Monday, 2 November 2009

Hands On

Trying to win - Ngee Ann City

The 1930's depression were infamous for marathon dance sessions which saw people literally drop dead from exhaustion in their quest to win a prize.

While no one yet had succumbed to the heat in Singapore this week, or died from exposure as a result of dancing, there are a number of stalwarts still with their hands firmly glued to cars.

The last one standing gets the vehicle.

Sunday, 1 November 2009

Thoughts On The Welfare State

"You cannot legislate the poor into prosperity by legislating the wealthy out of prosperity. What one person receives without working for, another person must work for without receiving. The government cannot give to anybody anything that the government does not first take from somebody else. When half of the people get the idea that they do not have to work because the other half is going to take care of them, and when the other half gets the idea that it does no good to work because somebody else is going to get what they work for, that my dear friend, is the beginning of the end of any nation. You simply cannot multiply wealth by dividing it."

Adrian Rogers, 1931

Note: This is one of the reasons I am working in Singapore and not New Zealand

A Marconi Moment

Marconi watching associates raise kite antenna at St. John's, December 1901


I can only image Marconi's excitement and sense of achievement when he made the first successful wireless transmissions in Italy in 1895, changing the face of human communication forever.

We have come a long way from then but in recent times the age of open communication has been suffering some king hits.

For those expatriates living far away from their country of birth there are times when one wishes to catch up on what is happening in their nation of origin. For me these occasions are rare but I do like to keep in touch with antipodean developments.

From 1979 to 1981 I lived and worked in Goroka in the Eastern Highlands of Papua New Guinea. Shortwave radio was a boon and many an hour was spent listening to Radio Australia to learn what was happening 'down south'.

Radio New Zealand International with its ever decreasing presence in the Pacific was not much use and I recall that in the evening it was the Chinese stations that jammed the airways.

This is my fourth year living in Singapore and the only radio that we listen to is the BBC. At least there we get a balanced menu of international news and opinion. The Chinese stations still dominate the evening airways as they did thirty years ago.

With the advent of Internet radio you would have thought that listening to radio stations in New Zealand would be an easy matter and for the first couple of years it was. I could also catch up with the local television news which was streamed live from the two main NZ channels.

No more.

This year has seen a great leap backwards for internet radio with most of the stations I used to listen to in NZ are not longer available. The reason given: international copyright of content.

The upshot is that open radio or television access to an All Blacks rugby game for any New Zealand expatriate is now a thing of the past. With media now largely in the hands of a few international conglomerates this trend is likely to continue and it is the culture of a country that suffers.

The Aussies though are still beaming their internet radio around the world which makes me wonder if New Zealand is not being just a tad politically/commercially correct when it comes to transmissions?

I am a person who believes in open international communication and views the commodification of culture and media as something distasteful. And yes, I resent the fact that I can no longer follow my favourite sport on internet radio and now have to pay to get streaming rights to a rugby match.

Mr Marconi is no doubt be turning in his grave when the subject of 'international copyright issues' are mentioned.

Or perhaps not .... as interestingly Marconi became a fascist in his native Italy in his later years and the fascists were all in favour of media control.

In this respect it would appear that little has changed.

Saturday, 31 October 2009

Farrer Park and Friday Weather

It's Friday evening again and the thunder and lightening is illuminating the nearby HDB estates. Tonight the storm centre is quite far away but this morning we had a good 'rainy season' pour. This evening the rain is more gentle.

It is not yet fully into the rainy season when the temperatures drop a couple of degrees but at least the cloying humidity is dissipating a little.

SU is to the be the name of the new university that Singapore is building. The Singapore University of Technology is being headed by a US university professor on secondment from M.I.T.

The irony is of course that the new SU campus is situated on the grounds of the previously proposed UNSWAsia which was originally planned to open about now; that is before the Vice Chancellor in Sydney beat a hasty retreat.

Tomorrow we are going via the Farrer Park MRT to visit the new eco mall - City Square. Energy conservation is now being enthusiastically promoted by the government and this one of the malls that is built on eco principles. The toilets use little water for instance; which should be a revelation after a curry in nearby Little India.

There is also an eco-roof that harnesses solar power and rainwater, of which we now have an abundance.

Farrer Park is an area of historic interest as it was here that Singapore's first racecourse was built and where the island's aviation history began.

As I write this I am aware that my friends in New Zealand are experiencing yet another 'late winter cold snap' even though they are supposedly in the middle of Spring.

It is going to be quite a wrench to the system re-adjusting to the chilly temperatures when we finally head south again for retirement. My wife can't wait!

Monday, 26 October 2009

Life's Like That

Doby Ghaut Station

Tuesday, 20 October 2009

Bull Horns and Baubles


This morning's bus was dressed up as a cow. A large pair of white horns rose above the roof of the driver's compartment and a tail with a jaunty sweep decorated the rear.

Bus decoration is part of life in Singapore with the desire to get the advertising message out taking many forms, in this case bovine.

On the subject of decorations it is very surprising to see that the Christmas decorations are already going up in Orchard Road and Tanglin Mall is featuring its nativity tableau.

This a full two months before Christmas actually happens; the festive spirit seems to be coming earlier each year.

Reportedly with the big APEC gathering in Singapore next month the decorations have gone up early to make a good impressions for the delegates.

All of their Christmases will have come at once - literally.

