the intervening years.

The upshot of all this was a trip yesterday to the Dell shop on the second level of SunTec City shopping mall where a charming sales person relieved me of $S1,700 and promised delivery of my new system within five to seven days.

They are able to meet these deadlines as Dell is manufactured to order in neighbouring Malaysia.

I have chosen a Dell Optiplex 760 Minitower a small business model of PC very similar in specification to that installed at the National University of Singapore during my time there.

Over Xmas I will have the unenviable task of reinstalling all the programmes that I use and hooking back up to Singtel.

Once thing that is obvious at the moment is the probability of striking some very good deals at the moment in Singapore and this I did with my PC purchase. With the economic situation as it is, the retailers are pacing nervously outside of their outlets and with a bit of bargaining it is possible to get more for less.

No doubt had I waited until 2009 to replace the equipment I could have got the computer even cheaper. However this was a case of "needs must" and I could not wait any longer.

I should also mention the beauty of the range of external hard drives now available. I am using one that stores 550 gigabytes of data more than enough to store my entire digital life including an entire music collection and several years worth of photography.

After cementing a beautiful relationship with Dell we walked across the second level foot bridge to Marina Square complex for lunch at The Coffee Club. Here again the crowds such as they were, were window shopping with few couples actually buying.

Monday, 8 December 2008

Singapore - Xmas Activities


" World's Tallest Chocolate sculpture" - Centrepoint Mall


Soft Toy Xmas Tree - Takashamaya


Two weeks out from Xmas day and the Malls are doing their best to attract shoppers, with varying degrees of success.

There are a lot of people out and about but, given the economic times, few of them are clutching shopping bags when they exit the stores.

There has been huge investment made in Orchard Road before the economic bubble burst and it will be interesting to see who survives and who does not when two new malls open at opposite ends of the main shopping thoroughfare in 2009?

Imported festive cheer is very expensive. An an example, a small Xmas cake that we bought in Marks and Spencer in London two weeks ago for a little more than five pound is retailing in Marks & Spencer, Singapore at $45.

Today is a public holiday in Singapore - Hari Raya Haji . It is an important date in the Muslim calendar and is celebrated as such in Singapore by the Malay and sectors of the Indian community.

Saturday, 29 November 2008

Cooler Climes & Mushy Peas

It snowed in London. The flakes were not large but they were enough to cover park benches in Russell Square(see photo below).

Having just spent two weeks in the UK the cool climate proved to be a welcome change from the stickiness of Singapore.

The fourteen hour flight from Changi to Manchester airport was long but relatively pleasant as only "cattle class" in a jumbo jet can be.

I confess to some nerves as the BA flight turned out to be a code share arrangement with Qantas who have developed the nasty habit recently of having major maintenance instances enroute. Fortunately this proved not to be the case on our flight.

Being a night flight I popped half a sleeping tablet and slept a good six hours enroute. It is the only time I take such medication but is an old trick learnt from businessman who was a frequent flyer.

I had expected dark satanic mills so it was a pleasant surprise to note that the streets were wide and the environs more modern than my original expectation. Manchester was primarily a business destination for me so I saw little of it, except for a guided tour of the Manchester United facilities at Old Trafford, where my conference was being held.

ManU. is a spartan but impressive set up behind the scenes. One of the more interesting challenges they have is to get the grass to grow.

Large light banks resembling irrigators roll around the pitch on wheels, attached by an umbilical heavy duty power cable. This deployment encourages photosynthesis although the swath still looked patchy to me.

The Macdonald Manchester Hotel has much to commend it with large modern rooms and appointments. It was here that I sampled once again that great British staple, fish and chips with mushy peas. I also renewed my acquaintance with another English breakfast delight - the black pudding. This was not such a pleasurable experience and I only sampled it on one occasion.

After three days in the north of England we flew south to the capital. London was drier and more mild on the day of our arrival. The Grange White Hall Hotel is located in Montague Street, Bloomsbury and is a typical Edwardian styled establishment.

The hotel's web site praises its "sumptuous comfort" but that is stretching credibility. It has great location with a short stroll across Russell Square to the Tube and the No.7 bus from Oxford Circus stopping a few yards down the street.

The rooms are clean but 'compact' as most London hotels of this vintage are. The staff are all of foreign nationality, friendly and helpful.

The exception was the Japanese room cleaner whose poor grasp of English saw her recycling our wet towels back on to the room racks, despite the fact that the written room instructions clearly requested that guests place dirty towels in the bath for collection. She was under the mistaken impression that towels in the bath meant that we did not want to change the linen so she dutifully hung them back up.

Heating was provided by water filled radiators which meant that we slept with the windows ajar to avoid suffocation.

I walked into Trafalgar Square each morning with business colleagues who were staying in our hotel and it was a pleasant experience striding through Convent Garden and weaving our way through small back streets.

As stated above, the weather was variable from milder temperatures to the odd snow flurry but a good coat, scarf and gloves saw us well protected. With the onset of winter is got dark early in the evening but by that time we were safely back in the hotel.

During the weekend I visited the British Museum which backed on to our hotel. This was my second visit and it proved as popular as ever with tourists who crowded around the Rosetta stone and other treasures. Not that one could actually see the Rosetta Stone as a Chinese tour group had surrounded it and were taking turns posing for pictures. Their behaviour was as usual boorish.

The Museum had a series of modern sculptures in it galleries (see image above) and a gilded Kate Moss posed as a contortionist was a crowd favourite. I would like to think that she did not have to pose for the artist in the course of its making.

The other trip highlight was the mulled wine and lunches at nearby The Plough pub, a friendly establishment in Museum Street.

See the photos in this gallery.

Sunday, 16 November 2008

Send Your Sinuses To Singapore

The Vicks inhaler was rammed up his left nostril. His eyes were closed in a feigned slumber as the rhythm of the MRT lulled the passengers bound for Redhill.

What at first glance seems slightly incongruous becomes less so the longer one lives in Singapore.

Sinusitis is a significant problem in this part of the world. There used to be an advert shown on New Zealand television that extolled the virtues of a preparatory medicine. It guaranteed that by taking the product one would "send your sinuses to Arizona".

This is one reason I have never had an inclination to visit Arizona. I also now believe that the geographic accuracy of the advertisement's claim leaves much to be desired. Most of the sinuses ended up here in Singapore instead.

Much of life takes place in an air-conditioned environment and maintenance of these units should be, but is not always, a priority. The result is nasal congestion.

Similarly, the advent of green awareness in Singapore has seen more people switching off their "aircons" and going back to more energy efficient devices such as electric fans.

Not that this alleviates the allergies. Dust and other pollutants are simply distributed in a different manner and pollution is a problem here, especially so when the Indonesians decide to ignore their neighbours health and fire half the countryside.

With the current focus on heritage matters in this country what an opportune time to revert to that stalwart of colonial times, the 'punkah wallah'. The humble bearer pulled a cord that in turn gently raised and lowered a canvas flap, generated a breeze within the house.

This might be just the thing to re-employ the dozens of foreign workers that will be sent home as a result of the downturn in the Singaporean economy.

