Saturday, 17 January 2009

Friday, 16 January 2009

A Passing Wind

It has been cool in Singapore this past fortnight. Cool being a comparative term.

Usually the temperature flat lines around 31 degrees and the television weather forecasts only record wind difference and likely thunderstorms.

For the past two weeks though we have been enjoying cooling trade winds. The temperature has plummeted to a balmy 24 degrees much to the consternation of the locals who can now been seen wearing shawls and track suit tops.

The real relief comes from the lack of humidity rather than temperature variation. The rainy season seems to have come and gone and the gardens of our condominium are looking distinctly parched. The frangipani are shedding their leaves and flowers.

The Straits Time reports that the cool snap has been far more severe in Thailand where "temperatures have fallen to 2 degrees Celsius in the north, killing five people and prompting the authorities to declare an emergency zone across half the country".

Considering that Singapore was hotter last year than the average for the last 50 years the current respite is most welcome.

Tuesday, 13 January 2009

River Dancing

On a summer night you can hear the snap
of a jack
ripples in the silver twilight
pursed lips towards the moon of mayflies dawning

in the still heat of evening making love
on the fatal attraction of
discarded waders
in a life so short and a dusk so long

and as blackness envelops
the memories cling like arms
passion sated
the whip of line laid low on water

stalking, still
the stream of consciousness unabated

The One Eyed Dragon Comes Good?

News this week of the execution of a notorious triad member with strong gang connections in Malaysia.

Known to friends and foes alike as the One Eyed Dragon this gentleman reportedly had a violent temper and was so named becuase he was blind in one eye.

He was extradited from Malaysia where violence is unfortunately rife and the gang problem is immense. His crime, the cold blooded killing of another man and for this he paid the price. Singapore retains capital punishment for such offences.

While there is media interest in capital punishment the real story was that at the last minute this murderer donated his organs and one of the reported recipients was from a very wealthy Singapore family - the Tangs (of Tangs Department Store fame).

Mr Tang captured the headlines himself a few months ago when he was prosecuted and convicted for attempting to purchase a replacement kidney.

I expect there is a moral to this story but for now it escapes me.

Street Scene

A typical street scene in Singapore. The man on the left is wheeling his carrier/trolley down to the local supermarket. Once opened up these aids hold a surprising amount of groceries and other household items.

The use of umbrellas to shield the face from the ravages of sunlight is widely adopted in Singapore.

To be pale in skin is to be beautiful and harks back to earlier days, where those who were suntanned clearly worked in the fields and the lucky few with porcelain complexions were ladies of leisure and privelege.

Nowadays pale compexions come in a cosmetic bottle and skin whitening agents are applied with zeal.

Sunday, 11 January 2009

The Great Rubber Band Crab Scam

It is very difficult to match the cunning of Chinese vendors.

There is a delightful story in today's China Post about an old man whose son bought him some Portunus crabs as a treat.

These delicacies are sold by weight and so it was with consternation that when the rubber band that bound the crabs together was removed, the man discovered another 42 rubber bands underneath the first.

The total weight of the additional rubber bands was more than 200 gms and therefore the recipient of the gift had been the subject of a scam to increase the weight at point of sale.

In a more positive vein comes the news that an enterprising bag seller in Beijing has invented a handbag that keeps you warm. One one side of the bag has a pocket that can be filled with hot water; the only disadvantage being that it needs frequent refilling to maintain its effectiveness.

Such are the joys of visiting Hong Kong

Saturday, 10 January 2009

Where was this blog read in 2008?

United States
New Zealand
United Kingdom
Hong Kong
United Arab Emirates
South Korea
South Africa
Czech Republic
Trinidad and Tobago
Sri Lanka
Saudi Arabia
Macau SAR China
Papua New Guinea
U.S. Virgin Islands
Cayman Islands
Serbia and Montenegro
Puerto Rico
Ivory Coast
Bosnia and Herzegovina

Tuesday, 6 January 2009

One Day in HK

I know I am in Hong Kong because my web browser has suddenly defaulted to Chinese script. I also notice the pollution masking the hills and the beauty of the harbour which always impresses me each time I visit.

The Star Ferry terminal is quite visible in the foreground of this photo which was taken from the window on my hotel room.

The lack of humidity also makes a very pleasant change from Singapore which according to the climate scientists is actually getting hotter each year!

Saturday, 3 January 2009

Queenstown Bowl

There is an old building that is due for demotion in in our neighbourhood - Queenstown Bowl. As the name suggests it was once a bowling alley.

