Monday, 19 July 2010

For the Love Of Durian

Stanley Ho
News today that Stanley Ho (whose joint venture failed to get a casino license to begin operations in Singapore) has flown his private jet from Macau to Singapore to pickup 88 durian and fly them back north.

The Mao Shan King variety of the fruit is the one that tickles his fancy.  The cost of the purchase was just over $Sing 2,000 but if you add in the jet fuel and pilot's wages the costs becomes prohibitive for mere mortals.

Stanley Ho is an interesting man.  He ranks 84th on Forbes rich list with a personal worth of $6.5 billion and rising. He is married and has 17 children.

His purported links to Chinese organised crime has meant that his daughter Pansy failed to get a casino license to operate in New Jersey.

No doubt Singapore authorities have inside knowledge about Mr Ho and his associations that they share with the US regulators, and this information is unlikely to be made public any time soon.
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Sunday, 18 July 2010

The Answer's A Lemon

It is not widely known that 'citrus limon', or the humble lemon to give it its common name, is an Asian tree.  It wasn't until the 15th century that it was cultivated in Europe and later still that Christopher Columbus took some seeds to the Americas.

Whatever the pedigree, lemons were synonymous with the New Zealand gardens of my childhood.  Even today most large gardens will have the obligatory lemon tree providing juice that provides a welcome respite in the heat of summer.

They are also very high in Vitamin C (citric acid) so are a winter stalwart to ward off the onset of colds and 'flu..  Kiwifruit are also very high in Vitamin C and in Singapore they were $1 each.  Here in NZ we are currently eating the golden variety for 95 cents a kilo.

The old fashioned lemon meringue pie remains one of my favourite desserts.

So it was no surprise that I discovered a fully laden lemon tree on one of my strolls to Bucklands Beach. I used this for the image below (click to see larger image)

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Saturday, 17 July 2010

Downpours and Dengue

We are experiencing winter rains for the second day running. 

These are not the torrential cloudbursts we got in Singapore.  They were usually preceded by a loud thunderclap or two.

The Auckland version is a cold grey drizzle which comes in  recurring flurries.  By comparison, Singapore has been hit once again by flash floods which has submerged cars much to the chagrin of the condo oweners and insurance companies - see Jeremy Chan's photo in the Straits Times (right).

While I prefer warm rain to cold the latter can be a plus.  The climate in New Zealand is not so conducive to tropical diseases, such as dengue.

The Straits Times reports that there has been a sharp spike in the number of dengue cases over the past few months.
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Thursday, 15 July 2010

Today's Print

    Towards Rangitoto                                                                                               Roger Smith

Bottle Blonds and Kim Chi

Nong Shim Big bowl Kimchi instant
The nearest I've got to Asia this past fortnight is through the copious consumption of instant noodles; a poor substitute I would readily agree.

We have been buying these pots at various locations and each brings back a memory.  Today's lunch will have kim chi noodles as a base with some added vegetables and fresh ham.  They remind me of the brief but very pleasant trip I made to Seoul a few months ago.

The weather there was brisk as it is now in Auckland at time of writing.

I found the streets of Seoul  to be clean and the city a bustling hub of earnest Koreans going about their business.

Our local supermarket is also bustling and pinched-faced retirees spend their pension money on the tantalising specials.

"Die Frau" served us again today.  She is a checkout operator who stands out from the crowd with her ample proportions overflowing the seat beside the till.

I confess that I have not yet got used to the bovine action of her jaw as she nonchalantly chews a large wad of gum, pausing briefly to to dab her finder into the sponge finger bowl as she counts out the change.

The Germanic appearance is largely due to bottle blond locks that are platted of either side of her parting. A brown centre streak breaks the peroxide monotony.

The visible body piercings and tattoos suggests that, as with icebergs, there is more below the waterline than visible above it. A collection of white plastic and faux silver jewellery dangles from her ears and neck but it is her movements that fascinates the most.

She displays the motive delicacy of a bull elephant in musk, casting produce from the counter into the shopping trolley with reckless abandon.

Not that she is unfriendly, far from it. 

After we have completed our payment the parting greeting of "You's have a great doy" rings in our ears as we head for the car.
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Tuesday, 13 July 2010

In Praise Of Porridge

A typical rice porridge complete with dried mi...Image via Wikipedia
It is 7:30 am and I have just finished a bowl of porridge for breakfast; the oatmeal variety with a dollop of honey stirred in.

