Sunday, 28 November 2010

Heat and Dust

Heat and Dust - Roger Smith  11/2010
Click on image to see larger photo
Yesterday I could hear the roar of a crowd echoing around our neighbourhood. This is a rare occurrence and I decided to investigate.

Three blocks away is a park and it transpired that two enthusiastic gridiron teams were slugging it out in the heat and dust.

Gridiron has a small following in New Zealand where the predominant codes are rugby and rugby league.  Most of the practicioners are Polynesians with a few displaced Yanks making up the team.

The ground is already rock hard as summer has come early to Auckland.and their protective gear was put to good use in every bone-crunching tackle.

The rules of the Amercian game remain a mystery to me, and to most of those on the sideline.
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Thursday, 25 November 2010

It Pays To Advertise

There is much debate in the Singapore media about the new design of the men's water polo team's swimming togs.

An unfortunate juxstapostion of the crescent moon and the bodily location has got the government agency in charge of communications buzzing:

The Ministry of Information, Communication and the Arts (Mica), which governs the use of the national flag, revealed that the team did not seek its advice or approval for the design.

'We would have told them that their design is inappropriate as we want elements of the flag to be treated with dignity. This is because many Singaporeans recognise these elements as representing the Singapore flag,' said Ms Carol Tan, director of Mica's resilience and marketing division.

Manhood and virility were key elements of a popular water polo base drama that played on Singapore's television but real life emulating art is a step too far for some.

The designers who were meant to have the flag elements placed more to the side than full frontal clearly misundertstood their brief, or should that be briefs?
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Pike River Requiem

Its a cool, crisp dawn with a strong New Zealand sun emerging to dominate an intense blue sky.

And it's a dawn that will not be shared by twenty nine of my fellow countrymen.  They have been interred in a West Coast coal mine this past week, only to be confirmed as dead late yesterday when a second gas explosion ripped through the Pike River mine.

The West Coasters of this country are no strangers to such tragedies, and mining, upon which much of their economy relies, is centred on high quality, gaseous coal seams.  It's a lucrative but dangerous occupation.

While there have been some recriminations that the police were over cautious in not allowing a rescue operation early on, most would regard these statements as ill founded.

The advice of old miners is that the best time to effect a rescue is straight after a blast, as the gasses have been dispersed.

This could well be true, but testing of the gas content of the mine showed that the level remained extreme and the risks of a rescue were just too high.

Whatever the truth about the rescue approach the incident has reached a terrible conclusion.  New Zealand is a small country and we share the mining families grief.

Mention must be made of Peter Whittall, the CEO of the mine and an Australian who earned a very rare round of applause from the assembled media, at the end of a gruelling press conference in which he announced the second deadly explosion.

His face grew more noticeably haggard by the day and yet he never waivered from the job he had to do, communicating with the families and the media.  He has earned the enormous respect in this country.

The tragedy that has unfolded over the week has has etched itself into the psyche of New Zealanders and today flags will be flown at half mast throughout the nation.
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Monday, 22 November 2010

Nothing New Under The Sun

One of our local supermarkets has an irritating television advert playing at the moment.  It consists of people converting vegetables and then playing them in a poor rendition of a NZ classic pop song.

While boring at least the idea had a degree of novelty, or at least so I thought, until I discovered this CBS news item.

Vienna's Vegetable Orchestra plays concerts in all over the world and they even have their own website.  This is not a novelty act. They are committed to " the further exploration and refinement of performable vegetable music is a central part of the orchestra's aesthetic quest".

I never had aspirations to play the courgette.  Classical pianoforte training followed by a misspent youth playing in rock bands  was music enough for my ears.

The New Zealand advertisement and its orchestral clone can be seen in the clip below.

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Monday, 15 November 2010

To Everything There Is A Season

One of my best friends rang me a couple of days ago with news that he has to have a heart bypass operation.

This news came out of the blue and was hard to equate with a very fit individual, who is at least a decade younger than I.

Not that I am induly worried, as such operations these days are realtively common and I have every confidence that he will pull through just fine.

However it does make one pause and reflect on the transcient nature of life.  As the song says:

"To Everything
There is a season
And a time to every purpose, under Heaven"

It would seem that this phrase, adapted from the book of Ecclesiastes,  also applies to some of the natural heritage landmarks of Singapore.

The Mandai gardens are a botanical site of some historic interest if only for the fact that they were established by one John Laycock in 1951.  It is Singapores' oldest commercial orchid garden and is about to close as its lease will soon expire.

My Laycock's other claim to fame is that he gave Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew his first job, and an early taste of politics when he acted as an election agent for Mr Laycock and his pro-British Singapore Progressive Party (SPP).

