Saturday, 20 June 2009

Of Subs And Skum

News this week that the Singapore navy has two new submarines being fitted out in Europe and due for arrival in the new year.

This came as news to me as I wasn't even aware that they had a submarine fleet. Scarcely surprising given the secretive nature of the Service.

The secrecy is quite unlike that experience a few years ago by the Australian Navy when they proudly launched their own home-grown fleet. Unfortunately the propulsion units must have been developed by a diesel mechanics from Wagga Wagga and were an abysmal failure.

They were so noisy that when in motion it was reminiscent of dragging a bridal set of tin cans across the ocean floor, rather defeating the requirement for operations by stealth.

Singapore Archer class subs. ( the abbreviation for submarine, as opposed to the more popular Subway breadrolls consumed in their thousands each day for rabid Singaporean teenagers) are in fact not new but refitted and upgraded version of a Swedish vessel.

It is a little known fact that the Swedes have been playing around in submarine for 100 years. Their other claim to fame are Ikea meatballs, which have got noticeably smaller in recent times.

Once the size of a billiard ball they now resemble '
tom-bowler' marbles. I tried them once but found them bland compared to the New Zealand home variety. The Ikea version are very popular in Singapore, ranked second to the deep fried chicken wings which are consumed with great gusto.

I always enjoy looking at packaging in other languages. Ikea's product line has some interesting titles such as the package of marshmallow mushrooms (above). Anything with 'skum' in it holds little appeal to me.

Knowing how clever the Singaporeans are at bargaining I suspect a year's supply of meatballs has been negotiated as part of the submarine Archer refit deal.

Tuesday, 16 June 2009

A Hard Rain's A-Gonna Fall

Actually is has, but not in a Dylan-esque manner.

Following three weeks of high temperatures and humidity the last couple of days have brought a welcome respite. The sound of thunder drawing ever nearer is most welcome although some times the heavens are all sound and no action.

Not so this morning, when we had a refreshing rain and the temperature during the night had dropped to a relatively comfortable 25 degrees.

The is the time that many of my colleagues from Britain head home for their summer holidays. The few Kiwis that head south on vacation do so with some trepidation, as the winter temperatures in New Zealand will take some getting used to after Singapore.

My job means that I will be confined to travel in East Asia for the next few months; Taipei early July followed by Tokyo mid-August. Their summers are renowned for heat but I am hoping that three years in Singapore has acclimatised me to such extremes.

Mojave Desert - from the shady side of the bus

I recall a trip from Los Angeles to Las Vegas where our bus broke down in the middle of the Mojave desert (above). Now that was hot, but it was a dry heat not the energy-sapping Singapore variety which we have been experiencing for most of June.

Sunday, 14 June 2009

Lunch On The Go

Plaza Singapura - June 2009

Saturday, 13 June 2009

Yoga Print

Roger Smith - June 2009

Wednesday, 10 June 2009


"DadEEE, DADEEEE!" screamed the small voice "Water, DAD EEEE".

The under-5 was putting powers of observation to the test from the upper deck of the 111 and informing all who cared (and many of us who didn't) that the water feature outside Takayshamaya had captured his interest.

There is a natural enthusiasm and exuberance about 'Small People' that should be nurtured. Unfortunately the meat grinder of most education systems ensures that these individual expressions of delight and observation are submerged by the weight of mediocrity.

For many years I was a teacher of visual arts and my primary role was to pry loose the jar of banality and allow creative expression to flourish once again.

In times of economic and political instability the world needs creative problem solvers not a flock of sheep all heading in the same direction.

Singapore has made a committmement to fostering the creative industries and art schools have been springing up like mushrooms over the past five years.

This, coupled with a committment to research is a very wise investment. Singapore's competitive edge is its people. The more creative problem solvers and visionaries the country can produce the more robust its economy and society will be.

Singapore does not have the acres of green pasture for sheep to graze, unlike the country of my birth. It therefore has no choice but to be creative and innovative if it wishes to maintain its status and standard of living.

A Small Person's powers of observation need to be nurtured - the country's future depends upon it.

Sunday, 7 June 2009

The Xmas Shell

Above the bureau radiant
your pink lips
opening to translucent orange
and tales of Kenyan times
when the rule of the Raj
a white flex to the motherland
destroyed your smooth corrugations

In Papua we buried the likes of you
letting the ants devour your innards
disinterring your carcass
to let it shine once more
varnished by the caress of the sea

Roger Smith 2009

A Rapturous Success

DinoTrails - Plaza Singapura

It's the Great Singapore Sale, a legendary shopping experience that draws visitors from far and wide.