There is however one serious flaw in my labour redistribution plan. While the colonial bungalows of old Singapore could easily revert to this system of cooling, most of us now live in high rise condos or on HDB estates.

The small balconies outside where the airconditioning units are perched were never designed for a squatting and loin-clothed figure pulling listessly on a grimy piece of string.

Until they solve this architectural challenge I will snuffle my way to the chemist for another inhaler refill.

Sunday, 9 November 2008

Leaning To The Right And Languishing Libido

The libido of Singaporeans has been in the headlines again. This is not a new topic as the government grapples with how to encourage Singaporeans reproduce themselves at a faster rate than they are at present.

Perhaps I should qualify this by saying it is really certain sections of society that are not doing their bit to grow the population. From what is reported in the papers the Malay population is doing rather nicely but the Chinese are lagging behind.

It has now been revealed that the sperm count is part of the problem. The solution, a band aid of testosterone, although the media doesn't report which part of the body this aid should be adhered to.

Could it be that the years of compulsory military training under the hot sun have been a contributing factor to the lack of libido? A combination of tightly fitting uniform and exhausting humidity would be enough for any self respecting sperm to call it a day.

Apparently and in a more serious vein (if you will excuse the pun), burn-out and obesity are significant contributing factors.

Whatever the cause, one in five Singaporean men are suffering the effects which are striking the male population in their mid forties rather than the expected sixties.

Better news this week from an expatriate New Zealander's perspective, is the change of government in that country. I am particularly delighted to see the demise of New Zealand First and its leader Winston Peters.

This right wing group had actively sought to alienate Asians from society and played to the baser instincts of older generations and the insular-minded who feared that they were being overrun by 'foreigners'.

Thankfully Singapore does not entertain the ridiculous MMP system of representation, which sees minority parties having power over policy development well beyond the realities of their election results.

In short, a small party can hold a major party to ransom and there is little stability - an essential building block for a cohesive and prosperous society.

A contributing reason for my leaving New Zealand two years ago was the political environment at that time and I now look forward to seeing what a National government under John Key can do.

Friday, 31 October 2008

Nervous Nurse and Miss Gongeniality 1950

Nervous Nurse and Miss Congeniality 1950 were sitting at the bus stop again today, metres yet worlds apart.

The former casting a furtive glance at her companions while vigorously massaging her temple and earlobes.

Clad in a tired yet well pressed blue uniform, she was heading for work in Orchard Road.

Miss Congeniality 1950's wardrobe was of a different cut entirely. A ray of faded sophistication, she exuded a prim confidence with her piped black dress and matching jacket, a designer handbag of doubtful vintage and a tightly permed bouffant hairdo.

We were lost in thought while waiting for our morning bus to arrive, planning the day in our heads as beads of perspiration formed on our foreheads.

With a sharp clack Miss Congeniality 1950 opened her handbag and extracted a primly folded paper tissue which she proceeded to dab carefully over her powder caked face.

Being on the plumpish side, the rubbish bin at the far end of the seat proved a singularly unattractive proposition so she deposited the used tissue back into her bag.

These then are my regular companions each morning. Impervious to my cheery greeting they neither salute the day nor each other.

Wednesday, 29 October 2008

Five Score Years And Ten

This day has dawned with a singular lack of salutation.

Not that it matters in the broader scheme of things, but I am entitled to reflect upon the fact that sixty years ago I came into the world.

At that time a person retired from the workforce but in this day and age we aim for a longer life and shorter retirement period.

I was born in Waitara, a small town in Taranaki which is a regional province of New Zealand. Waitara's sole claim to fame was a large and very dirty river on whose banks a freezing works had been placed. This slaughterhouse processed the livestock from the agriculturally rich hinterlands.

In its early history sailing ships and other small lighters would ply their trade up the river to the wharf braving a treacherous bar at the river mouth. Each spring tide would in later years reveal the steel bones of those who perished doing so.

As a youngster my school friends and I would take our large muslin nets and go whitebaiting in the river or using a treble hooked 'spinner', jagging at the Blood Shoot. The latter action meant hand casting one's line as far out as possible into the offaly murk and then pull it back in swiftly in a jerky action. There was no finesse about this fishing but it brought results.

My father was the town's barrister and solicitor and in later years, a Judge of the Maori Land Court. My mother was an English bride who met and married my father as a result of their meeting when he was in service in World war Two. Captured in Crete he spent several years in Prisoner of War camps in Germany, an experience which he rarely spoke about until much later in life.

I recall I spent my formative years in a modest weatherboard house at 90 Brown Street and would make my way to Waitara Central school when I was a little older, descending a set of steps near Clifton Hill, known as the Zigzag.

Entertainment was kicking a rugby ball around the front lawn and abiding passion for conjuring with pocket money saved and purchases made through deLarno's Magic Centre in Christchurch's Chancery Lane. Our next door neighbour at the time, Jack Oliver, was a gifted amateur magician who proved added motivation. My other love was entertaining my friends with handmade puppets courtesy of my mother's sewing prowess.

Circuses also figured highly in my aspirations at the time and the visiting Worth's and other large circuses are fond memories. I recall being able to balance broom sticks on the tip of my nose from an early age which probably explain a lot about my nasal profile in later life.

Another thing I recall from my first decade of life was an interest in radio. Blobs of hot solder etched their way into my bedroom floor as I struggled to make crystal sets that could pick up the local New Plymouth radio station 2XP. An enormously long aerial wire was strung up from my bedroom window to a pole attached to the chook house.

The value of ceramic insulators was reinforced when I experiences a riveting 'tingle' during a particularly severe electrically storm. Hand winding coils on old toilet roll cylinders was another skill I mastered and they served as a crude tuning apparatus.

Learning to make crude gunpowder out of saltpetre, sugar and charcoal was another lesson in life. Motivated by each passing Guy Fawkes Day we would pack this explosive into old golden syrup tins, insert a wick and detonate the crude devices with glee. Not that my parents were aware of this and we were lucky not to blow ourselves up in the process.

Now sixty years on I am living in Singapore, surveying the world from a marbelled condominium and commuting each day on a doouble decker bus.

It seems a lifetime away from a small Taranaki town and today at sixty reminds me that it is.

Saturday, 18 October 2008

Man Savages Chicken


Nothing happens in Singapore without a celebration of food. As the picture above testifies the potluck luncheon is still very much in vogue. Yours truly is depicted coming to grips (quite literally) with a large and slippery roast chicken.

Friday marked the conclusion of my first week in a new job at the British Council in Singapore. I have enjoyed it although, as with any new employment, there is always plenty to learn.

In the middle of next month there will be a lengthy flight to Manchester and London for a conference and meetings and without doubt a shock to the system to experience the chill of a late British autumn. Luckily the warm winter coats we purchased during our holiday in San Francisco at the start of this year will come in handy once again.

I have a new cell phone - an HTC Touch Diamond. It's a sophisticated device that does just about everything except making coffee (and no doubt they are working on that in the test lab as I write). The Touch Diamond uses touch technology which means there is now an excuse for the greasy finger marks that usually decorates every appliance in the tropics.