Panorama of Mandai Orchid Gardens supplied by Panoramic Earth

While no doubt there is degree of sadness that these gardens will close, the hard reality is that they are a commercial operation in a country where land is at a premium.  The Mandai operation has clearly seen better times, and patronage is down on what it was during the garden's hey day.

Any heritage value needs to be measured against the Botanic Gardens which are with doubt a national treasure of international significance.  Can the same be said for Mandai Gardens, whatever the tenuous linkages the orchid garden has with M.M.?  I suspect not.

Saturday, 13 November 2010

Pudding Discrimination

"Run, run, as fast as you can.
You can't catch me!
I'm the Gingerbread Man!" 

But catch up with him they did; the absurdity of human beings at times being simply mind boggling!

A politically correct Lancashire council have stripped Gingerbread biscuits stripped of their gender and renamed them gingerbread 'persons' on menus for 400 primary schools, leaving parents astonished about the change.

According to a report in Indian media the wording went out on the new autumn-winter weekly menu provided by the Lancashire School Meals Service.

Little wonder that spoofs of political correctness have been popular on the Net.  One of my favourites is the Politically Correct Little Red Riding Hood which commences:

" There once was a young person named Little Red Riding Hood who lived on the edge of a large forest full of endangered owls and rare plants that would probably provide a cure for cancer if only someone took the time to study them.

Red Riding Hood lived with a nurture giver whom she sometimes referred to as "mother", although she didn't mean to imply by this term that she would have thought less of the person if a close biological link did not in fact exist.

Nor did she intend to denigrate the equal value of nontraditional households, although she was sorry if this was the impression conveyed.

Reading the full story is worth the effort.

And many of our more cherished festivals do not escape a ribbing either.  With Chrismas almost upon us I reproduce the Politically Correct Santa.

'Twas the night before Christmas and Santa's a wreck...
How to live in a world that's politically correct?

His workers no longer would answer to "Elves,"
"Vertically Challenged" they were calling themselves.

And labour conditions at the North Pole
Were alleged by the union to stifle the soul.

Four reindeer had vanished, without much propriety,
Released to the wilds by the Humane Society.

And equal employment had made it quite clear
That Santa had better not use just reindeer.

So Dancer and Donner, Comet and Cupid,
Were replaced with 4 pigs, and you know that looked stupid!

The runners had been removed from his sleigh;
The ruts were termed dangerous by the E.P.A.

And people had started to call for the cops
When they heard sled noises on their roof-tops.

Second-hand smoke from his pipe had his workers quite frightened.
His fur-trimmed red suit was called "Unenlightened."

And to show you the strangeness of life's ebbs and flows,
Rudolf was suing over unauthorized use of his nose .

And had gone on Geraldo, in front of the nation,
Demanding millions in over-due compensation.

So, half of the reindeer were gone; and his wife,
Who suddenly said she'd enough of this life,

Joined a self-help group, packed, and left in a whiz,
Demanding from now on her title was Ms.

And as for the gifts, why, he'd ne'er had a notion
That making a choice could cause so much commotion.

Nothing of leather, nothing of fur,
Which meant nothing for him. And nothing for her.

Nothing that might be construed to pollute.
Nothing to aim. Nothing to shoot.

Nothing that clamoured or made lots of noise.
Nothing for just girls. Or just for the boys.

Nothing that claimed to be gender specific.
Nothing that's war-like or non-pacific.

No candy or sweets...they were bad for the tooth.
Nothing that seemed to embellish a truth.

And fairy tales, while not yet forbidden,
Were like Ken and Barbie, better off hidden.

For they raised the hackles of those psychological
Who claimed the only good gift was one ecological.

No baseball, no football...someone could get hurt;
Besides, playing sports exposed kids to dirt.

Dolls were said to be sexist, and should be passé;
And Nintendo would rot your entire brain away.

So Santa just stood there, dishevelled, perplexed;
He just could not figure out what to do next.

He tried to be merry, tried to be gay,
But you've got to be careful with that word today.

His sack was quite empty, limp to the ground;
Nothing fully acceptable was to be found.

Something special was needed, a gift that he might
Give to all without angering the left or the right.

A gift that would satisfy, with no indecision,
Each group of people, every religion;

Every ethnicity, every hue,
Everyone, everywhere...even you.

So here is that gift, its price beyond worth...
"May you and your loved ones enjoy peace on earth
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Tuesday, 9 November 2010

The Running Bug

Cool ironman
Iron Man
A couple of my Singaporean friends have caught the running bug; an infestation of the mind that quickly consumes all other waking passions.

