Sunday, 29 November 2009

Early Singapore - Before Raffles

There is a common misconception that Singapore only came into existence with the arrival of Raffles and the establishment of the then British colony.

According to a Wikipedia entry, the first written records of Singapore date to the 2nd century, when the island was identified as a trading post in several cartographic references.

I have been reading an excellent history "Early Singapore, 13002-1819" which is edited by John N. Miksic and Cheryl-Ann Low Mei Gek. One of the contributors is an old friend and colleague, Kwa Chong Guan who I first came to know during our Museum days.

Evidence complied in the volume clearly demonstrates that Singapore has had a long existence as a trading settlement and the Fort Canning excavations also discovered the remnants of royal occupation.

What is most fascinating is the ebb and flow of local regional politics over the centuries - the Javanese, rulers from Aceh and the Portuguese to name but a few. Alliances were made and broken as power shifted from one group to another.

This Singapore History Museum 2004 publication is well worth as read for those who are interesting in discovering the true founding of Singapore.

They say that history is often written by the victors. I find this book a refreshing and informative historical journal which proves beyond doubt of the importance of Singapore before the British.

Saturday, 28 November 2009

The Haj Sheep's Lament

I will never return
to the pastures of Canterbury
fleeced and flocked
dipped and docked

Now interned in holding paddocks
with the Alps behind
the panicked prodding
from cattle truck to waiting ship

It's the dry dust of the desert that waits me
the ritual of the knife
a slash
a thousand blessings

My carcasse given to the poor
in a plastic bag
as an act of piety

So far removed
from the green of Canterbury

Roger Smith - November 2009

Make My Day

Saturday, 21 November 2009

The Descent of Man and Flash Floods

Passport photos track the descent of man. My latest travel document proves the point and replaced the older version as it had only a few months left before the expiry date.

I had reached the stage where airport security were spending an increasing amount of time looking back and forth from my face to the passport. It was definitely time for a change.

So for the past three months I have been a 'stateless' person. My old passport was transported to Wellington in the diplomatic bag along with my documentation for the replacement.

Being captive in Singapore for the duration has been no hard task as I would not have wanted to venture through Changi during the height of the recent APEC gathering.

There has been a steady parade of dignitaries visiting Singapore this past month; President Obama and the Chinese Premier Hu amongst them. By all accounts the meeting appears to have been a great success, with the possible exception of two South American countries whose home-grown spying spat saw them depart early.

I digress.

My new passport arrived yesterday resplendent with embedded chip in the back section. The somewhat chunky appearance of this embedded technology belies its sophistication, although nowhere in the accompanying pamphlet does it explain what exactly this chip does?

For all I know, my every waking moment could be being tracked by some minor official in the New Zealand capital, via satellite. This is not as far fetched as one might think as a whole industry has sprung up around microchips and tracking.

Parents in the UK now have the ability to use a tracking service which maps the movements of their children, through the location of their mobile phone, as can be seen in this promotional video.

The only drawback to this 'intelligent' passport is that the chip section is easily damaged so you would not want to have in in your back pocket in the middle of a Singaporean deluge; such as that which submerged sections of Bukit Timah last week.

Half a month's rain fell in an afternoon and the canal overflowed causing major flooding; a 50 year event according to the Minister for the Environment and Water Resources Yaacob Ibrahim.

Some bloggers are blaming a "third world standard of drainage system" but this criticism is unfair. Forty or fifty years ago such street flooding was commonplace, with the local children rushing out to 'net' fish, crabs and vegetables that had floated away from the nearby wet market stalls.

This time around there were some washed out prestige vehicles but few if any fish were caught.

Saturday, 14 November 2009

The Big Squeeze - Vivo City

The Big Squeeze - today's Xmas display by Tang's at Vivo City

A Most Beautiful Home?

"Let’s make our world the most beautiful home
Where everyone can live and breathe and they can easily roam"
or so says the lyrics of this song which is currently being hammered on Singaporean television.

There is a sad irony about "live and breathe" with the haze continuing and the current state visit of the Indonesian President; whose country is responsible for polluting the lungs of everyone living in Singapore.

My past week has been punctuated by the frightening reality of an antivirus software turned bad. My McAfee antivirus software (which I downloaded from our work network at the behest of our IT department) decided to misbehave.

The result being that I could not access my PC for a day or two. At moments like this one realises just how reliant we have become on technology - checking the weather, the condo prices, the exchange rates...

Thankfully we have some excellent IT technicians at work and one of them was able to correct matters.

I am also without a passport at the moment and therefore confined to Singapore for the duration. There is nothing untoward about this, as I have sent it back for renewal through our local High Commission. The process as I understand it takes a month?

Renewing a passport is an exercise in stepping back in time. Looking at the passport photos in old travel documents graphically documents the deterioration of man. No passport image is ever flattering and it is cold comfort to realise that they get progressively worse over time.

Perhaps it's a case of beauty being in the eye of the beholder.

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.