Saturday, 7 March 2009

My Kingdom For A Thong

Mine is not a delicate foot. Nor it is in Ang Mo terms an overly large one.
I like to think of it as an appendage befitting my yeoman ancestry - sturdy and well proportioned.

This perception makes not a jot of difference when it comes to buying shoes in Singapore. My shoe size is 45 which translates to 10 1/2 in New Zealand terms.

Almost without exception every make and model of footwear in Robinsons and nearby stores stops at size 44. The salesgirls smile politely and suggest squeezing into their largest size, a scene reminiscent of one an Ugly Sister trying on the glass slipper in Cinderella.

Occasionally I do find something that fits and a nice pair of Florsheims are a recent purchase. My problem in recent times has been finding a pair of rubber jandals (or flip-flops or thongs depending on your country of origin).

My wife carried a paper cut out traced from the sole of my jandals in her handbag for several months, on the off chance that she might stumble across something suitable. Alas she did not and I have resorted in recent times to cloth slippers of the Japanese variety, purloined from various hotels I have stayed at.

Today however I was in luck which just shows that perseverance pays.

On one of the higher levels in Centrepoint mall I came across a temporary stall that was retailing warehouse overruns. Rising like a periscope out of a pile of odds and sods was a biliously coloured pair of what seemed to be rubber jandals.

A closer inspection revealed that this was so and I had hit the jackpot - two pairs of size 45's for a mere $5. Being the Hang Ten brand they are reasonably well constructed.

There is of course always a drawback with such bargains. The jandals are remnants of the last soccer world cup purchased by patriotic Spaniards (the red and yellow design) and Englishman (the embellished Union Jack design). There is further challenge with the British version as the flag in question is red, pink and blue - rather than the official red, white and blue.

One can only summise that the dye ran during manufacture which probably goes a long way to explaining why few of them sold. No self respecting British soccer fan would be seen dead in jandals of this hue.

Beggars cannot be choosers and at least I can now shuffle around our condo in my new footwear muttering "Ole!" or singing "Swing Low Sweet Chariot" -I am a rugby follower - depending on how the mood takes me.

Sunday, 1 March 2009

Boozy Basoonists

"The charge M'Lud is that on August 31st, the accused was drunk in charge of his instrument"

An unlikely scenario? Perhaps not, according to the revelation this week that binge drinking amongst members of Britain's leading orchestras is a serious problem. Reportedly things have got so bad that there was "an incident in which a percussionist had fallen off the back of a high stage while drunk".

Now I know that in a recession the arts are almost amongst the first to suffer but up until now I thought it was only rock bands that took to the stage inebriated.

For some reason it appears that brass players drink more than other sections of the orchestra. Having tried to master the trombone as a teenager I can understand the frustrations endured by this section of the orchestra but it didn't turn me into a raging alcoholic.

There has no doubt been a corresponding rise in sales in strong mints wherever British orchestras are located. A bass player with the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment (a fitting title, in the context of this story) tells of a fellow musician who attempted to mask his habit with this confectionery and whose playing got "worse and worse".

To the best of my knowledge this affliction has yet to strike Singapore's classical music scene. I shall however be listening carefully for the sounds of Mozart on Speed.

Saturday, 28 February 2009

Wonder of Wonders

It was 28 years ago that I last made a visit to Bangkok but here I was, cocooned inside an air-conditioned limousine, proceeding at pace down the freeway between the airport and the city centre.

In the early 80's this trip would have taken a good two hours, bumper to bumper, sweating and swearing at the never ending traffic jams. By comparison today's journey is a breeze, albeit a fairly sticky breeze, as the sun in Thailand is intense and manages to infiltrate into the passenger compartment despite the tinted glass.

A word about the new Suvarnabhumi aiport in Bangkok. According to one report, visitors still flock to marvel at its "airy and futuristic structure designed by German architect Helmut Jahn, featuring an oval-shaped concourse, energy-efficient temperature control systems, and several superlatives in airport construction".



Futuristic it may be but the hard Teutonic steel walkways reminds me of looking under the hood of a Volkswagen Beetle - very efficient without any endearing warmth at all.

Yes, there are now automated walkways which the old airport never had, but you need to move quickly as one feels like a hot house tomato and the cloth 'sails' that sheath sections of the roof do little to dissipate the noon day sun.

For my money Singapore's Changi airport still wins hands down. It seems more welcoming and less severe than the Thai pretender.

The final section into the city was chaotic as the main arterial routes converged and tuk tuks and scooters weaved their way and forth through the traffic.

My abiding memory from my first visit to Bangkok was the warmth and friendliness of the Thai people and they have retained this attribute. Their service ethic is faultless and they go out of their way to make the visitor welcome.

I stayed at the Pathumwan Princess Hotel at 444 Phayathai Road, Wangmai, Pathumwan. With number '444' I expect many Chinese think twice about staying as '4' is regarded as an unlucky number, but I had no such qualms. It proved to be an excellent place all round and I would strongly recommend it to any business or private traveller. The hotel is completely non smoking - thank goodness!

As ASEAN was meeting in Bangkok at the time of my visit security was tight with a gauntlet of metal detecting devices, people with mirrors on poles looking at the underneath of every car and frequent bag searches.

On the day of my departure I noticed the hotel security staff where keeping a close eye on a large group of young people crowding the entrance, all wearing mauve T shirts. Given that down the road red shirted, anti government protesters wear laying siege to Government House I mistook this group as a splinter group of the same movement.

Not so. It transpired that a South Korean girl pop group, the Wonder Girls (where do they get these titles?) where about to arrive at my hotel and this welcoming party was the Thailand fan club.

I was tempted to say them "I was a drummer in a rock band a decade or so ago would you like my autograph while you are waiting" although I very much doubt there would have been any takers. So rather than making any comment at all I dragged my small suitcase through the throng and departed, by the same limousine that had brought me to the hotel the day before.

Saturday, 14 February 2009

Jackie's Gift & Purple Haze

When Jimmy Hendrix wrote Purple Haze I am sure he had Singapore in mind. We have been mercifully free from this form of pollution in recent months, but over the past two weeks the smudged ring around the sun has signalled the return of the haze.

I have written about this problem before so will not burden the reader with another rendition. Suffice to say, the Indonesians take the money and run. They gladly accept foreign aid to tackle the problem of their farmers and plantation companies having massive burn-offs of vegetation but very little progress is made in actually combating this problem.

Jackie Chan is well known to movie fans around the world for his action films. He is a man with an interesting life story and I remember reading his biography when I first came to Singapore. While not a native of this country he has a huge following here, as well as in Hong Kong and China. Jackie in turn really enjoys Singapore and has significant property investments here. This week has made the country a very generous donation of heritage houses which he has stored in a Hong Kong warehouse and they are purportedly worth more than $S100 million.

The gift hasn't gone down well with the Hong Kong'ers (or "honkies" as they often referred to in Singapore) who perceive Singapore as having taken what should be rightfully their's to display.

This is a wonderful gift to the new university that the government is planning to open here, ironically on the very site of the failed UNSW Asia campus in Changi. Coming as I did to Singapore in 2006 to work for this defunct operation (which turned out to be a great Australian con job), I am delighted to see that the new university will have Jackie's heritage gift at its cultural heart.

As for those too young to know Hendrix, here is a video of the guitar maestro in action. But why oh why did we wear those terrible military uniform cast-offs back then!