Friday, 14 January 2011

Sure To Rise

"Sure To Rise" is the slogan of a popular brand of New Zealand baking powder.

The same term could very well apply the era of  ever increasing food prices which have become a grudgingly accepted fact of life.

The first three months of this year will see a soaring cost of living in Singapore thanks largely to food price rises.

This, in combination with a 3.8% inflation rate, is impacting strongly on the lives of Singaporeans but they are not alone in facing such challenges.

In New Zealand though the figures are as bad and we have been bemused by the increases in basic food stuffs from 2006, when we left for Singapore, until this year when we returned.

There has been an 11.3% decrease in purchasing power over this period which means that a shopping basket of items and services costing $NZ200 in 2006 by the third quarter of last year would have cost an extra $25.58.

In the last quarter of 2010 New Zealand food prices alone rose 2.4% and as the graph shows almost every quarter since 2007 has shown an increase, with only two exceptions.

The recent spate of natural and economic disasters aren't helping matters and the figures reflect a classic case of over demand (largely from emerging economies) and under supply.

The other challenge the Singapore government has is to dampen down the rampant speculation in property which continues to drive up prices - prices rises are great if you own a property but not so great if you are trying to buy into one.

A sharp hike in sellers' stamp duty for any resale within four years of purchase has been legislated which will significantly increase transaction costs and lower the profits of Singaporean investors.
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Thursday, 13 January 2011

Biblical Proportions

TOOWOOMBA, AUSTRALIA - JANUARY 10: Debris and ...A resident caught up in the Queensland floods has described the flash flood that hit Toowoomba as "biblical".

It was at 500m wide torrent and travelling at least 80 or 90 miles an hour, tossing cars and other man-made objects about like matchsticks.

Some of these cars still had people in them which shows the frailty of human life and how powerless we really are against the fundamental forces of nature.

Flooding is a common occurrence in Queensland and its more benign for is known as "The Big Wet" .  It is looked forward to by farmers as a welcome respite from the drought conditions that blight much of inland Australia.

This week's event though is something else and makes the seasonal flooding of Singapore looks like a child's paddling pool compared to the ocean.  The flooding of the basement levels of Lucky Plaza in Orchard Road is nothing compared to whole suburbs of Australias third largest city being submerged.

The flood has just peaked in Brisbane; a city which is well known to Kiwis as many of us either live in Queensland, visit regularly, or retire there.

Flooding is not uncommon in New Zealand but never on this scale.  We regard the Aussies as kin (even though we may say otherwise on the sporting field) so we are all deeply concerned about the fate of the thousands of Queenslanders affected by these floods.

Watch live streaming video from brisbanefloods at

The other thing to remember is that once the floods dissipate, the state then faces a massive task of cleaning up.  I do not know the situation with the state museum and also the library on the South Bank of the Brisbane river but their plight must be dire.

Parks, roads and suburbs which are currently one big lake will become firstly a mud bath and then a dust bowl once the Queensland sun starts to dry things out.

Queensland Fashion - There is always someone on the Net with a sense of humour
(although probably not appreciated by the residents of the state)

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Monday, 10 January 2011

Sand Series

Inspired by a pile of builder's sand!

Sunday, 2 January 2011

Today's Print

I went for a drive today with my camera and came across some cement blocks, which were the starting point for this print.

Click on it to get the larger image.

Boom Boom

Psychedelic_dingbatsYesterday was a momentous day not the least that is was another New Years Day. It also happened to be the start of a new decade; a fact that was lost on most people preoccupied with post-Xmas sales.

It was momentous for a third reason.

January 1st, 2011 heralded the start of retirement for the Baby Boomer generation. This is the year that the first of the Baby Boomers start collecting the pension if they are lucky enough to live in a country that provides one.

It is confession time - I am one of this demographic.  We are apparently one of the most wealthy segments of society, although this remains somewhat debatable. 

According to Wikipedia, in 2004, the UK baby boomers held 80% of the UK's wealth.  There are however many pensioners who struggle to repay their debts once they get into retirement.

The Baby Boom - 1946-1965

According to the same source, our characteristics are: experimental, individualism, free spirited, social cause oriented.

Having survived the "Purple Haze" of the Sixties I can but concur that the youth culture permeated all aspects of life, from the music of Merseyside, footsteps on the moon, Hippiedom, psychedelic art, to protesting against the Vietnam War.

Most of us try to forget the disco era with its gold medallions, platform shoes, curly locks and open chested shirts -  it was but a passing aberration as we moved on to a much more refined and gentile existence!

But there is one side of being a baby boomer that grates and that is being portrayed in contemporary media as an potential burden on society.