This hearty fare sticks to your ribs and is a great starter on a cold winter's morning.  As a child we often had this for breakfast but in those days before the advent of dietary heath consciousness a sprinkle of brown sugar and fresh cream would accompany the meal.

I had a friend who lived on a dairy farm a few  miles away in the country and whenever I stayed with him we used to get pale gold cream fresh from the dairy which was an even better topping.

Oat porridge is an ancient food and has been found in the stomachs of 5,000 year old Neolithic bog bodies

My first experience with porridge in Singapore occurred in 1982 when I was returning from a week's holiday in Penang and was homeward bound for New Zealand on a 'red eye flight', with a day's stop over in Singapore.

Quite by chance the seat next to me was occupied by a very friendly Brunei business man who, on discovering that I was an art museum director with an interest in Asian art, invited me to join him at an exhibition of contemporary Chinese masters which as staged at the Chinese Chamber of Commerce.

First though would I  like to join him for breakfast in town?  The answer was of course in the affirmative and so off we went by taxi to the Mandarin Hotel.

Would I like a bowl of porridge for breakfast?  Yes of course.

The Book of Jook: Chinese Medicinal Porridges--A Healthy Alternative to the Typical Western BreakfastImagine then my surprise when instead of oatmeal, a bowl of rice gruel was placed before me.  The accompaniments of small dried fish, salty duck egg and pickled vegetable we at that time equally foreign but  enjoyed the experience nevertheless.

Over the years I have grown to love porridge or to give it its Singapore name, congee or jok.  There are various styles but my preference is for the Taiwanese variety. One can have it with braised duck, fish, century egg or shreds of chicken meat.

For the officianado there is even frog porridge which tastes sweeter and is a more delicate meat than chicken. Frogs take three years to grow to a size that is acceptable for the pot whereas chicken takes just three months.  It is therefore usually a more expensive variety of porridge.  Reportedly a pot with two frogs costs about $Sing 14.

There are online forums dedicated to the relative merits of Teochew porridge stalls which many people prefer to the Taiwanese variety.

According to the experts Teochew Porridge must have the "Mountain and the Sea", in other words the right proportion of water and rice.

"The Teochew Muay connoiseur can tell you immediately if a particular Teochew Muay stall is worth eating at by just eyeing the bowl of porridge. Firstly, what we want to see is the "Swa ga Hai" (Mountain and Sea) which basically means that the porridge is watery but not overly watered down. Secondly, the rice must remain whole and unbroken. The best Teochew Muay places throw away the pot of porridge when the rice breaks."

My favorite condiment is a fermented bean curd known as 'Chinese cheese' (fuyu) which is pungent and gives the rice a bite.  It is not to most westerner's taste but that has never stopped me.

Porridge of both western and Chinese varieties are very good for those in their dotage so it will no doubt remain a staple in the years to come!
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Monday, 12 July 2010

Famous Last Words

"Don't drain the pool......"

There is no way that the above could be confused for yours truly plunging into the wintry briny at Bucklands Beach in Auckland where I am now domiciled.

For a starter the water temperature in the rooftop pool at Marina Bay Sands in Singapore was probably in excess of thirty degrees when this swimmer ventured forth.

Secondly, I do not have a head for heights and the thought of a ride on the Singapore Flier or walking around the top of Marina Bay Sands holds no appeal whatsoever.

Sunday, 11 July 2010

Winter - Bucklands Beach

Click on the flip book and then click again to see the larger images

This afternoon saw the temperature rise from an overnight 2 degrees to a 'balmy' 11 degrees in the sun!  

I took a stroll down the hill to Buckland's Beach which is a mere block away from the house we are renting in Auckland at the moment.

It was peaceful with the wading birds active in the shallows, searching for pip and other shellfish.  The old volcanic cones of Auckland were visible on the skyline.

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Passively Freezing

New Zealand national rugby union teamImage via Wikipedia
It has warmed up to 3 degrees centigrade as I write.  This is a degree warmer than it was just before dawn.  Even the brass monkeys have wisely stayed indoors with the heater turned up to maximum.

Talking of which, one of our first purchases upon our return from Singapore has been an upright column oil heater.

We had one of these before we left to go to Singapore in 2006 so we knew exactly what we needed to buy upon our return. It has been a life saver.

Our new home, which we move into in September, has double glazing, full insulation and underfloor heating in the en-suite bathroom which will mean no more icy cold feet when exiting the shower.

In the winter the home captures and retains any passive solar energy and in summer (which  I hope will come sooner rather than later) the house remains cooler.

