Sunday, 21 February 2010

Out With The Old

I have a fondness for Asian ceramics, particularly Chinese ceramics. Up until today I had a small collection that I had put together over the past 20 years (see above).

Not all were all 'quality items' in the eyes of a connoisseur but there were some gems, such as the small Ge Ware bowl (#2) and the blue Ming plate (#3).

However as with all collecting there comes a time when one needs to make a decision about retaining or selling. So yesterday I decided to contact Toh Foong Antiques at 5 Temple street from whom I had bought the best pieces all those years ago.

I can still recall old Mr Tan going to the rear of his shop and bringing back a box with the Ming plate inside.

The old man has since retired and it was his two sons who came this morning to assess my modest holdings and make me an offer I could not refuse.

So now the Ikea glass cabinet is looking somewhat bare, but I am pleased with the financial result and comfortable with the idea that some other lucky person will have many years of enjoyment from these antiques.

Such are the joys of the collector.

Sunday, 14 February 2010

Submerged Gambles

One has to feel a bit sorry for the Malaysians.

Last month they discovered to their horror that a couple of their airforce's jet engines had been illegally hocked off to Argentina and this past week comes news of a more recent purchase; a submarine that is unable to submerge.

Not that they are alone in buying dodgy subs from European sources.

A few years ago the Australians purchased some Collins Class submarines. The noise from their operational 'drive shafts' ensured that any enemy would not have to deploy sonar or acoustic monitoring to detect their movement many fathoms distant.

Today is Chinese New Year, our fourth in Singapore since arriving here in 2006. We have a ticket in the $10 million Hong Bao lottery which will be drawn tomorrow, as has the rest of the population. The odds of winning a prize are therefore not great.

With the odds firmly in mind it should also be noted that today signals another milestone in Singapore's gambing history. The first casino at Sentosa opened for business (or 'integrated resort' to mask its real purpose).

Having to front up with $2,000 for an anuual fee to enter it quarantees that we will not be visiting. Compared to Las Vegas where one can enter any number of casinos free and dress down in the process, why would a punter want to pay for the privilege of entering the Singapore version?

If this entry tax was designed to stop the compulsive gamblers amongst the locals and PR's I really cannot see it working. They will simply resort to taking the ferry from Tanah Merah to one of the gambling boats in international waters off Batam (which the 'Aunties' do on a regular basis according to a taxi driver I travelled with recently). The vessel in question is called the Leisure World.

One final comment about Chinese New Year; it is very difficult to find any food places open as most of the hawker stalls are closed.

Even our local Indian stall is closed as the coffee shop proprietor he rents from is Chinese. We had to resort to an Ikea meal of baked chicken after a quarter of hour walk in the mid day heat.

Tuesday, 9 February 2010

The View From My Window - Kuala Lumpur

Petronas Twin Towers - Kuala Lumpur

A wonderful metallic structure bathed in the evening light. Until 2004 this was the tallest building in the world but was later eclipsed by Taipei101 in Taiwan. It remains however the tallest twin tower building.

It is built on what was the site of the Kuala Lumpur race track; an interesting case of getting rid of gambling for the sake of mammon.

Despite the exterior metallic glint the towers actually use very steel in their reinforcement. This was a cost saving measure due to the price and availability of steel at the time. The towers were constructed on a cheaper radical design of super high-strength reinforced concrete according to the entry in Wikipedia.

My Maya

I am currently staying at the Hotel Maya in Kuala Lumpur and have to say that I am favourably impressed.

It is literally three minutes walk from the office in KL and very convenient. The hotel is contemporary Japanese in design and has a shower with a wooden 'duckboard' floor; something I have not experienced since my boarding school days.

As is my habit, I tried out their room service for dinner this evening and chose one of their 'signature' dishes.

Regrettably the Australian Yellowtail Kingfish fillet did not live up to its culinary promise and was quite dry in texture.

Saturday, 6 February 2010

Here's Lukan At You

Boxes of Lukan mandarins from China have appeared in Singapore as the country gets ready for next week's Chinese New Year.

Taiwanese Lion Dance Troupe - Centrepoint

Throwing the Cultural Baby Out with the Bath Water

The is a report today about an ancient tribal language that has become extinct; its last speaker has just died. What a sad indictment that a 65,000-year link to one of the world's oldest cultures has been broken.

It does however remind one just how important language is to a culture; once it becomes extinct so does the culture itself.

The modern generation of Singaporean's have largely lost the ability to speak in their dialects and for a couple of generations the focus promoted by the government has been on both Mandarin and latterly, the up-skilling of English.

I can't help but think that something of the richness and diversity of Singapore culture of old Singapore has been lost as a result?

To try and revive aspects of a culture once much of the old traditions have been lost is extremely difficult.

For example, the retirement of of the old hawkers often means that the original recipes are not handed down. The modern imitations of classic South East asian cusines found in the food court chains somehow never live up to the original.

In neighbouring Malaysia the Orang Asli (original peoples) are suffering as a result of the all pervasive oil palm industry. Maha Meri art is recognised as part of the world's heritage and can fetch thousands of US dollars but the tribe's access to the rare woods they need for carving has been increasingly cut off.

There is more to these ancestral spirit carving than making money. Through them the culture of the tribe survives.

I saw similar trade and spirit cultures in the Sepik region of Papua New Guina when I lived there in the early 1980's.

In our rush for modernity let us not lose the cultural traditions and practices that made us what we are today. If you don't know where you have come from you will not know where you are going.

Sunday, 31 January 2010

Today's Print


Friday, 29 January 2010

The Sound of Silence

You don't realise just how high the ambient noise levels are in an Asian city like Singapore until you leave it for the calm of a place like Auckland.

The rumble of an approaching MRT train and the squabling of tenants children are all replaced by...well nothing really, just a sense of quiet.

This is the first time in nearly four years that I have returned to the land of my birth and it is fair to say that I did so with mixed feelings. I enjoy the buzz of activity in the East and visual stimulation of the tropics.

Add to this a good dose of wanderlust and you can appreciate that a return to the relative quiet of New Zealand was something I was not sure that I would fully appreciate.

But my apprehension was misplaced as the welcome of old friends and the sight of old haunts made me feel that I was truly coming home.

Our suitcases are full of goodies that are either unobtainable in Singapore or are highly priced. Such NZ signature foods as Hubbards muesli and Kapiti cheeses have all found a space for the return journey.

On our final night (a Saturday) loh and behold; a party of drunken Japanese men turned our adjoining apartment into a raucous bar. As if we hadn't had enough of this inconsiderate culture in our own Singapore condo. It was quite literally a rude awakening.

Tuesday, 26 January 2010

Today's Print - Britomart

Britomart Centre, Auckland

Food of the Ancients

Quite by chance I came across a translation of one of the most famous cookbooks of all - Apicius; a collection of Roman cookery recipes, compiled in the late 4th or early 5th century AD.

I doubt if many of the recipes will ever make their way to the Margaret Drive Hawker Centre but one never knows.

The list of culinary delights includes: Grilled Sow's Womb, Roast Loins Made Thus, Milk-fed Snails and not forgetting the various laxative vegetable recipes. The latter no doubt taken after attempting to digest the sow.

Approaching the Chinese New Year the price of local sweet meats has already risen and will continue to do so. Bak Kwa will be at apremium in Singapore.

For the next two weeks though I will be back in the land of my birth, after nearly four years away. The diet of milk products, crusty bread and fresh seasonal vegetables (per chance the odd avocado?) will make a pleasant change.

Sunday, 24 January 2010