Unfortunately the term "Great" is rather overplayed this year and, as several tourists have observed, the bargains are not immediately obvious.

Not that one can blame the retailers, many of whom are struggling to survive in the depths of the current recession and of course, there are only so many 'new suitcases' that one needs to buy.

From the upper level of the 111 bus going down Orchard Road I noted a feeding frenzy in the Gucci shop in Paragon Shopping Mall. Apart from that the place seemed quiet especially for a weekend.

Malls are resorting to other attractions to draw in the crowds. In Plaza Singapura a large dinosaur display had its young audience in raptures (a rather unfortunate pun). The Singapore Science Centre Explainers were excellent in the manner they entertained and educated the children.

Nearby in the Capitol Theatre, the teenage audience were queuing up to audition for Singapore Idol 2009. Many had camped out overnight to be first to get on stage.

Reports in the evening news said that 4,000 people turned up to the auditions and such was the demand that the judges are going to be subjected to a second day of excruciating auditory abuse.
This is bad news for those of us searching for some quality entertainment on local television if the previous years standard are anything to go by.
Not that all local talent shows are bad. Earlier in the year there was a series on local bands and some of these were excellent with deft musicianship and tight harmonies.

Sunday, 31 May 2009

Gadgets Galore

Massage Mania - Roger Smith. May 2009

Despite the economic downturn Singaporean remain enthusiastic adaptors of new technologies. One only has to look at the full page advertising for mobile phone each Friday to appreciate this constant desire to upgrade.

The same applies to credit cards which every bank and most large department stores attempt to hook people with. It is the local custom to question any annual charges and express a strong desire not to have to pay these.

If there is a negative response from the card purveyor then Singaporeans will simply cancel the card and apply for another from a different source. This equally applies to the range of benefits that a card can provide. Electronic gadgets come in all shapes and sizes. Most malls have at least two retailers selling massage chairs that clamp your calves, or vibrating neck collars. Irradiated ankle socks and other bizarre electrical gadgets complete the self-medication kit.

In a more positive vein, it is the tropical fruit season in Singapore and we are enjoying the Thai mangoes and lychees from China (which are much more juicy than the Thai variety). These fruit are more beneficial to health than a warehouse full of massage chairs.

Saturday, 30 May 2009

Jakarta Dawn

View from my window at the Ritz Carlton Kuningan. Note the yellow/brown pollution haze. free wireless in the Jakarta International airport unlike its counterpart in Singapore.

I like to arrive at an airport early, giving me plenty of time and allowing for the vagaries of traffic. Today it took about an hour getting from my hotel in the relatively secure diplomatic enclave of East Jakarta to the international airport. This is quite a commendable amount of time as this same journey can take up to three hours or more.

There is a certain seediness (should that be tiredness?) about the terminal. It matches the laidback lethargy of the small shop owners in the concourse.

The contents of these shops are an eclectic mix of large dried shark fins, mango confectionery and hand dyed fabrics all of which are quoted in $US.

I of course am left with a handful of Indonesian Rupiah – 28,000 to be exact. To the uninitiated this may seem like a princely sum but it in fact only four Singapore dollars. Not that I am planning to pack a large shark’s fin into my carry-on luggage

Monday, 25 May 2009

Tethered Monkeys and Shanty Towns

This is written from the luxury of my corner room at the Ritz Carlton Kuninga in Jakarta.

I say luxury, because it is with a feeling of guilt that I recall the shanties with their rusty red corrigated iron roofs that we passed on the way in from the airport.

The disparity between rich and poor is very evident in Indonesia. Jakarta alone has more than 10 million people, or to put it into context, two and a half times the entire popuation of New Zealand.

Every day for many is a story of subsistence and surival. My limousine passed a boy with his pet monky tethered to its owner's wrist, performing acrobatics in the hope of attracting alms from passing motorists.

Further on, a piece of hose snaked from behind a clump of bamboo to the roadside and a motorcyclist was filling up from what I took to be an illicit petrol supply.

The goreng(fried food)hand carts were setting off for late afternoon as my driver took a short cut through the local neighbourhood in East Jakarta. It is a sight that one used to see in old Singapore, but no more, as the hawkers there are largely confined to stalls and the itinerant variety disappeared several years ago.

The pollution haze that I remember from my last visit to the capital over a decade ago remains.