Saturday, 4 December 2010

Chop Chop!

My staple diet in Singapore was rice in its many and varied forms. Something I should add that I thoroughly enjoyed, even though my diet has now changed again and a knife and fork is called for in New Zealand.

Chop sticks were the utensil of choice in Singapore and I mastered these many years ago, so felt completely at home in any foodcourt or kopitaim.

How I wish though that we had been able to use some of the new adaptions of the humble chopstick:

The combination glasses and chopsticks set may have many virtues but I have yet to think of one.

Then of course we had the HDB-inspired combination of clothes peg and chopsticks.  I can envisage these anchoring washing on the bamboo poles that sprouted from the upper stories of the HDB blocks.

Finally we have a nifty design which is both a sauce dispenser and chopstick set

A quick squeeze of the chopsticks and a squirt of soy sauce embellishes the dish.  Struggling with a piece of kampong chicken might result in an overdose of the sticky black fluid but this is clearly a minor inconvenience.

It is truly remarkable what the human mind can dream up in moments of complete idleness!
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Friday, 3 December 2010

Their Cup Runneth Over

TOKYO. President Putin on a tatami at the Kodo...
President Putin working out
We all knew that Australia's bid to host a future World Cup was doomed when they trotted out a severely plasticised Crocodile Dundee as part of their promotion. Most people could understand Elle McPherson's presence but a botoxed Paul Hogan was a step too far.

By comparison, the 'Alpha Male' remained in his Moscow lair, secure in the knowledge that Russia had its bid in the bag.

There was no need for Mr Putin to follow the steady stream of ex-Presidents, Prime Ministers and nuptial-contemplating Royals to FIFA's European headquarters.

Money talks when it comes to football's governing board and little else matters. Recent corruption allegations should have reinforced this understanding and people delude themselves if they think otherwise.

It is not just football; witness the recent debacle of the Commonwealth Games in India.

The reality of all of these global sporting events is that it is a select number of multi-nationals who make money out of them and these corporations and individuals are not really worried where an event is staged.

Sure, there is political kudos for those who win the right to stage a world sporting event but the real financial returns are few and far between, if at all.

It is highly debatable that the common man reaps any economic benefit at all from global events being staged in their country.

Usually there is a huge PR spin during the bidding process to sell the idea to the country and an equal amount of professional justification to cover up the real financial numbers at an event's conclusion.

Those countries such as China and Russia who can marshall the resources of a nation with little fear of a public backlash, will continue to stage "successful" sporting events.
Others should count themsleves lucky that, in these times of economic uncertainty, their bids for the FIFA world cup hosting were unsuccessful.

Related articles
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Wednesday, 1 December 2010

Flabby Old Men?

The latest revelations from Wikileaks is very much in peoples minds and they are causing huge embarrassment for the States.

While MM is renown for his straight talking on any subject, I think he will be very displeased to see a private conversation about the North Korean leader being aired across the Net.
The Guardian has the full text of the communication posted on its web site.  If you read the memorandum in entirety it would seem to me to be a frank and fairly astute assessment of the political machinations of North Korea and the perspective of China.

"The next leader may not have the gumption or the bile of his father or grandfather. He may not be prepared to see people die like flies. China is calculating all this. They have their best men on the job. They want to help the United States to advance common objectives. But they do not want the South to take over the North, MM Lee said"

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.