I discovered its camera yesterday on a trip to Carrefour and it is amazing how the technology has developed, as this little gadget has a camera that is more than 3 megapixels. In 2001 when I purchased a digital camera for a university, 3.1 megapixels was the industry standard for camera and mobile phones were still the size of half a brick......well alright let's be generous, a quarter of a brick.

Monday, 13 October 2008

Gorilla In The Mall


In the main, the mall architecture in Singapore is impressive as is the interior design. There are however some rather obvious exceptions.

Our nearest mall, Anchorpoint, has sprouted a very strange juxtaposition of a kangaroo, a gorilla and some pirates - a sort of spot the odd one out if you will.

The gorilla in question is crouching by some articial shubbery in the basement level of the mall. In contrast, a mouse of the Disney variety occupies one of the upper level restaurant areas and is attracting youngsters of all ages to its fare which is billed as 'healthy'.

Quite why Captain Hook is guarding his dubloons while eyeballing a kangaroo remains a complete mystery?

Saturday, 11 October 2008

Stem Cells and Meltdowns

I am in a pensive mood. It was announced this week that scientists have discovered that testicles are an excellent source of stem cells. This speaks volumes for the Vienna Boy's Choir and coupled with the news that Singapore is thinking of legalising organ donations makes for worrying times.

More worrying for most of the world is the economic meltdown taking place. Not that you would know there was a credit crunch from the multitudes enjoying the free fashion shows and sales at Takashimaya today.

With Nero-like fortitude Singaporeans continue to purchase bucket-loads of 'bling' and haunt the handbag displays at Tang's emporium.

I have now officially left academia as my last day on the NUS staff register was two days ago. My new employment with the British Council starts this coming Monday and I am very much look forward to it.

Already I have a couple of weeks in London mid-November and this will provide a chance to re-acquaint myself with the city.

Monday, 6 October 2008

Yehlui Bound and Good Luck Charms

There is much more to Taiwan than its capital city Taipei. For a start it has a centre spine of mountainous terrain and a coast line very reminiscent of New Zealand.

Interestingly the ancestors of New Zealand's Maori and all Polynesian peoples came from this island as both tribal custom, linguistics and genetics have recently proven.

Following the typhoon hiatus mentioned in my previous post we spent a day touring the northern part of Taiwan and one of the highlights was Yehliu, a headland of wind and wave-sculpted sandstone shapes.



Queens Head with Tour Group

Not that one could see many of rocks that well with the bus loads on Chinese tourist dogging our every step and a guardian with a piercing whistle doing his best to shoo them away from the more unstable structures (which they had a propensity to hug).

The Queens Head (pictured above) is the most famous of the rocks at Yehliu but there are others with more dramatic sculptural forms.

Taiwanese are known for their fish and fresh catch was abundant in the markets. Evidence of this fishing activity was everywhere, from the fleets of squid boats tied up at the jetties to the solitary individuals perched on rocks, rod in hand and braving the incoming swells.


Fisherman
Roger Smith 10/2008


From Yehliu we travelled along the coast and then inland, taking in the usual tourist traps laid out by our tour guide. A couple of these are worthy of mention.

The first was the Mau products shop. The Rukai (Mau) are one of the indigenous tribes of Taiwan and have a great marketing pitch. Their shop specialised in the rejuvenating powers of dried fawn foetuses (which they handed around for inspection) and royal jelly which apparently allowed the former first lady and fourth wife of Chiang Kai-shek, Soong May-ling , to live to well into her nineties.

Needless to say their was no 'essence of fawn' packed into our luggage for the return journey.

The final shopping stop was at a shop that sold jade charms to ward off anything from acid reflux to losses on the sharemarket; the latter being foremost in most people's thoughts at the time of our visit.

While I do not claim to be an expert on jade I do recognise crude carving of this precious mineral when I see it and many of the offerings on sale were just that. Only one couple in our small group were interested in a purchase.

Our tour guide we observed, was wearing one of the charms although he confessed later that he only had become a tour guide in later years after his business had been wiped out by an early typhoon. So much for good luck charms we thought to ourselves. It obviously had not done him much good.

Much to the amusement of my wife and one of the Cantonese in our group we noted that the address of the shop concerned was '158'. To the superstitious Cantonese the numbers '5' and '8' together mean "never prosper". There is a rather delicious irony on the fact that a Lucky Charms establishment should have the misfortune (in the eyes on some Chinese) of a street address such as this.

The final stop for the day was the Shilin Night Market, a 'pasar malam' to use the term better known to most Singaporeans. It is well known for its food and a favourite is the oyster omlette. We gave this a miss having eaten it before in Singapore and having noted how oily the local version was.

The market itself has the usual cheap knock-offs of clothing and accessories. The only thing that really caught my eye was a selection of loudly squawking rubber chickens although I couldn't figure out to how to get it back to Singapore without causing a considerable degree of panic in the Customs Hall!

Saturday, 4 October 2008

Typhoon In Taipei



I had thought of calling this entry the Jangmi Jinx as this was the name of the typhoon that followed us to Taipei just a few short hours after we had arrived.

Mercifully our flight from Singapore was only four and a half hours and we beat the storm to the island. Later, as can be seen from this news video above, things got decidely worse.

We had chosen to go to Taiwan for a short break between jobs and because we had never been there. For me the attraction was to get to visit the National Place Museum and view the greatest Chinese treasure that had been whisked across the Strait ahead of the advancing communists.

It was an hour's trip by minibus from the airport to our hotel - the Fortune Hiayat (note this is not the Hyatt). The transport smelt of second hand cigarette smoke and this proved to be a recurring prospect throughout our holiday. I won't dwell on the merits of the hotel but readers can see my online review - “Give The Fortune Haiyatt A Miss!” which I have placed on TripAdvisor.

I am not sure what it is about Taipei? It is a city that looks tired and listless with large swarths of grimy buildings reminiscent of Singapore's Chinatown of thirty to forty years ago. There are some bright patches with new building work, especially in the area near Taipei City Hall.

The much vaunted Taipei 101 Mall is no better or worse than the Singaporean malls whereas the New York, New York complex across the road is far from inspiring.

On the plus side, the Taiwanese are very friendly people always willing to assist a visitor if they they are able to. The green spaces are numerous and the MRT is efficient, providing you are staying close by to a station, which we were not.

Scooters are a very popular mode of transport as can be seen in this photograph. Don't be surprised that when the pedestrian sign goes green and you start to cross the road, a scooter of two weave their way around you.

The road rules seem quite flexible in this regard.

Another interesting fact is that the populace take a Typhoon Holiday not only during the storm but also on the following day.

We discovered this when we took a taxi to the National Palace Museum the day after the typhoon had moved through the capital. The weather was overcast but quite pleasant. Upon arrival at the Museum we discovered a sign that told us the place was closed due to the typhoon! I have never heard of a major museum being closed in such circumstances and they would have lost a lot of business and goodwill as a result.

Towards the end of our stay we returned to the museum and the collection is simply stunning in its artistry and breadth. My favourite was a small jade that was crafted to emulate a cube of stewed pork although a Jadeite Cabbage with Insects is the most famous.

