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.

Thursday, 15 May 2008

Shiok Tactics

So shiok!

What is this Malay term that reverberates around the metropolis? The best way to describe it is as a euphoric statement of delight, usually when something pleasurable has been experienced.

In Singapore this pleasure is often food-related; this will come as no surprise to anyone.

I am reminded how such colloquialisms creep into everyday language. In the late 1970's when I was living in Papua New Guinea the common language was Pidgin - a combination of Place Tok, Germanic terms and Aussie swear words.

Words such as "buggerup tru" peppered our conversation and referred to something that was completely broken. In PNG nearly everything broke down with monotonous regularity, from the power stations to much-used refrigerators.

It was a favourite phrase of a fellow expatriate New Zealander in the Eastern Highlands town of Goroka.

He worked as manager for a local motor company and could never instill into his boys that a diesel landcruiser should not be filled with a tank full of petrol nor vice versa.
Comprehension of such minor details was not a strong point of his employees much to his chagrin.

For those who would like to discover a wider range of Singlish terminology I suggest this site.

At the very least one should master the basics - and here I will conclude, lah.

Sunday, 11 May 2008

Tales of Beauty and Derision

A fortnight ago an invitation arrived on my work desk. As per usual it was addressed to my predecessor but I go it anyway.

Usually these receive a cursory glance and are tossed in to the waste paper basket. However on this occassion the invite in question turned out to be to a screening of Christies auction items.

Christies no longer use Singapore as a base but they do hold satellite exhibitions to promote their Hong Kong auctions and this event was one of these - the Spring Auction to be held at the end of the month.

Equally intriguing was the location for this exhibition, the recently opened St Regis Hotel in Orchard Road. This is currently the grandest dame on the block and has more stars to recommend it than the Milky Way.

Officially launched in April, the St Regis received a lot of media publicity as the owner's wife personally involved herself in the selection and development of an eclectic art collection containing amongst others; original works by of Joan Miro, Marc Chagall, Fernando Botero, Le Pho, Fernand Leger, Gu Gan, Chen Wen His and Georgette Chen.

We had a wander through the new hotel and took in the art works. There were some interesting sculptural works but personally I find Botero's creations just a little kitschy and plastic in execution. Give me the vigour of a good Rodin any day!

According to the St Regis web site one was meant to have a "Bespoke Experience" what ever that is? I suspect the shorts I was wearing was not the tailoring the staff had anticipated when they coined the phrase.

Then it was into the hotel's John Jacob Ballroom for the Christies viewing. The art was a fairly mixed bag as art auctions often are. Clearly some of the estimates were printed with a mind to attract the investment dollar. A contemporary Chinese painter, Yue Minjun, had a large work called Big Swans (pictured) with a $US1.2 - $US1.9 million price tag.

It was the small but exquisite collection of jewellery that was the most impressive. This included a 69 carat, yellow diamond and some flawless jade jewels in various settings.

After our auction viewing we re-boarded the bus following a quick dash to the opposite side of Orchard Road to do so. Having disembarked at Orchard Emerald we made our way to Robinsons department store who were in the midst of yet another of their sales.

On the return journey we passed the only drag queen I have yet seen in Singapore - a balding older man dressed in an ill-fitting frock and heels.

It probably would have helped if he could have afforded a wig, but alas this was not the case and he was given a wide berth by the more conservative Singaporean commuters.

Thursday, 8 May 2008

On The Road To Jaipur

Another Camel is Approaching - to quote Flanders & Swan


Wednesday, 7 May 2008

All Aboard

Wall Street jumps on Fannie Mae.

So said the morning news aboard the morning's 95 bus as I made my way to work. Poor old Fannie!

Fannie is in fact a US company that specialises in financial products. The constant stream of financial data reminded me that Singaporeans enjoy a good punt on the share market.

Not surprising when one considers the absurdly low interest rates for fixed term deposits in the banks here. In New Zealand we can get 8.95% percent on an investment over $100,000. The going rate in in Singapore is less than 1%.

A middle income family could not afford to live off bank interest and so shares and property are very popular options for investment.

Currency trading is another popular past time either using the money changers that can be found in most malls and shopping centres or the banks themselves.

At time of writing the Singapore dollar is rising against the US greenback and the NZ dollar which is good news. The latter currency though continues to maintain what I believe to be an artificially high level given the financial underpinning of the NZ economy.

