Tuesday, 7 July 2009

Puddle Jumping

It was 30 degrees at 5 pm in Taipei yesterday and children were jumping through fountains fully clothed to ward off the effects of the heat.

I am staying at Grand Hyatt which is opposite Taipei101 and a quick ten minutes stroll to the British Council where I spend my working day.

My fellow guests include the 158 strong Austalian cast of Phantom of the Opera who are opening their show here in a week's time. I sat next to the sound crew at breakfast and it reminded me of my days as a 'roadie' for the touring exhibition Te Maori in the late 1980's.

The Aussies thought I was an American from my accent - have I changed that much after three years in Singapore?

There is also a heavyweight US dignitary staying at this hotel although one never sees him or her.

How do I know this to be so? The heavy set suit brigade are in evidence with their earpieces and crackling intercoms.

One of the security detail breakfasted alongside me yesterday; a large and well muscled black American. He received a summons which saw him drop his walkie talkie and then quickly abandon his breakfast and hurry off to his duties. Indigestion is clearly one of the less known trials of an ex-marine.

As to the hotel itself, the service is excellent and the decor a little tired but well maintained. I am on the 8th floor, having refused my first room on the 14th which smelt of residual cigarette smoking despite the fact that the entire hotel is smoke free. The is a recurring problem in Asia where Chinese tourists and businessmen point blank refuse to follow the non-smoking rules.

Today I am at the British Council for a second round of meetings and presentations. I shall return to Singapore tomorrow.

Thursday, 2 July 2009

Not Not, Not Responsible

One has to feel sorry for the civic-minded taxi driver at Changi airport. Mindful of the H1N1 flu swirling around him, he donned a surgical mask to protect himself and his passengers from any possible cross infection.

Unfortunately this act of social responsibility proved entirely counter productive. Upon opening the back door and spotting the masked driver, his potential customers made an incorrect assumption that he was suffering from the pestilence, recoiled in horror and scurried off to find another cab.

The driver's preparedness to protect his passengers and himself is highly commendable. Unfortunately he had incorrectly assumed that other Singaporean were as responsible as he.

I travel on public transport and our bus drive this week has been punctuated by the sounds of sniffles and chesty coughs. Not a protective mask was in sight I hasten to add. This poor public attitude would not be tolerated in Japan, where the culture of wearing a protective mask when ill is firmly entrenched.

The government has been attempting to educate the population to be more socially responsible but the message is clearly not getting through when it comes to public transport.

What is happening is that parents are keeping their precious children well away from public gatherings and the streets are also much quieter than usual.

The organisers of the Asian Youth Games which are being held in Singapore must be cursing their luck. Not only have they hit by the economic downturn but the much hoped for supportive crowds of Singaporeans have not eventuated. One can blame H1N1 for this non attendance.

Saturday, 27 June 2009

Yam Sale

Yam Sale - Roger Smith - July 2009

A Queenstown Evening

The woman with no teeth was vigorously gumming a bread roll as she walked towards us past the Kings Icecream cart.

At this time of the early evening the baker at the Queenstown MRT discounts his baking, in an attempt to clear the shelves before nightfall.

Early evening is a pleasant time for a stroll, as the fierceness of the tropical sun has largely dissipated and local residents take the cooling air, emerging from the nearby HDB estates.

There are the Indians in their ruby red saris with ornate gold trimming, Malay women walking in groups; their head covered in deference to their religion and bow -egged Chinese bachelors heading to the food hawker stalls for a meal or to wile away the hours talking over a cup of the local three-in-one coffee.

And there was us, making our way back from a quick jaunt to the Queenstown Public Library. We are well served in this regard and the library is well patronised, staying open as it does until nine in the evening.

The air is freshened by a gentle breeze and the smell of fried fish and spices tempts the nostrils. Not even the sound of the passing MRT trains at regular interval intrudes upon the contemplation of another day passing.

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