Monday, 20 July 2009

Say Cheese

There are many great mysteries in the world one of them being why London hotels, unlike their counterparts everywhere else in the world, do not provide a facecloth?

It is 6:15 on a money morning and my body clock has still not adjusted to the UK time zone after my 16 hours of flights from Singapore, Saturday evening and Sunday. I awoke at 3 am and dozed fitfully until 5:30.

The trip on Lufthansa from Singapore was interesting. The ability to sleep reclining on a business class seat made a lot of difference. The chef's fare had all of the classic German trimmings. I passed on the calf's cheek in brwon sauce and had a light meal instead.

We arrived in Munich ahead of time and I had a couple of hours to wait. It was here that I made another discovery.

The Lufthansa Lounge provided a nice breakfast of excellent breads and fresh fruit. I chose the latter - a large bowl of sliced and diced fruit. The adjacent bowl of thick yoghurt also looked inviting so several dollops of this were added on top.

Having found a table and had a mouthful of coffee, I turned to the fruit. My first mouthful told me that I had made a frightful mistake. The 'yoghurt' was in fact a cheese sauce which the Germans spread on their thick slices of black bread. Needless to say a fresh bowl of fruit was called for.

Back in the transit lounge I studied my travel companions-to-be. Sitting directly across from me was a buxom, bottle blonde fraulein reading her teenage fashion magazine. To her left was a dishevelled Britain. He and his luggage had a distinctly rumpled look. I am being charitable, as his suitcase was in fact filthy and, as it so proved, he had habits to match.

He had a partially eaten bag of sunflower seeds in his backpack which he withdrew from the depths of his dirty linen that were in the same bag. The bag had burst and so he spent the next ten minutes fossicking and digesting the spilt seeds that he rescued from the lining. Having completed this exercise he opened his small suitcase which revealed even more dirty washing.

We arrived at Heathrow a quarter of an hour earlier than scheduled which the pilot proudly proclaimed through the intercom. This impressed the Heathrow staff not a jot. Despite several calls from the cockpit no steps nor transport appeared on the apron. We had to wait for 15 minutes more in the aircraft cabin until Heathrow ground staff honoured us with their presence.

Welcome to London; they have a lot to learn from Changi airport.

Friday, 17 July 2009

Today's Print

Robinsons - July ........... Roger Smith 2009

Jakarta Hotel Bombings

News in this morning that the Ritz Carlton in Jakarta, where I stayed a couple of months ago (see this entry), has been attacked by Indonesian terrorists.

The hotel cafe where several people were killed is where I and my regional colleagues enjoyed our breakfasts when we attended our meeting there.

It is fairly sobering to consider that it could have been us amongst the dead and maimed - it is just luck that our visit did not coincide with this cold blooded act.

One Giant Step For Mankind, One Giant Step For SMRT

You may think I am referring to an event that took place forty years ago; the first men on the moon.

My train of thought however is focused on the more mundane - a step towards reclaiming the cleanliness of Singapore's public transport.

This week we have at last seen evidence of the local authorities cracking down on eating and drinking on the MRT and I hope they will extend this vigilance to other forms of transport such as buses.

While the rules have existed they have been quite frankly poorly policed, with inspectors only reacting after complaints have been made and not being proactive. At least I have never seen any such policing when I traveled.

When I took the MRT regularly each afternoon, it was necessary to run the gauntlet of ill-disciplined school children and itinerant labourers sitting on the carriage floor, sucking on drinking straws and munching on a variety of kueh kueh.

It would appear that I am not alone in applauding this renewed inspecting vigour. The general consensus is that citizen journalism has prodded the SMRT officers into action. Let us hope that this diligent approach is maintained.

And as to the other 'step for mankind' all those years ago; I remember listening and watching the moon landing unfold and realising for the first time how this journey meant we were no longer confined to one planet.

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.