A small album of images


Fishmonger - Taipei

More images can be viewed by clicking here .

Friday, 26 September 2008

Raining On The Parade

As I write we are experiencing a tropical deluge with accompanying gunshots of thunder and lightening flashes.

Nothing too unusual about this given that we are in the Tropics and the rain comes as welcome relief after a week of high humidity and brain-numbing heat.

The big difference is that today is the first time the Formula One drivers get in their cars to try out Singapore's new road circuit ahead of Sunday's grand prix.

The F1 Night race is not resonating with most Singapore's despite the media's attempt to talk up the event. I have yet to find anyone who is going to see the race in person. Some politely say they think they might watch it on TV but I actually doubt that many will.

Most comment has been about the inconvenience to public transport and the lack of custom in the large shopping malls due to road closures.

Welcome to the world of street circuit racing! These events are by their very nature disruptive.

I recall promoters in Auckland, New Zealand desperately trying to convince the local City Council of the economic benefits to that city when in reality, it would have seen the main arterial route into the city from the North Shore completely cut. Fortunately the race did not go ahead.

Here in Singapore millions have been spent of lighting and other infrastructure for the world's first F1 night race. I hope they see a return on their reported $105 million investment. When public statements in the media a week before the event switch to talking about 'intangible benefits' then one gets the sense there is a growing realisation that the receipts are not going to match the outlay?

I am not against motor sport, far from it - I even belonged to a car club at one stage in my life. I have however worked in, and been associated with, international events so I recognise hype over substance when I see it.

F1 is no different in many respects from yachting's America's Cup. It is a rich man's sport projected to the masses. Along the way it sells motoring product, but to the rich list followers it is just another event on the annual social calendar. It also transpires of course that these super rich moguls rarely pay to attend the races as they are feted by corporations and the finance sector who cover all expenses to get them track side.

Commentators should therefore not be surprised that the people in the Heartland are tuning their TV's to watch English soccer in preference to motor racing. This event has little relevance to their daily lives and the cost of tickets mean that they are unlikely to attend in person.

Some will even be leaving Singapore to escape from the event if reports in the local papers can be believed.

Wednesday, 24 September 2008

Killem Tru

"Killem Pest, Simply the Best" proclaimed the T shirt. It was worn by a slight man on his way to work on the MRT.

The slogan reminded me of two things. Firstly the Papua New Guinea pidgin language that I was used to hearing in the Highland of that country where a similarly sounding word to "killem" is deployed, usually in the context of "kilim tru" i.e. make sure he, she or it is truly dead!

Not a very reassuring phrase if one is being chased by a kukakuka tribesman with the pig tusks through his nasal septum turned skywards.

The second thought that came to me is about the pests that one finds in the tropics - the cockroaches of various sizes and hues, ants of every scale and description and not forgetting the ever-present mosquitoes which carry a variety of nasty diseases.

Pest control is a growth business in Singapore and at certain times of the year 'fogging' is all the rage with large clouds of presumably noxious chemicals smoking out the hiding places of every creepy crawly.

I am not sure what the chemical make up of this 'fog' actually is, but what continues to surprise me is that very few of the operators wear protective masks as they apply the mixture.

Seeing the pest control man on the MRT yesterday was part of a final journey to Buena Vista MRT station and onwards on the 95 bus to my former place of work, the National University of Singapore. I will not miss this trip.

If I got to my Queenstown station by 7 am then the journey was reasonably comfortable. Afterwards the crowds packed the carriages especially in recent times where more and more people have been leaving their vehicles at home and turning to public transport. The wait for the 95 bus at the Buena Vista bus stop was the worst part of the journey - hot, sticky with little moving air, one often was left feeling in need of a second morning shower.

Now I am temporarily a man of leisure, with a couple of week's annual leave to use up before commencing my new job with the British Council, based in Singapore.

Quite apart from the new Director's post, I am looking forward to renewing my acquaintance with an old favourite - the 111 bus - which will transport me to the British Council in the Tanglin area.

But this is three weeks away and in the interim I have a holiday in Taipei to look forward to.

Sunday, 14 September 2008

Mongols in the Fall

The carpet of yellow and red stretched for as far as the eye could see.

From 25,000 feet it was a scene I remember well - the Canadian Fall. "Fall" always seems such an appropriate and utilitarian term for the season of "autumn".

Apparently we have the French to blame for the term "autumn" as it comes from the Old French word autompne and was later normalized to the original Latin word autumnus. Before the 14th century however the season was known as "harvest" a solid, self-explanatory and sensible British term!

Why do I mention the above while being safely ensconced in tropical Singapore away from all of the vagaries of the aforementioned season?

The answer is very simple - we are currently celebrating the Mid-Autumn festival, an event which is actually the Moon festival and dates back some 3,000 years to the Chinese Shang Dynasty.

The mid-Autumn date is the time that the Moon is meant to be at its most beautiful and everyone admires it.

There are no falling leaves in Singapore in the autumnal sense, just expanding waistlines as everyone buys and samples Moon cakes. These 'weight-watcher delights' are given as networking and relationship building gifts not only to family and friends but also by corporates to valued clients.

Legend also has it that the Mongols where overthrown during this time by embedding messages related to the popular uprising inside Moon Cakes.

Now the only embedding that takes place is the insertion of new and exotic fillings within the crust. Each year there are more and more unusal fillings literally breaking the mold.

This year for instance I have sampled; champagne Moon Cakes, rum liqueur varieties, roast chicken/pepper & lotus, bilious green pandan versions, green tea and even durian moon cakes.

I remain however a traditionalist with a strong preference for lotus paste and double egg yolk, the latter being salted duck eggs which are a strong counterpoint to the cloying sweetness of the lotus paste.

One is of course meant to take a small slice of the cake and have it with tea. The novice Ang Mo may attempt to eat a whole cake at one sitting but I doubt that this attempt would ever be repeated - they are simply far too rich.

There are also quite distinct regional variations of this delicacy. I prefer the Cantonese style crust which is a red-brown and baked. Also popular in Singapore are the Teochew style which is a flaky pastry version that is deep fried.

I confess to being "moon-caked out"! Yesterday we visited Takashimaya department store and in the centre court there were dozens of stores featuring mid-Autumn goodies and there was much sampling to be had. After doing the rounds of the various stalls we both felt rather ill from too many sweet offerings.

As a footnote I should also record that after more eight years of working in the university world I am leaving to take up a new role as Director of Online Operations(East Asia), for a well known international organisation that has its regional hub based in Singapore.

This is a challenge that I am very much looking forward to and, as my work will involve travel to at least 12 countries in the region, I will be able to further expand the geographic coverage of this epistle.

Tuesday, 9 September 2008

Today's Print

" Hearts " .......... Roger Smith

Saturday, 6 September 2008

Gourmet Fair

It's another Saturday afternoon in Singapore and as is our want, we spent the middle part of day in town and then returned home to take time out to read the Straits Times.