Has the "credit crunch" come and gone? Nobody is sure if the worst is over and as a result the tills of Singapore are not ringing as loudly as they did a year ago.

Thursday, 1 May 2008

The Merry, Merry Month Of May

It is May 1st and being a day that celebrates worker's rights, it is also a public holiday in Singapore.

This translates into being able to sleep in an extra hour and not having to catch a packed MRT train in the early morning rush.

The weather over the past two weeks has got very hot again and the I note in the press that Singapore's temperature has risen almost two degrees in the past twenty or so years. Even the locals are complaining about the heat at the moment so it must be hot!

The monsoon rains seem to have finally passed although we still get the occasional thunderstorm which lowers the humidity somewhat. The overall temperature though creates a sense of lethargy and makes it difficult to sleep at night.

One could turn on the air-conditioning 24X7, as several of our neighbouring condo tenants do. This is an increasingly expensive option and we prefer to use fans.

This May first we visited the very recently opened Peranakan Museum in Armenian Street. It is an old Chinese school which was completed in 1912 and during the War was used as an HQ by the Japanese army.

Post war it reverted to its former use and my wife can recall a friend taking her there for Chinese language lessons. In 1982 it ceased to be a school and for a few years from 1994 to 2005 it was the Asian Civilisation Museum before the latter relocated to its current site - the old Empress Place.

I digress. The new Peranakan Museum is a delight and should be on every local and visitor's itinerary. The curatorial narrative documents the origins and lives of the Straits-born Chinese and Indian communities in an instructive and engaging manner. A great collection and elegant displays make this a must-see.

As there are not too many cheaper eating options in Armenian Street we back tracked to the SMU bus stop and disembarked opposite Park Mall. From there it was a short hop to Plaza Singapura but planning to eat there proved to be a big mistake.

We had forgotten that being a holiday the nearby Istana would be opened to the public. Half of Singapore seemed to have descended upon the Government House and then moved on for lunch at our chosen mall.

As a result, we decided to go to Cuppage Plaza in Koek Road and try our luck at somewhere less crowded. Enroute to our favourite mee siam eatery, Isle Cafe, we passed the TexMex Bar and Grill. As a result we thought we would give this place a try and have their set lunch.

For less than $14++ I had soup, a pork chop main course, an icecream dessert and a complimentary iced tea. The reference to "pork chop" usually implies wrestling to separate meat from bone but with this menu I was pleasantly surprised. It was presented as boned-out medallions and was delicious. My wife had a seafood pasta dish for her main and her set lunch was $3 cheaper than mine.

This is one of the great things about Singapore. The food varieties in any city block are many and varied. From high end restaurants with Michelin star quality to hawker's stalls serving great local dishes - it's a foodies heaven.

In reference to Michelin I recall the caricatured 'Michelin Man' (pictured left) of robust girth. I couldn't earlier in life see the relevance between a gastronomic grading system and a chubby tyre.

After all this good Singaporean food, I can now personally vouch for the linkages between the two. Which reminds me, I think I should go and visit my tailor.

Wednesday, 30 April 2008

Maid in Singapore

The mainstay of marital bliss, the domestic who undertakes all of the mundane duties around the house, is in strong demand. Ever since I have been coming to Singapore and especially since I now live here, it has been noticeable just how reliant many families are on their maids.

Now it would appear that the competition from other countries such as Hong Kong and Taiwan is creating problems for Singapore. In HK and Taiwan the wages for maids are higher and the promise of a guaranteed day off is very appealing to potential recruits.

Filipinas are the most expensive to employ followed by those from Indonesia and Sri Lanka. A Filipina is paid the princely sum of $300 to $350 per month but only after the agency that introduced her has claimed its $1,000 to $2,000 fee. Not forgetting the fact that one needs to house and feed the maid in question.

The other side of the coin is that Singapore has a strict policy against maid abuse and is swift to punish employers who abuse their servants. Not so in other Asian countries.

Still it would appear that the allure of higher pay and a day off are enticing maids to leave Singapore after one tour of duty and seek employment elsewhere.

Even though Singapore does officially have a 'day off' clause, families can choose to pay out for the day rather than let the maid actually take the day off.

I suspect this clause might be revoked if the problem of recruiting maids grows any further.

And no..... we don't have maid.