I find a lot of beauty and interest in old buildings such as these with their rusty textures and muted colours of past glory.

Yellow Heart - Roger Smith 1/2008

Singapore reportedly has 20 bowling centres and although this one is now derelict, it used to have a KTV Lounge, a Kentucky Fried Chicken outlet, a cybercafe, and arcade games centre, pool & snooker and a cinema.

A couple more images can be viewed by clicking here

Poles Apart

I'm having a little rant about littering in Singapore - premeditated littering I mean.

Surprisingly for a country that has stringent laws, Singapore is not clamping down on the proliferation of tear-tab notices that seem to be sprouting up on every available lamp post.

This fungal manifestation is not only an eyesore that detracts from the beautification efforts of the local councils, the paper also drops off during the rains and lies in pulpy heaps on the pavement.

These two examples were at the Dawson's bus stop this afternoon. I would think this practice would stop fairly rapidly if the litter enforcement officers simply made a note of the numbers on the advertisements and prosecuted the miscreants.

Fan Series

Dusk Fan - Roger Smith 1/2008

Winter Fan - Roger Smith 1/2008

Leaf Fan - Roger Smith 1/2008

Wednesday, 31 December 2008

Additional back-up mechanisms to be installed at S'pore Flyer

Additional independent back-up mechanisms are going to be installed at the Singapore Flyer, over and above the current standby generator, to ensure the wheel keeps moving - Straits Times

Sunday, 28 December 2008

Ibrahaim The Kite King

Ibrahaim was the kite king of Orchard Road some fifty years ago. He owned a small salibat stall; a more primitive version of Kopitiam stalls found around Singapore today.

He was well known to the children of Kramat Lane for his prowess with kites, even though he was then in his early thirties and they were in the main, under ten. Kramat Lane as it was then, with its open canal-sized drains, no longer exists. These deadly ditches have long since been covered over and hotels have taken the place of factories and shop houses.

Kite flying was and remains very popular in Singapore and in a weekend evening of Marine Parade you can often see kite contests underway. And I do mean 'contests' as kite flying here has a competitive edge to it.

References to
Malay kite flying were recorded early in the 16th century with the very earliest using a skin of leaves, reminiscent of the early Maori kite's use of plant materials. 'A study in Polynesian Tradition' 1931, by Nora K. Chadwick suggests that kites were long used in the Malay archipelago to catch fish. There are other references to kites being used by fishermen in the Malay-Polynesian archipelago, a system used to this day.

The aim of kite fighting is to severe the string one's opponent through the use of a carefully prepared
abrasive string.

In the '50's children used to carefully save blown filament light bulbs, They would surreptitiously 'borrow' their mothers pestal and mortar and grind the glass bulbs into an abrasive dust. The metal filament itself was removed from the mix.

A block of the red builders glue made from cow skins would be heated up in old and cleaned tin cans and the powdered glass would be added.

One of the most important attributes was to secure an extremely long and unbroken reel of cotton as any knots and joins in the reel were a potential weakness.

The cotton was pulled through the glue and glass mixture and then strung between trees or poles to dry. There were often many cut hands during this preparatory process but the end result was a strong cutting string to which the kite was attached.

Kite fighting and
tactics to defeat an opponent remain a serious business as the number of Singaporean blog and web sites testify. There is even an active association to promote the sport.

Clearly and unlike in the West, the expression "Go Fly A Kite' has a more positive meaning.

Saturday, 27 December 2008

How to Tell If You’re Eating Made-in-China Food

One of the most interesting sites in Singapore is Talking Their humour can be hard hitting but often very funny at the same time.

I particularly enjoy their Singlish Dictionary of commonly used terms. This was one of their contributions that appealed:

So we’re all worried now about buying food that’s made in China because of all the melamine and donno-what-else their unscrupulous manufacturers are putting into it. But sometimes even products that are labelled as coming from elsewhere could have used Chinese ingredients. Seow leow! Like that, how? Dun scared!

Here’s a handy guide on: How to Tell If You’re Eating Made-in-China Food

1. You’re not actually enjoying a romantic candelit dinner. It’s just that your vegetables are glowing.

2. Before you drank that made-in-China milk, you had only two nipples instead of eight.

3. Your family of five ordered a made-in-China turkey for Christmas, and somehow, everybody managed to get a drumstick.

4. After eating, whenever you burp, the TV switches to Channel 8.

5. The slogan on your microwaveable meal is “Just like your peidu mama used to make.”

6. You can tell your chicken comes from China when it’s always loudly spitting phlegm.

7. Think clearly: when was the last time you had to peel a pork rib before eating it?

8. When you squeeze the Chinese tomato, it says in a Beijing accent, “Mmm, bu yao ma, da ge!” (“Ooh, big brother, don’t!”)