Saturday, 17 October 2009

Beatles To Bowie

As a 'child of the sixties' I am interested to learn that the National Portrait Gallery in London is featuring an exhibition of the decade.
A very good online gallery can be seen here.

Thursday, 15 October 2009

Venturing Forth On Virgo

Cashew Factory - Phuket Roger Smith

Two days ago we returned from a four day cruise aboard the Superstar Virgo, on of the Star Cruises vessels and the largest of its fleet.

Having cruised on Superstar Leo several years ago our expectations were high. The newer ship did not disappoint. I would strongly recommend going Balcony Class as we did; it may cost a little more but one receives preferential treatment including boarding and disembarkation as well as seating in the Lido Theatre.

The cabin on deck 11 was clean, tidy and comfortable and the service we received from the cabin crew was very good. They consisted in main of stewards and stewardesses from the Philippines and China with a few Korean and Indian staff also in the contingent.

Our fellow passengers came from Asia and Australia. Quite naturally there were a large proportion of Singaporeans many of whom had cruised with Star Cruises more than twenty times.
Of the more than a thousand passengers on board about a quarter were from India. The latter were consistently late in boarding and returning to coaches during the day excursions in Penang and Phuket.

One matriarch whom we encountered on our Phuket day trip was exceedingly demanding and arrogant. She remained cast like a sari-ed whale in the bus instead of getting down at several of the stops, spoke loudly to her two spinster daughters when the tour guide was attempting to speak to passengers and did not endear herself to her fellow passengers in any way, shape or form.

Food - As with all cruises life consists of endless eating! We had our breakfasts and lunches in Bella Vista restaurant on deck six. The first lunch and dinner we had in this restaurant were excellent and set our expectations for the trip. Unfortunately the Gala night fare at Bella Vista and the subsequent lunches and dinners were not up to the same standard as our first experience; rock-hard profiteroles, less than warm fish dishes did not impress.

The highlight was using up our free $200 credit for food and beverage which one receives as a balcony class member. We chose to have an Italian meal in the Palazzo restaurant which was superb.

Entertainment in the Lido Theatre was of a high standard with the most impressive being the Brazilian dancers and a troupe of Chinese acrobats who performed atop a white grand piano. A classy production all round.

We would not bother with the day trips again in either Penang or Phuket and many of the 'regulars' stayed aboard the ship. The cashew factory in Phuket was of interest but Patong Beach, which received the brunt of the Boxing Day tsunami, was a typical Thai beach resort full of tatooed Expats and massage joints.

A selection of images from the trip can be seen in this online flip book.





Click on the flipbook to view

Saturday, 10 October 2009

Montage Mania

Singapore Montage
Roger Smith

Thursday, 8 October 2009

Sunday, 4 October 2009

Thoughts From The Shaky Isle

One does not acquaint Singapore with earthquakes but judging on the results of the past week this perception could well change.

We have had two solid tremors felt in various parts of the Republic and all thanks to the major quakes in neighbouring Sumatra, some 530 kilometres away.

Coming as I do from the 'Shaky Isles' of New Zealand I am no stranger to these but the sensation of experiencing an earthquake does not get any more pleasant with age.

We were trained at a very early age to get under a door frame (or failing that a strong table) whenever the ground started to rumble and rock. My Singaporean colleagues however have had no such training, as the look on their faces clearly showed when we experienced the second quake one morning.

Several just sat at their desk with frozen expressions of uncertainty no doubt wondering why I had leapt from my seat and was heading for the nearest door frame.

Suitable door frames are hard to find in Singapore. For a start most buildings are not made with wood and secondly most have partitioned spaces so solid rooms are anything but.

Interestingly given the geology of the country not everyone felt the tremors. The first big Padang 'quake took place without us feeling it in our condo whereas people on the East Coast and Raffles Place felt the full effects and evacuated their buildings.

Another worry must be the reclaimed land upon which a significant part of Singapore is built. Liquefaction is a major destroying force during earthquakes and reclaimed land however well compacted is very prone to this.

The vision of the soon to be launched Integrated Resort (pictured) half submerged would give new meaning to the title of 'Marina Bay Sands'.

I expect through that most new structures have been built to withstand the earthquakes of the strength we might experience here. Fortuitously Singapore does not stand on a major fault line unlike its near neighbour, Indonesia.

It is just a matter of time (and a short time at that by all accounts) that the pent up pressure of the Indian/Australian and Eurasian tectonic plates on the western side of Sumatra will be released in a major 'quake of nine magnitude.

Professor Kerry Sieh of Nanyang University's Earth Observatory has publically stated that the recent quakes are 100 times smaller than the big one when it comes; a less than comforting thought.

Some twenty years ago I saw a map of the faults lines that criss cross New Zealand's capital city Wellington. At the time I raised the question with a colleague "Could an earthquake somewhere else trigger an event in another location"?

"No" was the unequivocal reply, "Such events are very specific to the location".

It would seem now that his analysis was flawed as scientists have recently discovered that the major 2004 earthquake in Sumatra may have weakened the San Andreas fault, 8,000km away in California.

If this is indeed the case being a mere 500 kilometres away from the Big One when it strikes is not that reassuring.

I shall be stocking up on half price moon cakes to tide me over such calamities should they occur in the next fortnight. The Autumn Festival concluded last night and the cakes in question are always heavily discounted after the event.