Sunday, 24 February 2008

Heroism & Hazy Recollections

My 'day job' is at the National University of Singapore, more specifically working in their Alumni Office.

All of us are looking forward to the May move into our new premises - a purpose built home for returning alumni.

Regrettably though, two days ago on the afternoon of February 22nd, a large 60 metre crane working on the site suffered what was apparently structural failure and crashed to the ground killing three workers. Media reports today have identified the crane driver, a Mr Mohamad Homsen Kassan, as a hero.

He apparently stayed in his cab after shouting a warning and attempted to steer the boom of his crane away from the nearby student bus stop and Business building. By remaining in his cabin he was crushed and was killed in the accident. A brave man!

Visitors and locals alike will be very aware of the hundreds of cranes dotting the Singaporean skyline at the moment as there are a plethora of major projects underway. It is perhaps therefore not surprising that from time to time a crane should malfunction. Apparently though, nobody in recent memory can recall such a catastrophic collapse of a large crane.

Today is Sunday and the haze from the burn-offs in Sumatra are back, although not yet at the lung-clutching levels of late 2006 which we experienced shortly after we arrived in Singapore. It remains to be seen if the prevalent monsoon winds will blow this debris away or towards the country. Either way, Indonesia has once again demonstrated a complete disregard for it its neighbours despite previous assurance that they would crack down on errant plantation owners and small holders.

When you burn off land that amounts to the size of 2,000 football fields no wonder there is a problem.

A San Francisco Slideshow


The images were taken by me in February 2008 and posted on one of my social network sites

Friday, 22 February 2008

On Your Marks!

Big news this past 24 hours in the local media.

Firstly, Singapore managed to secure the 2010 Youth Olympic Games. This is the first Olympic event to be staged in this country and the new NUS Village will be home to many of the athletes when they are here.

Secondly and perhaps of equal importance in many local minds, was the drawing of the $10 million Hongbao lottery.

According to today's papers there were ten winners. Needless to say our ticket numbers did not feature in the 'winners' circle' but no doubt the 10 new millionaires will be very happy.

And So To Vegas

This will be a brief follow up on our recent US odyssey as Las Vegas was a quick three night add on.

I had visited Vegas four years ago and this time instead of staying in Circus Circus we opted for Harrahs. The reason being that is was more centrally located on the Strip and (according to my wife) the slot payouts were better! Alas this proved not to be the case.

It reminds me that prior to our first trip, I did some research into slot machines to ascertain if there was such a thing as a "hot machine" just waiting to jettison its jackpot winnings into our containers.

There are those who believe that if you let others load their money into the machine it will be primed ready to pay out when you follow them. This is a fallacy as the random number generator within the machine keeps running regardless of whether someone is feeding in coins or not.

In other words each machine is pre-programmed to achieve a certain percentage pay out and it is pure luck if your pull of the handle results in a payout.

The rooms at Harrahs were good but the casino itself was so smoky as to be totally unpleasant. I guess the casino owners have worked out that compulsive personalities are likely to be both gamblers and smokers.

By comparisson, the new Wynn's casino and shopping arcade was very pleasant to visit and we had two wonderful buffet brunches there. As it has high ceilings and good air conditioning the smoking was a lot less obtrusive. There were many Asian features in the complex such as the waterfall featured in the image above.

One thing about this trip was that being winter, the oppressive desert heat that greeted us in July of 2004 was not in evidence.

Saturday, 16 February 2008

A San Francisco Chronicle

It's 4:30 a.m. in the morning as I start this piece and you may well ask, why such an early start?
The reason of course is that my body's time clock has failed to adjust back to Singapore time after 15 hours of flying time across the international date line.

This despite following my usual in-flight routine of ensuring at least five to six hours sleep. I learnt this trick from a frequent flyer to Europe. He always took a sleeping mask, earplugs, an inflatable neck pillow and a sleeping tablet - in that order.

While I am not a great fan of sleeping drugs, it does seem to work along with drinking lots of water and not devouring the entire content of the plastic food trays that come my way.

Why San Francisco? Well post-trip I am asking myself that very question especially as we had the choice of a leisurely cruise in the China Sea or another trip to the USA.

The reason was deceptively simple. Neither my wife had ever been to San Francisco and we are both of an age where we can remember the flower power generation and Scott McKenzie's catchy melody.