9. Those made-in-China Mentos? Made from 100% real Men’s toes.

10. You keep having to visit the Great Bowl of China.

Friday, 26 December 2008

A Head for Heights

I do not enjoy heights any more. This is why I prefer to be on the 7th floor of our condo rather than in a penthouse on the 38th floor. Well actually there is also another reason for this decision - price - but I digress.

Why do I mention this? Well last year a new tourist attraction opened in Singapore with a great fanfare.

The Singapore Flyer aimed to better the London Eye by providing a view from a great height of Singapore and neighbouring Malaysia (if the heat haze or smog had dissipated enough to see the landmass). The "world's largest observation wheel" we were informed was a marvel of engineering and reliability.

It may be an attraction to others but the idea of being encapsulated for nigh on forty minutes in an air-conditioned metal cocoon while ascending the heights has no appeal to me whatsoever.

I had turned down a previous opportunity on an NUS staff outing to go aloft and I never regretted the decision, preferring instead to stay with my feet firmly on terra firma.

On Xmas Eve a fire broke out in the Flyer's control room and the wheel ground to a halt trapping 176 people for more than six hours. Ten passengers on capsules closest to the ground were encourage to abseil down ropes to safety.

I am eternally grateful that I did not patronise the Flyer and after this incident there has been serious scutiny of the Wheel and its operations. The wheel is currently closed down and one hopes that the small matter of an ancillary backup motor to rescue stranded passengers will be addressed, should an incident such as this reoccur. Currently according to press reports there is no such backup mechanism, hence the use of ropes to 'disembark'.

The retailers at the base of the wheel are having a hard time and are calling for compensation as this time of year is normally where heavy bookings above translate to good business below.

Given the economic dowturn I intend to remain with my feet firmly on the ground - in all senses of the term.

Thursday, 25 December 2008

Lighting Up Christmas

By a conservative estimate probably 70%+ of Singaporeans awoke today with the thought of celebrating the trappings of Xmas - the unwrapping of gifts, the wails of excited children grazing their knees as they fell of new bikes and for the more religious who celebrate the festival, a visit to the nearest church.

Most of all Christmas is a time for children. My mother was English and I recall many pleasurable Xmas mornings checking out the 'stocking' at the end of the bed, in the wee hours of the morning after Santa had paid a visit. There was always an orange right at the toe of the sock and this was followed by small gifts & sticky toffees.

Infrequently a larger item was to be found in the bedroom - my first tricycle arrived in this fashion. Usually though the larger and family gifts were to be found at the base of the Xmas tree in the lounge. No artificial plastic varieties of tree here.

We always had a real tree as did everyone else in our small Taranaki town. We lived at 90 Browne Street in Waitara and the pungent of a pine still reminds me of those days and the time we took prior to Xmas in decorating the tree.

Here in Singapore there are others of different faiths, to whom this day means very little in a religious sense. It is they who man the shopping malls and food courts.

Finally there are people like myself who awoke to a full menu of spring cleaning duties scheduled in advance by my wife, which included the cleaning of lounge lights and fittings and pondering over the reasons as to why a replacement fluorescent tube was failing to illuminate?

Banal as it seems there is some satisfaction in getting these domestic chores out of the way before taking the free bus to Anchorage shopping centre for a Xmas lunch. For the past two years (as I have previously recorded in this epistle) we frequented the Xmas buffet at Le Meridien Hotel.

Two things have happened in the intervening twelve months. The hotel has been bought and renamed and we weighed up the cost of this repast and decided for the money we could do better. I used to be a fan of the esteemed Singapore buffet but no longer. This style of eating encourages gluttony and I need no encouragement at all!

So early afternoon we tucked into a meal of turkey at Jacks Place, doffed out glittery party hats to all assembled and departed to Dawsons shopping centre to pick up replacement light tubes.

This is the joy of Singapore, the shops never close and it is always possible to pick up such commodities as and when one requires them.

The rest of the afternoon has been spent loading up my new work laptop with files required for my travel to Hong Kong and trying to get my large spatulate fingers accustomed to the very small and textured mouse button that is hiding itself quite successfully in the centre of the keyboard.

Already the local supermarkets are getting prepared for the really big celebration that happens in a month's time - Chinese New Year. The festival this year will celebrate the Year of the Ox. As I sit trying to digest today's Xmas meal I feel an affinity with the oxen in question.