Mind you, one can go overboard trying to be 'green' with solar heating.  I am reminded of the the man who has proudly constructed a soda can solar heater.  To do so he needed 100 soda cans which he then proceeded to paint black.  I suspect that he has now contracted diabetes as a result of the over consumption of soda.  At least he will be a few degree warmer in his garage as he contemplates his future health.

Last night I watched my first rugby match for four years on local television.  The All Blacks thrashed the South African Springboks.  I seem to be reverting to type very quickly.
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Friday, 9 July 2010

Fresh Bread, Cheese and Breeze

View from Macleans Road, Bucklands Beach.
Ah the warm tropical breezes of Singapore which are regrettably a rapidly fading memory as I wander the streets of Manukau city disguised as a clothing blimp.

As of today we are living in Bucklands Beach Road which as its title suggests, is near the beach in Auckland.

We have been making up for time dining on crunchy New Zealand apples, fresh camembert, soy and linseed bread and bags of chippies (the bad stuff!) all at ridiculously cheap prices.

Tonight I intend opening a bottle of Australian Cabernet Merlot to celebrate our fifth day back - any excuse for a sip or two! Somehow drinking red wine in the heat of the tropics was not quite the same.

'Economy rice withdrawal' is an affliction that I am fast developing.  NZ produce is all well and good but I am missing my Malay curries already.

I loved Singapore and made a number of good friends amongst the locals and they will remain friends forever.

But I have also been lucky with close friends from my AUT days who have made us feel most welcome upon our return.

There also some interesting job opportunities on the horizon so we shall wait and see what transpires.
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Wednesday, 7 July 2010

A New Purchase orTwo

'Money going out' is a familiar expression in Singapore and so it has proven to be here in Auckland.

Today we purchased a new Volkswagen Polo 6 which arrives at the end of the month and capped it off with an option to purchase our new home; with a settlement date of September 6th.

We are very happy with both but somewhat poorer as a result.
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Tuesday, 6 July 2010

Today's Print

NZ Mall in Winter

Day Three

Day three back in NZ and feeling rather jaded but satisfied with progress to date.  We have found rental accommodation at a reasonable weekly rate and we shift into the units on Friday.

It is in Bucklands Beach which as the name suggests is a beach suburb in South Auckland.  Not that we are likely to staying there for long as fortuitously we have also found some brand new two bedroom properties in a mews development which look most attractive and are in our price range.

We will decide on the morrow whether we wish to make the purchase or not.

At time of writing we are still existing in a small motel unit in Botany Downs trying to dry clothes with the heavy, wintry rains blowing outside.

Our next major purchase is a car and today we test drove a Peugot 207 but were not completely convinced. Tomorrow we hope to try out a Volkswagen Polo 6 if one is available.

Sunday, 4 July 2010

Umbrellas and Fleece

Credit cards
An umbrella, some warm fleece trousers and a 2,400 watt heater were the first three items we purchased upon touch down in New Zealand today.

The temperature in Auckland as I type is a wet and blustery 11 degrees with promise that the mercury will drop still further.  Oh for the warmth of my 'adopted city' Singapore.

We had an inauspicious start at the Avis counter at Auckland airport when a rather bombastic Indian manager refused to release our pre-booked vehicle to us as we did not have a credit card.

The fact that Avis had accepted our booking and reconfirmed it with out needing credit card numbers cut no ice with him.  Our plan was to pay cash for the rental in advance, as other companies are quite willing to accept this transaction process.

The reason we do not have credit cards at the moment is that we cleared our accounts and cut up our Singapore cards before we left and it will not be until tomorrow when we visit our local bank that we can arrange for an NZ Visa card.

Finally in desperation we rang a friend and got them to provide their credit card details to Avis; only then could we take the car and make our way tot eh Botany Motor Inn in Dannemora, South Auckland where we are no domiciled.

Another friend paid a us lightening visit to welcome us and left us two packets of nuts to much upon.  A good choice of vittles!

Tonight's supper will be a fresh NZ Camembert cheese, pumpkin soup and soy and linseed toast.  I shall be resplendent in my Chinese fleece pajamas that I bought in Singapore's Chinatown.  This is the first time that in nearly forty years that I have worn trousers with fly buttons and my manual dexterity is not what it once was!

The remaining challenges include finding a place to live, buying a car and coming to grips with the difference in time zones.
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Saturday, 3 July 2010

Last Meals

Singapore Changi Airport, Control Tower, Dec 05
Changi airport  is humming with the replays of the World Cup as I write. Various males are reclining in a variety of postures and a mock grandstand has been set up to add to the ambience.

