Friday, 11 December 2009

Bright Shiny And New

Newer is not always better and so it has proved with the refurbishment of the food court in the Singapore Botanic gardens.

It was a place I frequented regularly as the variety of food was good and there were some hawkers who cooked in the old (for that read non-sanitised) style, where one could still savour the richness of a sauce from a well fired wok.

My favourites were sotong pagang (grilled squid, Indonesian style) and the banana leaf curry set which could be had for the princely sum of $5.50.

The fruit juice stall did a roaring trade even though they had a penchant for topping up the glass with sugar syrup.

A couple of days ago the food court reopened and so some of us dutifully returned to this once favourite haunt.

Gone were the plastic chairs and tables and in their place stood rows of environmentally friendly wooden tables; quite in keeping with the mission of a botanic garden.

The food service however seemed to have been inspired by IKEA, with stacks of trays and chrome rails to slide them along. The prices were also a dollar dearer. I can't put my finger on it, but the old food court magic was no longer there.

I guess tourists who eat there would not know the difference but we did. Speaking personally I enjoy the atmosphere of the old coffee shops and food courts, provided they are properly cleaned.

I noted that this is blog posting number 94 for 2009 which equals my best and most verbose year - 2007. In one more day I take an annual holiday and like many people in Singapore I will not be traveling far. Maybe I will try and discover some of the older places to eat during the break?

Saturday, 5 December 2009

Sunday Best and Somerset Simplicity

Our sunday meal is usually taken in the AnchorPoint shopping mall's food court. We have two favourite stalls; the Village Smoked Chicken stall (which I have mentioned before) and a pasta outlet which is featured above.

For a modest $S6.50 a largish portion of pasta and chicken cutlet can be procured. What makes it memorable is the tomato sauce which is clearly not out of a bottle.

On the subject of malls, today we visited the latest to be launched in Orchard Road - 311 @Somerset. Not that Singapore really needs another mall!

This one however has risen from the ashes of the Phoenix Hotel which used to occupy the site between Somerset and Orchard Roads. Its design is more akin to that of Centrepoint across the road and I much prefer it to its recently opened neighbour, Orchard Central.

Some folks of a certain age will remember a song by Leo Sayer called "Orchard Road". While older Singaporeans might wish to claim ownership of the locality, it was actually written by Sayer for his estranged wife, pleading for her return from her flat and forgiveness after a lapse of judgement in their 7-year marital life. She had moved out to a flat in Orchard Road in London.

One can't help but wonder what Tiger Wood's composition will be like given the litany of indiscretions that are unfolding in media this past week? A Putter In My Pocket perhaps?

A Fashionable Orchard Christmas

All decked out for Xmas - Orchard Road
Some interesting facts about the name 'Orchard Road'. It was named after the orchard of one of the earliest planation owners who lived in Singapore in the 19th century - William Scott.

Scott's Road is also named after Scott. His luxurious residence, which was called 'Hurricane House, was subsequently bought by His Majesty Somdetch Phra Paramindr Maha Chulalongkorn, the supreme King of Siam who visited Singapore often in the late 1890's.

It is now the Thai Embassy on Orchard Road and the royal connection and reverance for the monarchy is why the Thais will never sell it to the Singapore government nor any other party.

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.