Tuesday, 2 November 2010

Flowering Rata

Rata, Howick  ............................................................................   Roger Smith
The other day I came across a pair of Tui singing high up in the branches of a flowering rata tree.  The tree in question is at the rear of the Howick Library and I was determined to return and photograph it.

Not a tui in sight when I did so.  However I managed to use it as the inspiration for this art print.

Monday, 1 November 2010

Auckland's New Chinatown


Most large cosmopolitan populations in the Asia Pacific region have significant Chinese populations and Auckland is no exceception.

In the Howick / Botany area of South Auckland we have scattered clusters of Chinese, Korean and other Asian businesses and eateries.  These though could never have been deemed to be a "Chinatown" in the true sense of the word.

However this has now changed and a large warehosue building that used to house Bunnings hardware store in Ti Takau Road has been converted into our first officially designated Chinatown.



On the day we we visited only half of the stalls were occupied and the vendors were selling cheap tat or fashion garments.

There was a pervading feeling that many of the stall holders will be lucky to survive the next six months but I sincerely hope that I am proved wrong as the city needs cultural centres such as this.

Singapore's Chinatown remains one of the best I have experienced. Sydney's is so-so and San Francisco's a big disappointment.
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Cockle Bay and Howick Beach

Pohutukawa Cockle Bay
Yesterday we went for a drive to look at the beaches closest to our house.  These are on the other side of Howick, namely Howick Beach, Mellons Bay and Cockle Bay.

With the temperatures heating up a small number of braver souls were enjoying their water sports. The quiet pursuits of canoeing and fishing had their solitude rudely awakened by the odd jetski.

I was reminded just how beautiful some of the native plant and coastal reserves are in New Zealand and how well they are maintained.


Environmental concerns have been high on the Kiwi agenda for many years and countries such Singapore have followed suit.  The preservation of the mangrove wetlands figure prominently in both countries.

In the case of the Howick beaches though, these are largely white sand with imposing bluffs breaking the skyline.
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Wednesday, 27 October 2010

Eruptions

Mount Merapi in Central Java.News that the Singapore stockmarket wishes to merge with their Australian counterparts has been perceived by the more hysterical elements of the media and left-leaning politicians as a take over with sovereignty implications.

The Australian labour party, clinging to power with a majority of one, have already been told by their Green and independent partners in the coalition that they will not support such a move.

Greens leader, Bob Brown, is quoted as saying that  he could see ''no advantage for this nation having the stock exchange controlled from Singapore''.  He then reverted to type by stating that the government should take human rights concerns into account, citing Singapore's ''appalling repression of freedom of speech and proper democratic norms''.

To be frank, this is the sort of statement one expects from Aussie politicians, short on substance and long on rhetoric.  One even tried to link the ASX merger with the 2005 execution of an Australian Nguyen Tuong Van, for drug trafficking.

More balanced and pragmatic observers have seen huge advantages in having both exchanges combined.  The AusX is a small player in the global market but combined with Singapore the stakes are raised considerably, creating the world's fifth largest exchange.

New Zealand's response  to the possible merger has been generally positive and a further amalgamation of the NZX with the new exchange conglomerate could also be on the cards at some stage in the future.

The other eruption that has occurred in the past 24 hours is volcanic rather than political. 

Mount Merapi in Indonesia has erupted again and it will be interesting to see if the ash cloud debris reaches Singapore?

The earthquakes and tidal waves continue in the region and while Singapore is supposedly outside the danger zone for these phenomena it would be wise to consider the fate of Christchurch which taught New Zealand a salutary lesson; earthquakes can strike in places far removed from known fault lines.

The Great Sumatra fault earthquake when it finally comes will be felt in Singapore.  The only question is to what degree?
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Monday, 25 October 2010

2011 Art Calendar To Share



For the past four years I have produced an annual calendar of my images.  Please feel free to click on the image above and download a copy of the 2011 version.

It is in A3 pdf format so you can print it off on an office or personal colour printer

Saturday, 23 October 2010

Systemic Failures

We have been experiencing very strong winds these past few days, or to put it more precisely, equinoxal gales.