I am feeling somewhat like a condemned man after having eaten a last meal of chicken rice at the Killeney Kopitiam on the third floor of Terminal Three.

My wife complained of a chilly right foot and we belatedly discovered that the sole of one of her sand shoes had detached from the upper.  Such are the unplanned joys of travel.

Our flight departs at 9:10 pm and ten hours later we will reach Auckland.

I shall miss Changi which has become almost a home away from home this past year as I travel back and forth throughout Asia.  It is undoubtedly the finest airport in the world.

We are feeling quite pleased with ourselves as the combined weight of our luggage did not exceed the prescribed limit of 50 kilos.
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Friday, 2 July 2010

Makeshift Showers And Rain For Hours

The Ngee Ann City Shopping Mall, located along...
It is perhaps fitting that our last ramble along Orchard Road should culminate with a food fair; not an unusual occurrence in Singapore.

We navigated our way under the eaves of available buildings as the rain was both long and heavy. With one small umbrella between us we had to wait on the porch of Lucky Plaza until the rain eased.

Watching the lengthy taxi queue snake its way along Orchard road was entertainment in itself.

The weather has been quite unseasonal. June and July are usually hot months but this year they have been very wet and the trend continues.

This rain must be playing havoc with the showering arrangements of foreign workers in Mandai who, according to the Electric New Paper, have been living in shipping containers and using "makeshift showers created out of water tanks and pipes which snaked along the length of the canal"

Our mission late morning took us to Takashimaya's centre court where row after row of earnest sales staff cajoled us to try abalone macadamia, D24 durian ice-cream and other challenging delights.  For the record the ice-cream was delicious.
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Thursday, 1 July 2010

Signs We Like To See

Let's hear it for a local council in Harwich, England, with a sense of humour.

Eye In The Sky

ERP Gantry at North Bridge Road, next to PARCO...Image via Wikipedia
News today that the ERP gantries will soon be made obsolete by the introduction of satellite technology. 

This may or may not be good news to the many Singaporean motorists who indulge in the national sport of finding side roads to skirt the gantries, thereby saving on the road usage tax that these structures trigger.

The proposed system uses GPS to accurately locate a vehicle and the charges can commence when the ignition key is switched on and/or the vehicle moves into a controlled space.

In Germany trucks can be accurately levied  based on the distance they travel so perhaps the Singapore government are considering something similar?  Their principal concern remains traffic congestion which is only going to get worse in the future.
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Wednesday, 30 June 2010

A Morning Walk In Fort Canning Park

Click on the flip book to see the larger portfolio and then click again.

I spent the first part of the morning shooting images of the nearby Fort Canning Park. This will be my final photo essay in Singapore before we leave.

Fort Canning Hill or Bukit Larangan (Malay for Forbidden Hill) as it was originally is a very interesting place.  It was called Government Hill and from 1819 was the site Raffles chose for his bungalow when he resided in Singapore. In 1859 it was renamed Fort Canning after Viscount George Canning, Governor of India.

Early images of Fort Canning (below) shows what a commanding position it had.  Not many people appreciate that early Singapore had such elevated heights.  Most have long since been flattened for reclamation but thankfully Fort Canning has remained largely intact.

An early view of Fort Canning Hill

A view of the Singapore River from Fort Canning Hill, 1860

The Fort itself was built in the 1860's and was obsolete by World War Two even though it served as General Percival's Battle Box.  After a conference with his senior officers in this fortress he made the fateful decision to surrender Singapore to the Japanese.
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Tuesday, 29 June 2010

Resorts World Sentosa

Click on the image to view the larger version and then click again

On a whim we decided to visit the Integrated Resort late morning (Resorts World Sentosa) just to compare it to Marina Bay Sands. I had been expecting something as tacky as Genting resort but I have to say that I was very pleasantly surprised.

While we didn't go into the casino nor the theme park it was enjoyable just walking around the property and admiring the architecture and art work.

We did witness the 'miraculous cure' of a wheelchair bound elderly Chinese lady who was pushed to the entrance of the casino by her made. She then positively leapt from her chair and walked unaided into the casino; the lure of mammon a primary motivation!
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Something Hairy

I have discovered something else that Fort Canning is famous for - rock concerts.

How do I know this?

For the past two hours a US Band, Firehouse, have been conducting sound checks and rehearsing for their concert tomorrow night. 

There is nothing more repetitive than a band conducting sound checks, clucking into the microphone and repeating the numbers "1, 2" with a tongue click, ad nauseam.  I should know, I once played in such bands and had hair of a similar length.