So this Chinese New Year we left Asia and headed to the States aboard United Airlines flights. A word about this airline. The 777 flight from Singapore to Narita (yes there was a short stop over) was pleasant and comfortable as the plane had plenty of leg room. The Boeing 747 flight from Narita to San Francisco and the return flight was nowhere near as pleasant as the seat configuration in 'cattle class' meant that we felt crammed in.

Being winter in the States we packed a lot of woollen garments that hadn't seen the light of day since our New Zealand life, two years ago. These proved a lifesaver although the purchase of two good winter coats was high on the list of our priorities.

When we arrived in San Francisco we booked into the Westin St Francis in Union Square. This has an ideal central city location and the building itself had survived the 1905 earthquake so it resonated with the charm of yesteryear.

The service was excellent but a word to the wise, do not open the mini-bar refrigerator and shift any of the contents. The system is built around computer sensors so each bottle move is recorded as a 'purchase' in the central system, even if you are only putting your own carton of milk into the fridge. Fortunately we had an understanding reservations clerk when it came to check out and the matter was speedily resolved.

Having checked in to our hotel we made a bee line to the Burlington Coat factory which is on 5th street and within easy walking distance of our hotel. There are some great bargains to be had here and we bought stylish, woollen, winter coats for around $US 140-160, a fraction of the price in the department stores of Singapore.

The abiding memory I have of San Francisco is not a pleasant one. The number of homeless begging on the streets was quite shocking to behold and many of them were suffering from mental illness (top image). One visit to the tourist trap of Fisherman's Wharf we were appalled to see a man putting his hand into the rubbish bin and stuffing food scraps into his mouth.

The Mayor doesn't seem to have this problem high on his agenda and during our stay, the San Francisco Chronicle ran an article on his hiring of highly paid staff at the expense of the city's social needs.

A note about Fisherman's Wharf. Take the cable car which is great fun even in winter. Buy a three day pass for $US18 which is value for money when one considers that a one way fare is $5. We went on the Powell Hyde line to the Wharf and returned on the Powell Mason Line.

Our arrival at the end of the Hyde line was fortuitously near the Ghirardelli chocolate factory so sampling was undertaken. We made most of our Ghirardelli purchases though at the local supermarket, Walgreens.

It was the Dungeness Crab season so Fisherman's Wharf was featuring this local delicacy. I have always found crab a bit bland in taste and the Dungeness variety was no different even when served with the local sourdough bread. Worth a taste but give me Singaporean Chilli Crab any day!

A word about the other much vaunted tourist trap that features in every Bay Guidebook - Chinatown. What a disappointment this place is. Tawdry trinket emporiums and tacky decorations featured largely and this at the height of the celebratory season, Chinese New Year. It maybe the "largest Chinatown outside Asia" but my strong advice is give the place a miss.

I readily admit that I could be biased in my judgement of the San Francisco version, as we have a bustling and true Chinatown here in Singapore. Truth was that both of us were expecting more of the place. My only abiding memory was a dispute between a local city ordinance officer of majestic proportions and a Chinese green grocer which took place in our earshot. It seems that she, the green grocer, had failed to remove her produce from the roadside despite repeated previous violations. The result, a fine of $700 which was surely not the luck she was hoping for at New Year.

Our visit coincided with the Super Tuesday primary elections so the media was full of Obama versus Clinton and forecasts of their future campaign results.

The best day of our San Francisco experience was the Saturday Farmers' Market at the Ferry building (image with hat). Succulent fresh dates, nuts, cheeses and other produce were to be had and at a reasonable price although the prefix 'organic' as usual meant a hike in prices.

On the subject of victuals. We breakfasted at Lori's Diner on Powell street most mornings. The cooked meal was ample in proportion and shared between us. The experience is one of dining in a 1950's time warp museum with suspended monoplanes, coke signs and Chevrolets sliced in half and wall mounted. Great fun and reasonably priced. Charlie the doorman (image left) was there to greet us each morning, even if his garb was a little grubby and in need of a clean.

So was after five days in San Francisco did I leave my heart there? Well frankly no.

I think one visit was enough in a lifetime to this city that spawned the flower power generation. It reminded me so much of Wellington, New Zealand (but with better weather!)

From San Francisco we went for a couple of days to Las Vegas and this will be the subject of my next entry. See other images

Saturday, 2 February 2008

CNY Shopping



Photos taken in Takashimaya Singapore using a mobile phone camera