Sunday, 16 August 2009

Breed, Breed, Breed

The government's ongoing concern with the low birth rate which is less than the replacement ratio has once again come to the fore in the local media. It is one key reason given for allowing a large influx of foreigners into Singapore to drive the economy - a matter many Singaporeans feel very sensitive about.

To the outside observer and Singaporeans of a certain vintage, this problem appears largely of the government's own making. If one reads the history of social engineering from the 1960's onwards it becomes apparent the reluctance to breed was first triggered by a deliberate campaign to reduce population.

In those times parents who had more than two children were penalised and the incidence of abortion was high. Having a third child carried a stigma and financial cost.

Mui Teng Yap wrote an interesting paper on this subject entitled Fertility and Population Policy: the Singapore Experience in which he wrote " Singapore has long been known for its use of social policies to influence fertility/reproductive behaviour. This began in the late 1960s/early 1970s and continues to the present, although the demographic objective has changed from
anti-natalist to selectively pro-natalist. "

There was also great concerned that 'educated' Singaporeans were not breeding and the under classes were.

This changed in 1987 when the rule became "have three if you can afford them" but I suspect by then that the damage was done in that the cultural perceptions of what constituted a family had changed.

The current PM has four children, with the first born from his second marriage (Li Hongyi) also being born in 1987 according the to online biographies. His first wife tragically died of a heart attack during childbirth.

In 2004, "Dr Love" organised a TV show to encourage couples to have children but it did little good. In 2001 the Baby Bonus Scheme was introduced providing financial incentives but the Straits Times has just reported that even with a record bonus there has been little take up.

I wonder how the now elderly who wanted more children in the 1960's feel (and in particular those women who underwent abortions) when they see the current government efforts to increase the population through immigration?

As an aside, news also today that Minister Mentor's grandson Li Shengwu was named the top overall economics student across Oxford's 30 colleges. He has an excellent political and economics pedigree on both sides of the family- his maternal grandfather is economics professor Lim Chong Yah who also obtained his PhD from Oxford University.

Monday, 10 August 2009

Today's Culinary Hint - Village Smoked Chicken

We live not far from the Anchor Point Mall and on a Sunday often take the free bus from Queenstown MRT station to the mall. In the basement is a recently revamped food court and my favourite is the village smoked chicken from the Old Hong Kong Roast stall.

It is simply delicious as it is prepared in the traditional manner - smoked inside a claypot for maximum flavour.

The dessert stall is also very reasonable and their chendol is one of the best in terms of ingredients offered

Make Mine A Cookie

Yesterday Singapore celebrated its National Day. Two things happened which made it memorable.

Firstly we had televised National Day parade which was very well choreographed. The Military paraded with full colours and an impressive range of armaments were on view. Navy divers 'found and defused' a mine as part of the programme.

The mine in question looked suspiciously like the World War II variety. I remember seeing one of these lethal devices mounted on a concrete plinth in the northern Taranaki town of Mokau when I was a child - perhaps it remains there still?

Interestingly the first 'mines' was used by the Chinese as early as the 14th century. Needless to say I am not an expert on mines so perhaps mine design has remained the same these past fifty years and we were after all, viewing the object on television through the murky waters of the Marina Bay.

The colour and pageantry was impressive as was the fact that most of Singapore stopped at 8.22 pm to recite The National Pledge.

The second thing that happened yesterday was the pressing of our condo door bell. When I opened it, there stood the diminutive figure of our neighbour's eight year old daughter. Shyly we offered up a plastic container with some of her homemade cookies, baked under her mother's direction.

I was very touched by this gesture and can honestly say that in the three years that I have been here, this small offering meant more than any end of year bonus. It was a great way to celebrate National Day.

Saturday, 8 August 2009

Coughing Crows and the Little Red Dot

A crow coughed as it passed my window. At least it would have coughed had it been physically able to do so. The birds sweep down their highway from roost to food market, following the contours of the MRT lines.

Visibility of these lines is not the best with the Haze (i.e. pollution from Indonesian burn-off fires)reducing visibility and making it very difficult for anyone with respiratory conditions.

I cannot for the life of me understand why Singapore continues to donate tens of thousands of dollars to Indonesia for smoke sensing equipment, when Indonesian small holders and plantation owners blatantly disregard their own country's directives. The Indonesia government seem powerless, or unwilling, to effectively police their own laws.

A former Indonesian President B.J. Habibie once disparaging referred to Singapore as a "little red dot" and this sort of paternalistic attitude clearly persists.

Sunday, 2 August 2009

Another Day, Another Shopping Mall - Ion Opens

Bedlam in Basement 4

More sins of the flesh - Chocolat!

Time Out Under The Stairs

Sunday, 26 July 2009

Singapore HeritageFest

I want to give a big tick (to quote a local televsion advert that is running at the moment) to the National Heritage Board for their National HeritageFest.

At Vivo City yesterday we came across a booth and sound stage which was erected as part of the cultural celebration (Sound Stories). I picked up a couple of heritage trail booklets which are pictured above. They both are excellent productions; well written and each with an interesting trail map to follow.

There were a number of interesting snippets about places that my wife can remember from her early childhood. For example the New World Park which was very popular up until the mid 1950's and where one paid $1 for three dances with local women - and they only got 8 cents a dance to keep.

Apparently there were also some interesting cabaret acts including a stripper called Rose Chan who wrestled pythons as part of her show.

Python wrestling seems to have fallen out of favour here in Singapore I am pleased to report, but we are gearing up for a local election in 2010 or possibly before, which promising to even more entertaining.

Saturday, 25 July 2009

Kopitaim - Mee and You

Kopitaim - Vivo City....... Roger Smith
After a week of London "stodge" it's back to the hawker stalls of Singapore for some serious eating. Not that I didn't enjoy reverting to my former diet of roast beef and yorkshire pudding, but give me some hearty mee any day.

I am feeling mildy jet-lagged today after arriving back in Singapore last evening. My flights were delayed by electrical storms over Munich which closed the airport for an hour.

It was a fairly bumpy trip right the way through with turbulence over the Bay of Benga - this was not as a result of the curry I had eaten I hasten to add.

Tuesday, 21 July 2009

Pret A Manger

One of London's small pleasures - a lobster sandwich and mango smoothie from Pret A Manger - for less than
five pounds.

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.