Today's visit took us back to Suntec, this time to take in the Gourmet Food Fair (pictured below). If truth be known there has been a promotion in the above mentioned newspaper which encourages people to visit the fair and leave their coupon, in the valiant hope of winning $6,888.


I am not sure of the odds of winning but they must be very long indeed. It was noticeable though that the foot traffic in the malls is definitely less than the same time last year. No doubt this is a result of financial downturn affecting all major economies, including Singapore's.

There were nibbles galore to sample as we did the round of the stalls from herbal jellies to various version of the classic Bak Kwa.

Following this we went down a couple of levels and visited the large Carrefour supermarket. Here too were a range of delights to try, as a variety of sales people did their best to get us to buy their products.

If one is clever enough is possible to sample the equivalent of a three course dinner without paying so much as a penny! Judging from one old Auntie I spotted making here second circuit around the display booths I suspect other have already worked this out long before I.

From the upper deck of the 111 bus on our return journey one could see the development of the Marina Bay areas and dominating the scene, the Marina Bay Sands Integrated Resort (casino). It is meant to open next year but there still seems a lot of work to complete it?

Good news... the $New Zealand dollar has fallen below the $Singapore for the first time in about two years. This means that we can send funds back to put on deposit as the interest rates in NZ remain close to 9% whereas in Singapore one is lucky to get over 1%.

This week promises to be an eventful and exciting one and I hope to expand upon this observation when next I write.

Sunday, 31 August 2008

Today's Print


"Caged - Robinsons" Roger Smith

Scripture With Fries

There is something all pervasive about fundamentalist religions, whatever creed they might be.

Not that I begrudge anyone their religious persuasion but I really do not enjoy having someone's beliefs bombarding me at every turn.

So it was with a degree of chagrin that I noted the raised arm waving staring back at me from the restaurant menu.

Sandwiched between the offerings of burgers, fries and Tex-Mex specialities were large dollops of religious text.

The proprietor of the establishment in Cuppage Place was clearly out to share the "word of the Lord" as much as he was to satisfy my hunger for more physical sustenance.

I should have read the small print before being seated. As we were about to leave a woman whom I take was one of the owners ( should that be congregation) passed my wife a pamphlet explaining that they also had a riverboat option moored at Marina South Pier.

Not that we will be paying it a visit as its name "Santa Fe All American Tex-Mex Grill (Marina South Pier) / Breaking Bread " has all the religious trappings of its sister establishment on dry land. One reviewer has described the riverboat's decor as "fervently Christian" which I think is an apt turn of phrase.

Clearly though it is the boat moving in 'mysterious ways' that causes most concern as other reviews refer to sea sickness as dampening the dining experience aboard.

On to more temporal matters. The Formual One promotion is gathering force as can be witnessed by this image taken in Vivo City last week.

Monday, 18 August 2008

Georgia On My Mind



Want Want Pig Organ Soup

The Want Want Pig Organ Soup stall is open for business in Queenstown across the road from the condo where we live. It is a popular stop for older Singaporeans who enjoy the heartiness of its fare. They swear by its rejuvenating qualities.

On our side of the road, tucked away near the MRT elevator, is the motorbike and side car combination of our local ice-cream seller. For the princely sum of $S1 one can enjoy a hand-crafted slice of Kings ice-cream sandwiched between two thick wafers.

While Kings ice-cream may not have all of the creamy virtues of a good New Zealand Hokey Pokey delight, it is none the less a most pleasant and cooling experience on a hot Singapore day.

Also running hot at the moment are the "paddlers' from the Singaporean table tennis team who have just won Singapore's first Olympic medal in 48 years. Irrespective of the fact that they were thrashed by the Chinese in the gold medal match, the Singaporeans (and I use the word advisedly as they are in the main Chinese imports) were deserved winners of the silver medal.

Singapore of course is not alone in buying in talented athletes and coaches. It is very much part of the international sports scene nowadays.

Meanwhile across the Causeway, the Malaysians have reintroduced their paper-based white immigration card system. We were fortunate last week not be held up by this arcane process.

It is also the season for National Day speeches and setting a precedent, the Singapore PM Mr. Lee Hsien Loong deferred his English presentation a day to allow the nation to view the ping pong finals.

One of the key topics of his speech this year has been to encourage Singaporean men to take a more active role in childraising as the problem of a low birth rate remains. For many career women, child rearing is not high on the agenda.

Personally I think a good hearty broth could raise the Singaporean libido and I know just the stall to deliver it!

Thursday, 14 August 2008

Plumage Power & Hungry Ghosts

The soiled brown beret was worn at a rakish angle. A solitary and bedraggled peacock feather hung forlornly from under its band at the back.

The owner of the headwear, a thin Indian gentleman, was walking ahead of me as we disembarked from the Buena Vista MRT station.

Why had this caught my eye I wondered? In all likelihood it was because such displays of male plumage are rare in the drab conformity of the Singapore morning rush. In Papua new Guinea I recall being quite accustomed to seeing men walking around with half a football on their head, or bunches of coloured grasses, as adornment. The term for such finery was 'bilas' (Pisin from the English word 'flash').

I wear short sleeve shirts in Singapore in deference to the climate. Apart from the uniformed young men undertaking military training, few follow my example and most men wear long sleeve shirts. However I have noted that almost without exception they are rolled up towards the elbows - which rather defeats the purpose of wearing along sleeve shirt in the first place.

On the subject of business, Singapore too is experiencing the effects of the global downturn but thus far, the impact is far less than in many Western countries. Large reserves and prudent management from government has greatly helped.

Inflation is high and biting nevertheless. This is reflected in local traditions such as the giving of hongbao (red packets)at wedding dinners. If you are invited to a wedding banquet you are expected to pass over such a packet and the going rate was until recently $100. To this you can now add another 20%.

We are currently in the Festival of Hungry Ghosts which is not the most propitious of times to move in to new buildings and undertake new ventures. Families spend large sums " feeding" the ancestors and there are also certain activities that take place at this time.

One of these are the Getai performances which are staged for appreciative audiences. As times are tougher the costs of putting on these performances has also risen so there has been a resurgence of interest in the traditional puppetry as a substitute.

The coverage of the Beijing Olympics is dominating the media here and the all day coverage shown in Singapore seems to be a direct feed from New Zealand television, as I recognise the voice of John McBeth the NZ sports commentator.

By comparison to "he of the bedraggled peacock plumage" the costumes of the opening ceremony were simply stunning. There has been much publicity here also about the organisers substituting the child who sang for a "prettier" version.

Sunday, 10 August 2008

The Night Bus to Genting

The Poo Seafood Restaurant is on the outskirts of Malaysia's capital city, Kuala Lumpur.

Somehow this mesmeric title summed up for me the quality of food experienced at the bus stops, en route to and from the Genting Highlands this past weekend.

On a previous trip I tasted the worst bau (steamed bun) I had ever tasted and this trip it was a portion of Chicken Rice that captured my attention. Where the chicken itself was captured is another story - I suspect a local kampong, as the bird bore no resemblance to the excellent Chicken Rice of Singapore.

I don't know what it is about these road stop eating places, the quality of their fare is inevitably bad.