As a result of these events our newly installed clothesline has developed the unpleasant habit of lifting like a jet foil, disengaging its support arm and lowering itself against the fence.  Ours is not called the Supafold for nothing!

While this is technically not supposed to be able to happen it has done so nevertheless, the last time coming down on my wife's shoulder and leaving quite a graze.

The Hills clothesline has been the dominant brand in New Zealand for many years but in recent times the solid steel has been replaced by a much lighter weight of metal and there has also been a significant increase in the amount of plastic used.  This means that the frames are no longer rigid and flex alarmingly.

It doesn't help that these lines are no longer manufactured in Australia as, with most products nowadays, they bear a stamp "made in China".

Today the clothesline installer paid us a visit, the obligatory half an hour late as all New Zealand tradesmen seem to be.  

He was clearly skeptical that the wind would actually blow a clothesline down but after we had introduced to our neighbour whose wife had been cracked on the head in a similar rig malfunction, he got the message.

We shall be replacing our retractable support arms with the fixed variety.

During the course of our conversation it transpired that the installer had lived in Bali for several years before returning to New Zealand.  The topic of Indonesia inevitably led to comments on the rife corruption in that country.

I was also reminded how Singapore is experiencing yet another serious cloud of haze pollution from Sumatra, as bad as that which we endured in 2006.

Despite all of the previous promises by the Indonesian government, expensive dinners and friendly ASEAN handshakes the reality is that Indonesia goes its own sweet way, burning off land whenever it feels like it.

Neignbourly considerations do not enter into the Indonesian equation and money given by Singapore in the past to monitor haze and educate farmers has made little or no difference.  I would suggest that the majority of farmers probably never even saw a dollar of the aid money.
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Thursday, 21 October 2010

Swan Lake - The Great Chinese State Circus


Chinese acrobats and contortionists are in a class of their own, unlike their Russian State counterparts who have resorted to live fish swallowing and regurgitation
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Monday, 18 October 2010

The Ravages Of Time

The Teochew community in Singapore will no doubt be delighted that one of their oldest temples is fully being restored.  It has a long and important history.

Yueh Hai Ching temple owners, the Ngee Ann Kongsi foundation have committed $5 million to restore it over two years, beginning in 2011.

Artisans from China will be employed on the project as I suspect the necessary skills are no longer available in Singapore.

According to National Library records, in 1826, a group of Teochew settlers from Guangzhou, China, established a wood-and-atap shrine dedicated to Tian Hou, the Goddess of the Sea.

This was on Philip Street which was a coastal area in the times before reclamation of the swampy areas where it stood.  The temple faced the sea and was a place where newly-arrived Chinese immigrants as well as sailors and traders travelling between Southern China and Singapore came to offer thanks to the goddess for their safe journey across the seas.

Its name Yueh Hai Ching means "temple of the calm sea built by the Guangzhou people".

Yueh Hai Ching Temple holds a special distinction in Singapore as the Chinese Emperor Guang Xu presented a plaque to the temple in 1907.  Only one other temple in Singapore, the Thian Hock Keng Temple received similar recognition from the Emperor.

It is to the credit of the clan associations and private philanthropists that they are prepared to save these heritage landmarks.  The climate of the tropics ravages such structures and many of the former architectural glories have also been lost to the bulldozer.

Temples have fared better than most and Singapore in recent decades has been very active in conserving heritage buildings.
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Saturday, 16 October 2010

Today's Print


Howick Halloween 2010  ............................................................   Roger Smith

Monday, 11 October 2010

Another Icon From Childhood Passes On

Rest In Peace Norman Wisdom, who brought so much laughter into my childhood.

Trips to the cinema with my parents in the 1950's made me really appreciate British humour, slapstick and the vaudeville tradition



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Don't Worry Be Happy

In Today's online edition there is a report confirming that being happy prevents mental ilness.

On the basis of this basis of this Singaporeans must be one of the most mentally fit around.

Their sportsmen and women have excelled at the Commonweialth games in Delhi which is the cause of much jubilation.