It usually starts innocuously enough. A glance in a  slimming magazine. a cycle down one of the new scenic walkways or an early evening jog, when the air has been freshened after the tropical rains.

Regrettably though this habit soon escalates to 10 kilometre races, full marathons and eventually ironman events.  To achieve these more lofty goals these hardy souls take to running around McRitchie Reservoir.

A blame this malady firmly at the feet of Expats who have brought this habit to Singapore with them.   They have been known to congregate in groups with names such as Hash House Harriers.

Don't be put off by the florid red faces of such individuals as once the endorphins have kicked in all sanity goes out the window. You may think that all of this activity is healthy; not so.

Singapore's National Servicemen in training were dropping like flies due to the heat and motor exertion, much to the consternation of their parents.  If there basic training was like mine from early days then they would have been running from dawn till dusk.

The government has heeded parental concern and acknowledged the rise of the couch potato by recently announcing that they would be tweaking the Individual Physical Proficiency Test (IPPT).  The voluntary five week fitness programme has been expanded to nine months.

Bugs of a different kind have been occupying the minds of US hoteliers as they face an increasing number of lawsuits.  The bug in question is the bed bug, which has even taken up residence in New York's Waldorf Astoria.

Singapore and Malaysia can lay claim to a more edifying honour.  They have the largest bug in the world.  In terms of length the South East Asian female Walking Stick bug with the largest recorded being a staggering 21.8".

And speaking of staggering, its time to contemplate the possibility of an evening run.
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Sunday, 7 November 2010

Mind The Coconuts

Security is taken seriously in Asia.  Witness the elaborate details surrounding the US President's current visit to India.

According to a media report several days before President Obama's visit  "U.S. and Indian security officials visited the small two-story building and ordered the looping off of ripe coconuts from the trees to prevent any accidental bonking".

Clearly the report is US-centric as the term "bonking" has an entirely different connotation in Europe.

Having witnessed at first hand the elaborate security measures that surrounded the visit of then President Clinton to a museum I worked for, this lopping coconuts comes as no surprise.

Menawhile in New delhi an enterprising Indian designer has taken to converting Michelle Obama printed shopping bags into sets of conversation pillows. 

She claims she has made the pillows because she considers the first lady an "inspirational icon," but her ulterior motive is to lure her into the store to present her with a set.  No doubt this will generate a lot of free publicity for her design studio.

The Indian twittershpere has been sharing their humorous insights of the tour. 

One wit has noted that the twitter term "Air Force One" has been ranking higher than the President's name, causing him to comment "Air Force One is in trending while Obama is not, so his carrier overtakes his career".

Much has also been made of Obama's anticipated visit to the Golden Temple in Amritsar. One twitter user is sure the US president will never visit Bangalore.

"Those buggers will make him outsource his presidency, that too at $10/Man Hour," he tweeted.

Thursday, 4 November 2010


The staple of the 'Great British Stodge', fish and chips has just celebrated its 150th birthday.  Even Charles Dickens referred to a "fried fish warehouse" in 1838, in Oliver Twist.

The history of fish and chips makes interesting reading in Wikipedia.  Apparently a 13-year-old, Joseph Malin, is credited with dreaming up the idea of selling chips and battered fish to the poor of the West End.

Digestion of this fatty food is not limited to the UK however.  Here in New Zealand we munch our way through seven million servings of chips a week (yes that's a week!).

In the Kiwi venacular the food is known as "greasies" which, given the high fat content, will surprise no one.

Swallows At Dusk

As I sit at our dining table I can watch the antics of a pair of swallows as they flit back and forth from their nest, under the eaves of the neighbouring two storey house.

They are industrious birds, diving to catch an evening meal at dusk when the security light blinks on attracting insects.

It is a quiet contemplative time of day when anglers perch hidden on the side of riverbanks waiting for the evening rise of nymphs and mayflies. The air stills and all is silent.

The swallows were also active around our Queens condo in Singapore and on the eighth floor we were on a similar level to their flight path.

There the evening was far from quiet with the steady hum of traffic down Commonwealth Avenue. Not that I found this disturbing as one quickly adjusts to the level of ambient sound, at least that is the perception.

Coming back to New Zealand though is also returning to the realisation of what true quiet really is.

Early morning is the same in its solitude, with the dawn chorus of assorted native birds, blackbirds and thrushes in fine voice.

In Singapore it was the call of night birds that were the most memorable but even they receded into acoustic familiarity as time went by.

As I watch, the Botany Downs swallows continue their restless trajectory. Once the artificial light dims they too will return to roost.

The Indian grandmother, whose family own the shop house above the nesting birds, pulls in the last washing of the day and the sound of a strengthening night wind can be heard as the quiet time passes.

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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