Last Wednesday we took the Night Bus to Genting (not to be confused with the Midnight Train To Georgia). We had been assured by the agent in Chinatown that said bus arrived in Genting at "about 8 am". Given that we left at 9:30 pm and it was a 7 hour trip, this timing didn't add up. Still we thought, perhaps the driver had to pull over and have a break for an hour or so?

We arrived at 3 am in the morning. Adding to our misery was that I was still nursing a sore back (not helped by the steady vibrations of the bus's chassis) and my wife had picked up a virulent flu bug the day before. In short a couple of 'crocks' emerged bleary-eyed from the Night Bus.

At reception we were told to wait a further hour until the ticket operators commenced their duties.

"Couldn't we just check in we?" asked Reception. "No" was the reply. "You need to take a numbered ticket first and when you number is called then and only then can you come up to the Registration point".

I felt obliged at this moment, and not being in the best of tempers, to point out that there were only three of us trying to register and there were at least five staff behind the reception counter - doing very little.

As such pleadings proved futile, we asked "If we paid for the night of our arrival as well, could we get into a room?" Of course we could. So for any extra 130 Ringgit (about $Singapore 60)we were duly registered and went to our room.

Last time we came to Genting we stayed in one of their standard rooms, which had the dimensions of a large chicken coop. This time we opted to pay a little more for a "deluxe room".

Our "deluxe room" appeared exactly the same dimensions as our previous "standard room" with the same view of an adjoining wall. This time it came complete with dripping cistern, a blown light above the bed and an extractor fan in the bathroom that threatened to break lose of its moorings at any minute. All of which conspired to make much needed sleep impossible.

I must record that these matters were addressed later in the morning by the maintenance staff of the hotel.

The weather was cold and wet on the first day making it impossible for children to go outside and use the theme park. I thanked my lucky stars that we had packed my warm jacket and hood.

The one thing we both enjoyed was the coolness which meant that you could sleep soundly under an extra 'helping' of blankets. This was a pleasant relief after the cloying heat of Singapore.

The other thing that hasn't changed since our trip to Genting over the Chinese New Year of 2007, was the complete non-compliance of the no-smoking regulations and the hotel's adjoining walkways.

When we pointed out to a ruddy faced Chinese gentleman that he was smoking in a non smoking zone he got very agitated and yelled out "Get Used to it, you are in Malaysia". I thought this was a very sad indictment on the country. The laws are there but seldom policed.

The big difference at Genting Resort this time around were the large numbers of Middle Eastern families, the room enveloped in their traditional black abayas. While they do not gamble in the casinos they were certainly spending large sums in the shops and on the children's indoor activities. They of course were staying in the Superior deluxe rooms and the suites.

It would appear that tourism from other Islamic countries into Malaysia is booming. As long as they not tempted by the chicken rice, this trend will probably continue.

Unmanned Spokesdrone Completes First Press Conference Mission

For those of you who enjoy satire. This from The Onion.

Saturday, 2 August 2008

The Fear Of Fong - A Passing Wind

It is noticeable that many Singaporeans shun their vegetables.

Apart from the vegetarians you will often see people in the Heartland food centres (and especially the young) just eat their meat and fish, nibbling on their greens and leaving them on the plate.

Even when they buy a meat and vegetable dish from the Rice table stall it is often the vegetables that remain forlornly on the plate once they have departed.

Coming from a western culture, this is a somewhat surprising revelation. To paraphrase religious texts "Man cannot live on curry puffs alone"

I suspect it is also due to the old Chinese (mainly Cantonese) belief that certain foods including raw vegetables give you "Fong". The nearest western equivalent term is "wind".

This is not an uncommon phenomenon in the human body and Mel Brooks even made a movie, "Blazing Saddles" which incorporated a running gag about the effect of beans.

The Fear of Fong however has more direct consequence amongst the local populace. It also applies to much raw fruit so I can imagine that there are a significant number of people who are not getting the nutrients they need.

Our fellow diners look askance as we order and tuck into a large vegetable salad. Fresh vegetable are certainly not cheap in Singapore as, almost without exception, they are imported.

Actually all this talk of Hawker Centres raises another and more pressing matter. The second generation of hawker families are due for retirement and the third generation in many cases have no plans to succeed them.. This means that much of the traditional hawker fare will be lost forever as the recipes are jealously guarded and handed down through the families.

Today being Sunday I have enjoyed my weekly swim in the condo pool - breaststroking my way through various assorted inflatable animals and water craft that are loaded to the gunwales with excited Asian children of various nationalities.

We have more Expats in our condo now as the high rents in right in the centre of Singapore are driving them to accommodation such as ours - a short bus trip away from Orchard Road.

Ang Mo tend to sunbathe like beached white whales around the pool, especially those from Europe who remain oblivious to the threat of skin cancer. The Chinese prefer to watch the goings on from the shade and the Japanese women all sport wide-brimmed sun hats.

It's time to stop writing and go to our favourite family restaurant "Jacks Place" for Sunday lunch - I have date with a green salad.

Tuesday, 29 July 2008

This from New Zealand



Wednesday, 23 July 2008

Hard Luck George

Things are looking up this morning. There was actually a cool breeze at the bus stop. That is 'Cool' with a capital 'C'. Normally the air is fetid and there is crush of bodies waiting to board. This was followed by a deluge which caught most commuters out, as they were not carrying their umbrellas.

It has not been easy finding the time to write this past fortnight as two of our staff left for greener pastures reducing our small team by 50%. This means that yours truly is doing the work of three people and also trying to pack up an office in preparation for the shift into our new building.

The other piece of good news is that the share market is staging a small rally this morning. Not that I 'play shares', but the fluctuations of the market do affect my New Zealand superannuation fund.

The local media is plumbing the depths for items to print. This morning's edition of of My Paper shows a copulating tortoise under the heading "Lonesome George finally has sex after 36 years".

He is apparently the last of his sub species according to the text which makes one wonder what he actually mated with? No doubt we we see a camel with a hard shell on the streets we will know why.

Organ trading is also a hot news item with the recent indictment of one of Singapore's wealthiest businessmen, who apparently attempted to procure a replacement kidney for himself. It would appear that the government are now quite serious in reaching a legal conclusion on organ donations beyond the regulations that already exist.

Well it's back to the packing!

Sunday, 13 July 2008

If you have never heard pure 'Singlish' as it is spoken

Sunday In The Pool

two falcons circling
on thermals high
high still higher
above the thirty eighth floor

lying on my back
in a languid blue pool
ripple light bursts tiled and fountains spouting
watching the opening in the heavens

a gentle wind rustles
in the bougainvillea
its spindly vines with colour splashes
climbing towards the sun

Wednesday, 9 July 2008

Feeling Drained

I have a predilection for using blade razors. Not that I aware of any 'Sweeney Todd' genes in the family pool, it is a case of a smooth chin as opposed to a machined stubble.

This preference has given rise to rather an interesting scientific phenomenon; a sludge problem in basin pipes. Caused in the main I suspect, by the copious quantities of shaving gel I use in any given month.

