Sunday, 16 November 2008

Send Your Sinuses To Singapore

The Vicks inhaler was rammed up his left nostril. His eyes were closed in a feigned slumber as the rhythm of the MRT lulled the passengers bound for Redhill.

What at first glance seems slightly incongruous becomes less so the longer one lives in Singapore.

Sinusitis is a significant problem in this part of the world. There used to be an advert shown on New Zealand television that extolled the virtues of a preparatory medicine. It guaranteed that by taking the product one would "send your sinuses to Arizona".

This is one reason I have never had an inclination to visit Arizona. I also now believe that the geographic accuracy of the advertisement's claim leaves much to be desired. Most of the sinuses ended up here in Singapore instead.

Much of life takes place in an air-conditioned environment and maintenance of these units should be, but is not always, a priority. The result is nasal congestion.

Similarly, the advent of green awareness in Singapore has seen more people switching off their "aircons" and going back to more energy efficient devices such as electric fans.

Not that this alleviates the allergies. Dust and other pollutants are simply distributed in a different manner and pollution is a problem here, especially so when the Indonesians decide to ignore their neighbours health and fire half the countryside.

With the current focus on heritage matters in this country what an opportune time to revert to that stalwart of colonial times, the 'punkah wallah'. The humble bearer pulled a cord that in turn gently raised and lowered a canvas flap, generated a breeze within the house.

This might be just the thing to re-employ the dozens of foreign workers that will be sent home as a result of the downturn in the Singaporean economy.

There is however one serious flaw in my labour redistribution plan. While the colonial bungalows of old Singapore could easily revert to this system of cooling, most of us now live in high rise condos or on HDB estates.

The small balconies outside where the airconditioning units are perched were never designed for a squatting and loin-clothed figure pulling listessly on a grimy piece of string.

Until they solve this architectural challenge I will snuffle my way to the chemist for another inhaler refill.

Sunday, 9 November 2008

Leaning To The Right And Languishing Libido

The libido of Singaporeans has been in the headlines again. This is not a new topic as the government grapples with how to encourage Singaporeans reproduce themselves at a faster rate than they are at present.

Perhaps I should qualify this by saying it is really certain sections of society that are not doing their bit to grow the population. From what is reported in the papers the Malay population is doing rather nicely but the Chinese are lagging behind.

It has now been revealed that the sperm count is part of the problem. The solution, a band aid of testosterone, although the media doesn't report which part of the body this aid should be adhered to.

Could it be that the years of compulsory military training under the hot sun have been a contributing factor to the lack of libido? A combination of tightly fitting uniform and exhausting humidity would be enough for any self respecting sperm to call it a day.

Apparently and in a more serious vein (if you will excuse the pun), burn-out and obesity are significant contributing factors.

Whatever the cause, one in five Singaporean men are suffering the effects which are striking the male population in their mid forties rather than the expected sixties.

Better news this week from an expatriate New Zealander's perspective, is the change of government in that country. I am particularly delighted to see the demise of New Zealand First and its leader Winston Peters.

This right wing group had actively sought to alienate Asians from society and played to the baser instincts of older generations and the insular-minded who feared that they were being overrun by 'foreigners'.

Thankfully Singapore does not entertain the ridiculous MMP system of representation, which sees minority parties having power over policy development well beyond the realities of their election results.

In short, a small party can hold a major party to ransom and there is little stability - an essential building block for a cohesive and prosperous society.

A contributing reason for my leaving New Zealand two years ago was the political environment at that time and I now look forward to seeing what a National government under John Key can do.

Friday, 31 October 2008

Nervous Nurse and Miss Gongeniality 1950

Nervous Nurse and Miss Congeniality 1950 were sitting at the bus stop again today, metres yet worlds apart.

The former casting a furtive glance at her companions while vigorously massaging her temple and earlobes.

Clad in a tired yet well pressed blue uniform, she was heading for work in Orchard Road.

Miss Congeniality 1950's wardrobe was of a different cut entirely. A ray of faded sophistication, she exuded a prim confidence with her piped black dress and matching jacket, a designer handbag of doubtful vintage and a tightly permed bouffant hairdo.

We were lost in thought while waiting for our morning bus to arrive, planning the day in our heads as beads of perspiration formed on our foreheads.

With a sharp clack Miss Congeniality 1950 opened her handbag and extracted a primly folded paper tissue which she proceeded to dab carefully over her powder caked face.

Being on the plumpish side, the rubbish bin at the far end of the seat proved a singularly unattractive proposition so she deposited the used tissue back into her bag.

These then are my regular companions each morning. Impervious to my cheery greeting they neither salute the day nor each other.

Wednesday, 29 October 2008

Five Score Years And Ten

This day has dawned with a singular lack of salutation.

Not that it matters in the broader scheme of things, but I am entitled to reflect upon the fact that sixty years ago I came into the world.

At that time a person retired from the workforce but in this day and age we aim for a longer life and shorter retirement period.

I was born in Waitara, a small town in Taranaki which is a regional province of New Zealand. Waitara's sole claim to fame was a large and very dirty river on whose banks a freezing works had been placed. This slaughterhouse processed the livestock from the agriculturally rich hinterlands.

In its early history sailing ships and other small lighters would ply their trade up the river to the wharf braving a treacherous bar at the river mouth. Each spring tide would in later years reveal the steel bones of those who perished doing so.

As a youngster my school friends and I would take our large muslin nets and go whitebaiting in the river or using a treble hooked 'spinner', jagging at the Blood Shoot. The latter action meant hand casting one's line as far out as possible into the offaly murk and then pull it back in swiftly in a jerky action. There was no finesse about this fishing but it brought results.

My father was the town's barrister and solicitor and in later years, a Judge of the Maori Land Court. My mother was an English bride who met and married my father as a result of their meeting when he was in service in World war Two. Captured in Crete he spent several years in Prisoner of War camps in Germany, an experience which he rarely spoke about until much later in life.

I recall I spent my formative years in a modest weatherboard house at 90 Brown Street and would make my way to Waitara Central school when I was a little older, descending a set of steps near Clifton Hill, known as the Zigzag.

Entertainment was kicking a rugby ball around the front lawn and abiding passion for conjuring with pocket money saved and purchases made through deLarno's Magic Centre in Christchurch's Chancery Lane. Our next door neighbour at the time, Jack Oliver, was a gifted amateur magician who proved added motivation. My other love was entertaining my friends with handmade puppets courtesy of my mother's sewing prowess.

Circuses also figured highly in my aspirations at the time and the visiting Worth's and other large circuses are fond memories. I recall being able to balance broom sticks on the tip of my nose from an early age which probably explain a lot about my nasal profile in later life.

Another thing I recall from my first decade of life was an interest in radio. Blobs of hot solder etched their way into my bedroom floor as I struggled to make crystal sets that could pick up the local New Plymouth radio station 2XP. An enormously long aerial wire was strung up from my bedroom window to a pole attached to the chook house.

The value of ceramic insulators was reinforced when I experiences a riveting 'tingle' during a particularly severe electrically storm. Hand winding coils on old toilet roll cylinders was another skill I mastered and they served as a crude tuning apparatus.

Learning to make crude gunpowder out of saltpetre, sugar and charcoal was another lesson in life. Motivated by each passing Guy Fawkes Day we would pack this explosive into old golden syrup tins, insert a wick and detonate the crude devices with glee. Not that my parents were aware of this and we were lucky not to blow ourselves up in the process.

Now sixty years on I am living in Singapore, surveying the world from a marbelled condominium and commuting each day on a doouble decker bus.

It seems a lifetime away from a small Taranaki town and today at sixty reminds me that it is.