Five gold medals (thus far) puts them ahead of sports-mad countires such as New Zealand in the medal tally.

The lesson being learnt from this is that Singapore is at last concentrating on sports where skill counts for more than physique.

Let's face it, they are never likely to challenge for the rugby sevens crown but at precision sports such as shooting they are proving to be world class.

The shooters have a haul of 3 gold, 4 silver and 5 bronze medals.

This success even has Dr Vivian Balakrishnan, the Minister for Community Development, Youth and Sports saying  that the Government will put "serious thought" into providing the shooters with better facilities, as it is a sport that Singaporeans excel in.

The current Singapore range still uses the old pulley system to haul the targets back and forth, a far cry from the electronic system in Delhi that flashes immediate results to competitors.

In any sport though there is a time to retire.  You have to feel a little sorry for the 57 Australian shooter who scored a perfect zero in a round; he had mistakenly shot five rounds into a competitors target instead of his own.

Maybe Kiwis last the distance longer than  Aussies even if we don't get as many gold medals!

One of our NZ shooters, Greg Yelavich, has now won medals in seven Commonwealth Games, his latest being a silver in the pairs event for pistol shooting.
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Saturday, 9 October 2010

Croatian Sausage & Weekend Markets

We have just returned from a Saturday morning visit to Howick Village centre which is a ten minute car ride from our home.

The rediscovery of the Saturday market was a very pleasant experience with samplings of fresh goat camembert cheese and a wonderful range of Croatian salamis and cured meats, the latter produced in New Lynn.

Howick Village reminds me very much of small town New Zealand, the way it was and it is to the resident's credit that the historic buildings are cherished and maintained.

Howick is an old pioneering settlement with missionary beginnings circa 1836, although local Maori, Ngai Tai, had occupied sites for several hundred years before this date.

It is named after the third Earl Grey, formerly Lord Howick, who was Secretary for the Colonies in the British Parliament and was responsible for the Royal New Zealand Fencible Corps immigration scheme. His family home is Howick Hall, Northumberland, England.

There were about 250 Fencibles in Howick. The word 'Fencible' comes from the word 'defence' which this detachment of retired soldiers were required to do as opposed to a unit of fighting men.

The is an active living history museum called the Howick Historic Village which, while not in Howick Village, is situated nearby.

Howick once has its own borough council before being merged with Manukau City.  Today Aucklanders vote for councillors for an even larger, merged, conurbation the Super City of Auckland.

According to the New Zealand Herald, Howick is also a new Super City ward with the highest concentration of immigrants, where nearly half of the population (48.1 per cent) is overseas born.

With the median family income of nearly $73,000, Howick residents are financially better off than others in New Zealand.

I should also add that today we bought and consumed some of this season's fresh asparagus which is grown in the market gardens nearby.  At $1.99 per bunch it was good value and I had forgotten after four years in South East Asia, just how memorable fresh asparagus is.  We microwave it with a little sesame oil and oyster sauce - delicious!
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Perchance To Dream

Tuesday, 5 October 2010

The Light Left Behind

When a great woman dies, for years the light she leaves behind her, lies on the paths of men
(paraphrasing) Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Today, and with considerable sadness, I record the passing of one of Singapore's greatest pioneers, Madam Kwa Geok Choo.

In his autobiography, Lee Kwan Yew acknowledged her enormous contribution and support.  She was his sounding board and intellectual equal.

As Minister Mah Bow Tan records: "She was so much a part of our history, our progress, development as a nation. And yet she chose to stay out of the limelight deliberately.

"She was always behind the scenes; I will always remember her every time I see her with (Minister Mentor Lee); she's always next to MM.

"She will be talking to him, advising him, guiding him, sometimes she would gently chide him. But she was always there to support him, always loving him." 


The condolence letters from the President of Singapore S.R. Nathan and Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong are particularly poignant.

Ordinary Singaporeans have taken time out of their busy lives to queue and pay their respects as this photo gallery and video record.   

Madam Kwa Geok Choo's dedication, sense of duty and the manner in which she conducted herself will always be cherished by the Nation.



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