Monday, 26 January 2009

Post scipt - New Years's Eve in Chinatown

Icecream seller - Chinatown

On the eve of Chinese New Year we paid a visit to Chinatown to see the pasar malam ( night market) and enjoy the festivities.

The place was packed, shoulder to shoulder and the bargains were few. In fact most of the prices for nuts and sweetmeats were dearer than the same varieties in the local supermarket.

Lots of Taiwanese-style sweets on sale, sacks of pumpkin seeds and stacks of 'cut-price' Chinese New Year goodies. All in all a sweaty feast of red and gold. More photos on this gallery.

Sunday, 25 January 2009

Farewell Rattus Rattus

We are on the cusp of the Year of the Ox and are farewelling a hairy friend who has been the harbinger of bad business tidings in the latter part of the year.

Being New Years Eve, Chinatown in Singapore will be packed with people looking for last minute bargains. The smell of bak kwa (grilled pork meat) will be in the air and the streets should be packed. Accordingly to a colleague of mine, if I am prepared to wait until 1:30 am tomorrow morning as the hawkers are preparing to close down I will get even better deals. I don't think I shall be doing so.

Normally we leave Singapore at this time and go to a country that does not have Chinese New Year as a feature of its calendar year. I hasten to add that we do the same at Christmas time and for similar reasons - the ability to shop, eat and relax away from crowds of festive shoppers.

Like its western Yuletide equivalent, Chinese New Year is all about families - a time for reunions and celebrations. It is the one time of the year when for at least two days all of the Chinese shops and eateries take a well deserved break. Thankfully we do not starve as the Malay and Indian vendors seize the opportunity and do roaring business without the competition of the industrious Chinese.

It is also a time for children to learn about their customs and receive their hong bao (red packets) which contain money. A lot of the local banks and large businesses in Singapore give out packets of the hong bao envelopes emblazoned with the character of the celebratory year.

Another custom is to give out oranges at this time of year as a symbol of good fortune for the year ahead. I received mine at work and naturally was hesitant as to whether to showcase it on my desk until mould morphed it into something unimaginable, or to eat it? I chose the latter and have no doubt devoured my year's worth of luck in the space of a couple of mouthfuls.

Most of the fashion floors of Robinsons department store were a sea of red this past fortnight as this is an auspicious colour to wear for New Year. The same applied to other department stores while the supermarkets have all of the traditional goodies displayed - miniature prawn rolls, pineapple tarts, confectionery carp and the like.

The filling for the prawn rolls is called Hae Bee Hiam, a pungent concoction of dried prawns, shallots and chillies

The Strait Times ran a very good story yesterday about the celebration's cultural & dialect variations and various journalists have been recounting what the celebration means to them.

The government too is getting into the spirit and has spent $1.4 million on River Hong Bao decorations in the Marina Bay area. Seven thousand firecrackers will be let of every night for nine nights to increase the chances of returning prosperity.

This year we are staying put in Singapore as my employment sees me travelling through Asia on a regular basis. As I write, my camera battery is charging and for the first time since we arrived almost three years ago we shall brave the crowds of Chinatown this evening and immerse ourselves in the festivities.

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?

Singapore
United States
New Zealand
Australia
United Kingdom
Malaysia
Canada
Indonesia
Philippines
India
Hong Kong
Japan
Germany
Thailand
France
Netherlands
China
United Arab Emirates
Spain
Switzerland
South Korea
Taiwan
Ireland
Vietnam
Denmark
Belgium
Turkey
Poland
Brazil
South Africa
Sweden
Norway
Brunei
Egypt
Italy
Finland
Czech Republic
Cambodia
Trinidad and Tobago
Israel
Sri Lanka
Saudi Arabia
Bulgaria
Lithuania
Macau SAR China
Laos
Papua New Guinea
Bahrain
Ukraine
Peru
Argentina
Austria
Slovenia
Pakistan
Panama
Mexico
Hungary
Nicaragua
Gibraltar
U.S. Virgin Islands
Croatia
Greece
Venezuela
Slovakia
Syria
Romania
Cayman Islands
Kenya
Belize
Botswana
Iran
Qatar
Malta
Serbia and Montenegro
Mauritius
Puerto Rico
Ivory Coast
Nepal
Russia
Serbia
Bangladesh
Georgia
Bolivia
Barbados
Bosnia and Herzegovina
Colombia
Portugal

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.