So it has been quite noticeable in recent weeks that water in the aforementioned basin was taking ever increasing lengths of time to drain away.

In our condo drainage pipes are not of a large diameter and clearly some remedial action was needed.

There were two choices. The first would have involved an arduous deliberations with a Singaporean plumber. It is noticeable that these tradesmen can never give an accurate time of arrival - usually the indicate somewhere "between 9 am and 6pm". This means that one is held captive in the home waiting at their pleasure.

The second choice and the one we adopted was to use a 'liquid plumber'. A bottle of this mix was purchased on special from the latest supermarket.

Fortuitously I was at work when my wife chose to experiment with the concoction. Having emptied half the contents down the sink hole she stood back and watched it bubble and foam as it went to work. Far more entertaining than the local fare on Singapore television.

The instruction said leave this brew to bubble away for an hour and flush away with warm water. I confess I half expected to get a call to say that the plastic waste pipe had dissolved due to a chemical reaction but fortunately no such calamity transpired.

The stuff actually works!

Buoyed by this success "she that must be obeyed" has returned to the supermarket and bought several more bottles. We will have the cleanest drains in all of Queenstown of that I am sure.

The product below was not the one we used but the same principle applies.




Sunday, 6 July 2008

Plans For National Day

The weekend of August 9th provides a rare holiday opportunity given that it in encompasses Singapore's National Day.

As we are planning a trip to Angkor Wat in Cambodia later in the year we thought a couple of days away might be all wished to do in August.

Given the spiralling costs of travel with everyone except Singapore's few remaining trishaws adding a fuel surcharge, the options are not that great.

Younger Singaporean colleagues love to travel to Bangkok but having been there before, it doesn't appeal all that much and my wife had a very unpleasant experience with food poisoning on her one and only trip into Thailand many years ago.

I recall also being laid low with the Thai equivalent of "Delhi Belly" as I was half way up the steps of one of the many Wats in the Thai capital - not an experience either of us are keen to repeat and the traffic congestion in Bangkok, once experienced is never forgotten.

With all of the above in mind we opted for a two day cruise aboard the Star Cruises Superstar Aquarius. Some great deals are currently advertised in the papers so yesterday we went down to Star HQ in Singapore, Park Mall.

Alas, the dawning of the age of "Aquarius" is not to be. The two day cruise on the Friday and Saturday night was booked out. Why we asked do they not indicate this fact in their advertising? This would save a lot of time and bother for nothing. Naturally we got no straight answer.

So it was that we got back on a bus and headed to a travel agent in Chinatown that we had used before when we booked a previous journey to the Malaysian Highlands.

We have decided this time to travel on the overnight bus to the Genting Holidays and then stay another two days in the First World Hotel. The bracing zephyrs of highland air will be a welcome respite from the June/July hot season of Singapore.

One just has to hope that the deteriorating political situation in Malaysia doesn't put a dampener on proceedings or for that matter that the bus does not catch fire or run off the road as it descends from the resort - which seems to happen with increasing frequency if one believes the local press reports.

Meanwhile the National Day bunting has gone up at the front and back gates of our condo and Singaporean flags are reappearing on the HDB balconies.

Thursday, 3 July 2008

Singapore Poem

Saturday, 28 June 2008

Heroic Pork & Pig Knuckles

The story of the Hero Porker attracted my interest earlier this week. This was an account of a large pig that was buried in the recent Sichuan earthquake but somehow managed to emerge alive after thirty six days trapped beneath the rubble.

So it was with just a twinge of guilt that I got stuck into a large roast pig knuckle with lashing of mash potato while lunching at The White Dog Cafe in Vivo City.

We enjoy this eatery for its $10.80 set lunch and for its eclectic mix of western and eastern cuisine. Best of all is the view out to Sentosa Island and watching the Temple of Mammon (i.e. the Sentosa Integrated Resort/casino) take shape.

There is more than a touch of motor mania in Singapore at the moment as the city builds towards the hosting of Formula One's first night race later in the year.

On display in Vivo City was a racing car sponsored by MediaCorp and it had the rapt attention of youngsters lining up to try out the drivers seat. Some (as in the photograph) were perhaps a little young to fully appreciate what was happening.

Anyone who has been involved with motorsport will tell you it is the sound of high speed cars and the smell of the high octane fuel that makes the sport so addictive.

At an early stage of my life even I joined a central North Island car club in New Zealand and was the proud owner of a modified purple Mini Cooper. But those days are long past and the thought of watching an seemingly endless procession of cars career around a track at night hold little interest for me.

The roar of engines however stays with me. One good reason that it does so is that for the past two Saturday evenings, just on dusk, the aerobatic team from the Singapore Air Forces go through their paces as they practice for the forthcoming National Day Parade, early in August.

These jet aircraft in synchronisation are truly a magnificent team and the rate of climb into the evening sky is wondrous to behold. All of this is viewable from the sanctity of our condominium lounge.

Monday, 23 June 2008

Butane Bungles

There is a push to integrate so-called 'citizen journalism' in to the local Singaporean media. This means in practice that daily rags such as My Paper have a section called Ground Zero where miscreants are exposed.

Today's riveting entry was the discovery of a broken cigarette lighter in a bowl of fish head curry. No doubt a different interpretation of the culinary flambé process.

When the patrons said something like "waiter there's a lighter in my soup" the response they received from the proprietor was terse. He is reported as saying that he would cover any medical bills should his patrons require treatment after consuming his curry.

Very generous I must say. Given the cost of medical treatment here it could turn out to be the most expensive dish of fish head curry ever.

Continuing on the subject of seafood, Ground Zero's next story covers some enteprising Singaporean merchant who is apparently using his local car park to sun dry ikan bilis.

Ikan bilis for those of you who are not familiar with the name are the small anchovies that are much beloved in Malaysian cuisine. They have a pungent odour when drying but not as pervasive as the small dried shrimps that are used for Malaysian sambal.

According to the experts when buying a catty of ikan bilas one should look them in the eye. The best quality ikan bilis will have bright blue colored eyes according to the pundits. Given their size when processed I don't think I will bother. They all taste good to me and are the perfect condiment to a good nasi lemak.

Thursday, 19 June 2008

That Sinking Feeling

In excited tones the reporter on last night's Channel News Asia informed us that traffic had been mysteriously stopped in the area of Marina Boulevard.

A clearly nervous and reticent foreman in a hard hat did his best to avoid answering any questions, even at one point attempting to hide his identity by pulling the brim of his hard hat over his face.

After several seconds of muffled response the hat in question was pushed back to its original position but the answers were no more forthcoming.

Was an event of great national significance unfolding before our eyes? Perchance a threat to national security?

The answer was far more mundane. There had been a subsidence in the road and it appears to be related to the construction of an underground tunnel at an adjacent construction site.

As a result, Marina Boulevard was closed for six hours while inspectors evaluated the situation and determined there was no lasting danger.

I mention all of this because such incidences appear to be an increasing occurrence in Singapore. The underworld of the Republic is becoming a rabbit warren of underground pedestrian walkways, MRT lines and utility tunnels.

