Tuesday, 22 April 2008

Mas Escape

The long awaited report into the breakout of JI member Mas Selamat was released in the Singaporean parliament yesterday and the Minister's statement make interesting reading.

There was clearly a major breakdown in security vigilance at the detention centre and the officers responsible have been "removed" which, in the case of the two Gurkhas involved, probably means a one-way ticket back to Nepal on the first available flight.

The detainee was able to lull his captors into a false sense of security and when he visited the toilet, put his trousers over the cubicle door and left via an unsecured and un-barred side window. Presumably he had another pair of trousers under his top ones and if he hadn't, then I guess he would not have died of exposure in the Singapore climate.

It took 11 minutes for the guards to realise that something was wrong and raise the alarm giving Mas Selamat ample time to scale (?) a nearby perimeter fence and hot foot it.

The reports all state that it was unlikely he had any outside assistance in the planning and execution of this escape. Singaporeans I have spoken to find this difficult to accept and it may or may not be an accurate assumption. Either way his luck was in and he has vanished into the ether.

It also begs the question, where is he now?

Opinion is evenly divided between his rapid transit to the nearby Indonesian archipelago or that he is laying low in someone's HDB flat and waiting for the public and security personnel's focus to wane.

To undertake either of these options he must be getting, or have got, outside help. I guess only time will reveal the real story but in the meantime Singapore's security credibility has received a severe jolt. To the government's credit they have been as candid as they can in this matter and clearly security is going to be a lot tougher for detainees from this point on.

One other interesting point from a westerner's perspective is that the Minister responsible for Homeland security, Deputy Prime Minister Wong Kan Seng, is not being pressured to stand down. In New Zealand there would be an immediate baying for blood from the opposition benches.

Not so in Singapore. In fact the Prime Minister responded to such suggestions today by stating that he believed that public officials and ministers should not automatically be removed as a result of a lapses from their subordinates. I have to say that this appears a more balanced approach to me. After all a Minister's overall performance should be judged across his or her whole portfolio, over time.

Any lapses in matter of integrity are treated entirely differently and dismissal on these grounds will and do happen, no matter what the status of the individual is.

Friday, 18 April 2008

Happy, Happy Talk & Terminal Velocity

The day started poorly.

At 4am an electrical symphony outside the window of our condominium jolted me awake, the claps of thunder doing justice to the 1812 overture. With the ever increasing frequency of lightening permeating between the gaps in our blinds it was virtually impossible to get back to sleep.

Those of you who have lived or travelled in the tropics will know that when there is an electrical storm it is usually an impressive and forceful display.

Having breakfasted a couple of hours later it was time to catch the MRT which, because of the weather, was slightly delayed in its schedule. The result being that there were more than the usual passengers queuing for a place at every station enroute.

I had the singular misfortune to be wedged between a door partition and a Chinese national worker who stank of stale whiskey from the previous night's socialising.

When one disembarks at Buena Vista station it is a short walk across an over bridge to the bus stop to catch the 95. Singaporean pedestrians move at a variety of paces in the morning and I have noted this in a previous commentary.

Today I got stuck behind the "Road Block", a woman of ample girth whose bovine turpitude meant that those behind such as I, had to slow to her pace. She did not of course choose to move to the side to let others past but hogged the centre line with the precision of a Malaysian taxi driver.

Needless to say, when we finally crossed the street nobody was in a jovial mood. At the point of exit stands a young man who thrusts out copies of the New Paper to those who wish to take a copy.

This paper has its uses but good journalism is not one of them. Most use it as an improvised fan to get air moving around their faces as they stand in the fetid shelter of the bus stop.

Today as I waited for the 95 bus I did something unusual - I opened the paper. The feature story? Another expose on the inadequacies of Heathrow Terminal 5.

This story has been playing in the press since the terminal's grand launch and I suspect the inference one it meant to get is how much better Changi's new terminal is to the prize botch up of the Brit's new transport terminus? However one such story on this subject would suffice.

At least the English can laugh at themselves and a song penned on this subject by two amateur musicians has made it to #5 in the local charts (see video below). And when you have watched the video you might also wish to try out the online game in which British Airway's CEO, Willie Walsh, attempts to move luggage on the Heathrow terminal belt.

