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.

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.