Add to this the vibration of the manyfold construction sites and the fact that much of Singapore does not sit on bedrock and it is therefore not surprising that such events occur.

The resulting blockage to road traffic occurred on the same day as government agencies announced a further hike in ERP charges. These increases are an attempt to dissuade the use of motor vehicles in the central city areas at peak periods. The charges are levied electronically as a car passes under an ERP gantry and every vehicle carries a digital box and cash card from which the sum is subtracted.

This miracle of technology appears to to be having some effect in curbing motor vehicle use and enhancing the value of public transport.

As the ERP rates climb, Singaporean motorists are also experiencing that sinking feeling.

Saturday, 14 June 2008

Hackers

Yes we have hackers in Singapore!

Saturday, 7 June 2008

Just Passing Through

It was the hairy-backed monk that I remember most.

Crouching low in his saffron robes as he rummaged around the convenience store's lower shelves looking vainly for a small bottle of shampoo.

His Esau-rian attributes seemed strangely at variance with his religious persuasion.

We had been visiting friends passing through Singapore and staying in the Peninsula Excelsior Hotel off Coleman Street - one of the less salubrious districts of Singapore but handy enough to the main shopping thoroughfare of Orchard Road.

By all accounts the Excelsior is not to be recommended and numerous online reviews are less than flattering.

Dr Des and his wife arrived after a 12 hour trip from Rome using a Singapore Airlines stop-over package. The hotel however did not have there room ready at 6:30 am when they arrived and they had to wait until 10:30 to finally get to their billet.

Given that it was an SQ package and a Singapore Hotel you would thing that the airline and accommodation would have been better coordinated with the guest in mind.

It must be the season for people passing through Singapore, enroute to somewhere else. Possibly this is a reflection of the change of seasons as the Antipodean hordes emulate the swallow and fly north for the winter.

What ever the reason it is good to catch up with old colleagues, professional acquaintances and close friends when they are in these parts. Not that one is missing anything of the latest news as the Internet has changed all that.

Long gone are the days when the steam packet from 'The Motherland' delivered month-old handwritten letters into the eager hands of expectant expatriates.

Nowadays such news are just a click away, as is sport if one chooses to follow it. Here in Singapore football is soccer and there is very little coverage of rugby and none of league. Not a problem though, as I listened to the All Blacks vs. Ireland commentary online.

Somehow the tight five of the All Blacks forward pack remind me of that monk.

Sunday, 1 June 2008

Super Chlorination Extra Halitosis

Today is the first of June. Time to recap on some recent events that either befallen yours truly or been the focus of recent Singapore interest.

Old friends and regular readers of this stream of consciousness (hopefully one and the same) will recall that a couple of weeks ago I went swimming for the first time in many years .

What I have failed to recount since were the events that followed. Firstly, I went decidedly deaf in my left ear, which those of you who are married will be the first to acknowledge, has some advantages.

This lack of hearing failed to clear and I ended up going firstly to the university doctor and then to the NUH Ear specialist for a cure.

Nothing major, but it was somewhat of a novelty having a miniature vacuum cleaner hammering against my ear drum as the E&T doctor probed and pondered.

A short half an hour later (and in true biblical fashion) I leapt from the bed and walked out the door. In this case reassured that I was covered by medical insurance. Had I not been, then the modest $20 I paid to both medicos would have ballooned out to a sum of several hundred dollars.

There is no doubt about it, health matters are very expensive in this country and insurance is essential. The flip side is that the doctors and specialists here are excellent.

The other swimming pool related matter came a week later, when an A4 typed notice from the condominium management informed us that the pool was closed.

It transpires that either a child, or a pet chihuahua on the loose, had deposited 'something unmentionable' into the water which even the chlorine had failed to eliminate (if you will excuse the pun).

The removal of poop from a large pool is a costly business and according to the latest management bulletin, after two days of "extra chlorination" it is now safe to go back in the water.

This I duly did today. It has become my Sunday morning routine to swim a few lengths and enjoy the water - children and pets notwithstanding.

Other matters of national interest have included the list of punishments metered out to members of the prison and security services. It was their lapses that saw the terrorist Mas Selamat escape with relative ease.

This case continues to occupy the minds of the populace. I have been surprised to discover how this episode has engendered such strong feelings amongst who believe that only the minor miscreants have been punished and that the politicians in charge, should have at very least offered their resignation, even if such an offer were to be subsequently rejected by the PM.

The escapee in question is still at large.

Saturday, 24 May 2008

Orchard Follies

Sculpture - Paragon Shopping Centre

One noticeable development in the last twenty years has been the proliferation of public art works throughout Singapore.

The has been a very pleasant change and speaks volumes about the maturity of this modern city and the growth of its cultural-civic mix.

It would be fair to say that from the perspective of quality the public works are a mixed bag.

In the main though it has been a pleasure to reflect on the endeavours of local artists and the work of commissioned sculptors from further afield.

That is, it was, until the upgrading of Orchard Road commenced a couple of months ago.

I am all in favour of this upgrading as Singapore's main shopping thoroughfare has been facing increased competition from the malls like Suntec and Vivo City.

However it is becoming clear that in the masterplan, some very crass decisions have been made by those responsibile for this enhancement project and this is very much regretted.

Take for example the sculptural group pictured above. The integrity of this work has been completely destroyed by the developer's decision to box in the head section of the work, within the new overhanging Paragon Mall frontage.

Quite apart from what the artist must be feeling, surely someone within the Ministry of Information, Community and the Arts should be guiding this decision-making?

It would have been far better to relocate the sculpture than decapitate it in this fashion and visitors to Singapore will not be favourally impressed by such acts. I hope this is an isolated incident and not the forerunner of things to come?

Given that Singapore has some excellent artists and generous patrons, they deserve better. Mall developers should be given firm and non negotiable guidelines in such matters.

Sunday, 18 May 2008

Everything Going Swimmingly

I finally did it!

After a year of indecision I finally 'braved the elements' such as they were and plunged into the condo's pool. This action was prompted by the spell of hot weather and the realisation that as our condo Queens has one of the largest pools in Singapore, it was about time I made use of it.

The sensation of cooling off was indescribably pleasant, even though my swimming skills are rusty.

Of more concern was whether my swimming togs which had been languishing in a bottom draw for several years where still up to the task - perish the thought, literally!

I rediscovered muscles that hadn't been used for such exercise but felt particularly virtuous afterwards. Our changing rooms by the pool even have hot water to rinse off any chlorine.

Our condominium utilises a security system that allows one to use an intercom from outside the security grill and for the occupant to release the security gate if satisfied with the request.

My wife who remained in the apartment while I trod water several stories below, explained this system to me and why I would not be taking my swipe card and apartment key.

So it was that I stood clad in a damp towel negotiating this system on my return journey to the apartment.

After several futile attempts at pressing "07" to begin the sequence I discovered that I had in fact been pressing the well worn "C" instead of the "0", thereby clearing any attempt to make contact.

Before hypothermia set in I realised the error of my ways and safely returned to the 7th floor.

I shall be swimming again tomorrow.