Of more interest in today's rag is a story on the mercantile wonders of British engineering which suggests that had the Titianic used good quality rivets it may not have sunk so quickly.

The other main feature in the New Paper is the identification of Singapore's happiest man - a gentleman who won a competition to find such a stalwart.

Lord Bittleston of Newnham was reportedly one of the judges, although with respect to the gentleman concerned, his name means absolutely nothing to me. No doubt a minor aristocrat from the British Isles?

Mr. Goh, who is now officially Singapore's happiest man, can remove the smiley face stickers that have been adorning his fingers in every publicity shot and look forward to his prize - three days in the resort town of Phuket.

No wonder he's smiling.

Saturday, 12 April 2008

Orchard Rains #1

Orchard Rains #1 - Roger Smith - April, 2008
Download a copy of this print

Saturday, 5 April 2008

Of Atuomania and Arabs

Stay long enough in Singapore and one succumbs to atuomania.

The 'atuo' stands for 'another totally useless object' and the manic variation manifests itself as an irrational desire to purchase objects, solely on the basis of a 50 to 70% sale price and irrespective of whether one actually needs the object or not.

Today's 'atuo' purchase was an OSIM eye massager for the princely sum of $S148 (we passed on the $4,500 massage leather chair after one pummelled us into submission in Plaza Singapura).

Once I got the massager home and discovered how to switch the heat function off, the sensation was quite pleasant. The device is designed to relieve eye strain and stress and as I spend a lot of time in front of a PC screen, it seemed like a good idea to get one. At least that's what the salesman intimated.

After tightly adjusting the velcro strap around one's head, it is simply a matter of selecting the programme variations of choice - heat or no heat, gentle tapping or Thor style hammering and finally, the amount of air pressure. The last setting is somewhat critical and the first time I tried the unit out on too high a level, the sensation was akin to having one's eyes gouged out by a drunken masseuse.

There is one inherent design problem with this gadget and no doubt you have spotted it?

If one has followed the printed instructions and tightly bound the eye pad to one's head, it is impossible to read the instructions further.

This results in a feverish fumbling as you struggle with the keypad and its very slightly raised control buttons.

Now which was heat? No not that one - that's tapping. No, not that one either ..... as the pad rather painfully vibrates on the bridge of the Caucasian nose.

So what will this item be good for after the novelty has worn off? No doubt after staring at the credit card statements that record such follies I will be in need of its use.

News yesterday of the fall of another colonial icon to Arab merchants. This time it is Robinson's department store in Orchard Road and the new owners are from Dubai. Having recently signed up for the OCBC Bank's Robinsons Card which entitles us to lots of discounts on 'atuo' items such as the one above, we read in this morning's paper that the bank has sold its shares in the store. No doubt this will eventually mean that our card will become redundant in the scheme of things?

This however might be a blessing in disguise.

Monday, 24 March 2008

Flyers & Fish Nibbles

Flyer & Rain

This afternoon saw our staff visit to a new Singapore attraction - the Singapore Flyer. 'Frequent fliers' on such attractions tell me that it compares very favourably with the London Eye.

Not that I will be in a position to judge, as my taste for heights is not what it once was. I now work on the principle of terra firma - the more firma the less terra.

While the others took their thirty minute spin I had a look around the recently opened complex. It's been a huge investment and the engineering is very impressive.

Once my colleagues were safely grounded we spent a pleasant half an hour having our feet nibbled in a rather fishy pedicure. The fish in question being Doctor Fish , or Garra rufa to its friends.

This is one of the latest spa crazes to hit Singapore. At least when someone asks me "What did you do last Monday?" I will be able to reply "I had my feet in a bucket of flesh-eating minnows".

What does it feel like?

Well the sensation is not unpleasant, much like small electrical discharges on the soles of the feet.

Thank goodness they are not attempting this treatment with Piranha.

Postscript: And if you should wonder why I did not go on the Singapore Flyer then please note that within the week of writing the above came the news of hundreds of visitors being stranded in the air on the London Eye!