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