Saturday, 5 September 2009

Busker Bliss and Men In White

I have just met the most discordant erhu player in Singapore, bowing his way to infamy outside the Doby Ghaut MRT station.

The sound was reminiscent of the whining of a spraying tom cat marking out its territory.

This noise that masquerades as entertainment also reminds me that MediaCorp is scheduling numerous re-runs of the excruciating Singapore Idol.

I am all in favour of buskers but a modicum of talent would have helped and perhaps it would be a good idea to have this folk vetted before a license is issued?

My train of thought turns to the automated airfreshners that my wife has bought 'on special'.

These are proving to be reasonably effective in combating the second hand smoke that filters into our apartment from inconsiderate neighbours. They too make a sound like a cat about to cough up a fur ball, as they release their scent into the room. Most disconcerting.

Did Lee Kuan Yew become Prime Minister by a single vote cast by the then PAP chairman? This is the topic gripping the Singapore media at the moment upon the release of a new publication "Men in White". Other bloggers claim that not all of the founding members were interviewed during the research phase but I have no way of verifying this.

My aim is to try and get hold of a copy to read as it appears to give a more comprehensive overview of the formation of the ruling PAP party than some previous publications.

And does it matter that MM became the PM by a single vote? In a democracy a one vote majority is all that is needed.

Most would agree that Singapore would not be where it is today if someone else had been holding the reins of power.

The White Bridge


We never crossed the white bridge in Taipei
your yin
my yang

we scurried past
as ships across a bay
of mild unease and discontent

a bridge too far perhaps?
every advance followed by a retreat
maintaining the balance

avoiding the meeting of love and laughter


Roger Smith September 2009

Sunday, 30 August 2009

Publish and Be Damned

Something seemed very strange with the format of this blogger platform this past week until I discovered that the setting for the Google Chrome browser needed adusting. All is now back to normal.

I have come across a very interesting publishing programe that can be embedded into social media sites. Let me demonstrate:


It is called 'Issuu' and I can see all sorts of applications for this open publishing programme. The educational value of such a tool is immense and I will be sharing it with colleagues at the British Council.

Speaking of which, I will be heading to Seoul in a couple of weeks; my first trip to South Korea. They tell me mid-September is a pleasant time of the year to visit, unlike mid summer which is very hot and mid winter which has temperatures below freezing!

A couple of weeks after I return from Seould we are taking a short four day holiday cruise aboard Superstar Virgo to Penang and Phuket. We had a great time on her sister ship Leo a few years ago and have opted for a top deck stateroom with balcony. More on this cruise later.

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.