Firehouse is not a new band.  It, like many others that visit Singapore, has been around for some time and was at the height of its popularity in the 1990's.

Even the 1970's Australian Group Air Supply put aside their zimmer frames to visit the Republic on an annual basis.

The 'Hairy Ones' a.k.a. Firehouse perform live tomorrow night so I am not anticipating too much sleep.
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Today's Print

Path Fort Canning...................................Roger Smith, June, 210

Sunday, 27 June 2010

Today's Print - Vapour Trails

Vapour Trails Fort Canning.................Roger Smith, June 2010

Evening Events

The last 24 hours have been more pleasant than the previous 24.  We actually got a good nights sleep which made all the difference.

We were privileged to witness to two events last evening; one natural and the other man-made.

There was a partial lunar eclipse which could be viewed from our window, although I must confess that I initially failed to recognise it as such and simply admired the symmetrical shadow on what seemed a much larger than usual heavenly  body.

We were also treated to a display by the Singapore air force who were practising  for National Day with their jets, para-gliders and helicopters.

A big Chinook helicopter was towing a  very large Singapore flag behind it while the jets undertook aerobatics in close formation.

Late morning we paid a visit to the Marina Bay Sands resort to see what all of the fuss was about. We took the 502 bus to the Marina Bay Sands hotel and crossed over to the shops.  Needless to say, we were not tempted to pay the government tax of $100 and go into the casino.  After a brief stroll we took another bus to Esplanade and walked to Suntec.

Marina Bay Sands.  Click on the image montage above to view a larger version and then click again.
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Saturday, 26 June 2010

Our Ceiling Runneth Over

The Gate of Fort CanningImage via Wikipedia
The furry haze of tiredness is scrambling my thoughts this morning.  The 'quiet room' on the 12 floor of Fort Canning Lodge that we inhabit has turned out to be anything but.

The first day was sublimely peaceful but on the second day our room was filled with the sound of mechanical woodpeckers.  This was emanating from the space above our ceiling.

We had been told that there were only offices on the 13th floor, but it transpires that above our room is the cooling room for the air conditioning and this system is in serious need of an overhaul.

So for the last six days we have have manfully put up with the sound of engineering maintenance and repeatedly dropped crescent spanners.

Last night at six the cleaning maid arrived with a note and three chocolates.  Staff were giving these to all guests as the air conditioning needed to be switched off from midnight to 5 am to complete the works.

We did not fully appreciate at the time what this meant for us in room 12 20.  At 11:55 pm we became painfully aware of the implications as our sleep was broken by the sound of hammer drills, pipe benders, more dropped tools and the tapping of pipes being maneuvered into position.

Despite inserting ear plugs I estimate we got only a couple of hours sleep and most of that was interrupted. The racket continued all night. To make matters worse the contractors failed to empty the cooling tanks correctly resulting is water seeping in puddles into various parts of our room below.

In typical Singaporean fashion the contractors had failed to keep to their allotted schedule and had only alerted the hotel management at the last minute of their need to work through the night.

If this is to carry on again this evening we will be changing rooms but the management at time of writing "do not yet have the confirmed schedule" which sounds rather ominous.

We have another weeks stay in front of us and will make a decision later in the day as to whether we need to change rooms or not.

Meanwhile the hammering and banging above us continues and the engineer with dropsy goes about his business.

Sleep deprivation is a terrible thing!

Footnote:  We are now the happy occupants of room 1105

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Thursday, 24 June 2010

Healthy, Wealthy And Homeless

Edmund Hillary on the New Zealand five-dollar note
I am now officially a homeless person having completed the sale of our condo and received two pieces of paper in return.

The papers in question thankfully had several naughts printed on them and we spent part of the afternoon negotiating a reasonably exchange rate with the UOB bank so that we could transfer our capital back to New Zealand.

Currency Trading For DummiesWatching the highly volatile exchange rates is a fraught, especially at the moment where the political demise of an Australian Prime Minister coupled with the machination of the Euro have conspired to drive the $NZ skywards.

Fortunately the Singapore dollar has remained marginally higher than the New Zealand dollar which is in our favour.

To think that some people actually enjoy playing with currencies and do so for a living.  There seems to be little science to beating the odds, just a lot of shear luck.
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Sunday, 20 June 2010

The Saturday Bird Fanciers

Each Saturday a group of men (for this is male preserve) gather under the HDB block  near the Queenstown Public Library.  They hang up their caged birds and judge them on their singing abilities.

I passed them on my way to the library and took a quick photo on my 2 megapixel phone camera.