I am not one of those who qualify for the pension, even though I have chosen to semi-retire earlier than most of my contemporaries.  Like them I have worked for more than forty years and paid up to a third of my salary in taxes.

Basil Brush
My New Zealand taxes have supported generations of dole bludgers who have not done an honest day's work in their lives.

At least working in Singapore meant that the taxes were lower and you looked after yourself.  If you chose not to work then you understood personal consequences of your actions, and that is the way it should be.

So I shall feel not the slightest burden on society when my time for a pension arrives.  Nor shall I heed the none too subtle 'encouragement' from various quarters to work beyond 65.  It will be my choice should I choose to do so and nobody else's.

To quote Basil Brush who first appeared on our tv screens in the '60's, ""Ha Ha Ha, Boom! Boom!"
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Tuesday, 28 December 2010

Map Updates

I have started updating my map of Singapore based on past blog posts and experiences.  It includes my various forays into Malaysia.

View Singapore Sojourn in a larger map

It is also nice to record that this rambling discourse has recorded 17,000 visits that came from 125 countries during 2010, including Liechtenstein.

Monday, 27 December 2010

Gone Fishing

Blue Kelong.Image by Reggie Wan via FlickrWe braved the Boxing Days sales yesterday in our local town centre. For once they reminded me of the till queues experienced in the good old days of the Robinsons Sale; a Singapore institution.

The origins of 'Boxing Day' are believed to come from the practice of the British rich distributing their largesse to the luckless poor, thereby accentuating still further the class divisions of the times.

In large households the servants were expected to work on Xmas Day and were compensated by being allowed to take the next day off.  Their masters gave them a box and based on their performance over the year, varying sums of money which were placed inside the box.

Am I alone in spotting the similarity of this Victorian custom with the annual performance bonus which features so largely in Singaporean working lives?

This year we have had the "Boxing Day" sales a week or two before the actual day as the New Zealand retailers desperately canvas for customers.

Unlike Singapore which has recorded respectable economic growth despite the recession, New Zealand has very narrowly avoided a 'double-dip recession', a term which may sound like a chocolate dipped NZ icecream but is in reality far less palatable.

The Singapore government's tight stewardship during the economic turbulence is to be commended and the results are for all to see.

As a trading nation far for its markets and with a strong dollar against our major trading partners, New Zealand has some major economic challenges.  This has not be helped by the past excesses of the welfare state.

Despite the gloom and doom, sport remains high on the list of leisure pursuits in this country and with the traditional summer holidays upon us, many New Zealanders head to the beach.

Fishing is a very popular activity with local television channels featuring fishing shows and the customers purchasing cut-price rods and reels in the Boxing Day sales.

I have very fond memories of this sport with fly fishing for trout as well as rod fishing off the rocks for a catch from the sea featuring in my past.  I have done neither in recent years but the thrill of the catch is still a fond memory.

Source: Straits Times
In Singapore the fishing experience is somewhat different and I must discount fishing for one's supper at a local prawn farm.

Travelling to a raised platform called a kelong is a preferred method and nowadays with few of the Singapore kelongs remaining, Singaporeans go across to Malaysia for their sport.

Boxing Day was not a good day for Singaporean fishermen with the news that three of them drowned and another two were missing returning by ferry from a kelong in Pulau Sibu, off Mersing.

As per usual, the problem was a grossly overloaded ferry which capsized in strong winds and a treacherous current near the Tanjung Leman jetty.

Ferry capsizes in South East Asia happen with monotonous regularity, especially in the Philippines and Indonesia were maritime rules are flouted in a grab for more profit.

Malaysian incidents are fewer but do occur and arresting the captain and boat operator post-event is not going to curb such negligence.

Is prawning fishing?

Meanwhile back on land, hedonistic spending ensures that the mall tills continue to jingle a happy tune.

Crowds are returning to the Singapore malls with Vivo City recording a million more visitors compared to the same period last year and their security staff remain vigilant for any kind of misdemeanor.

According to the Straits Times, pickpockets, shoplifters and even molesters enjoy the festive season. Here in Auckland the 'molesters' usually make the malls off limits but shoplifting has always been a problem.

Both countries though enjoy a good deal and in Singapore the newly Groupon-acquired site crashed under the weight of bargain hunters.

Even then, the online option is probably safer than venturing out?

Boxing Day in our southern city of Christchurch was an eventful one with a series of earthquake after-shocks rattling customers and the shelves that were groaning under the weight of bargains.
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Sunday, 26 December 2010

The Joys Of Flying

This new BBC Comedy series "Come Fly With Me" looks a lot of fun.

And don't forget to try out the "Online Check In" with Melody and take a visit to the Passengers Lounge.

Thursday, 23 December 2010

PC Xmas Wishes

I wanted to send some sort of holiday greeting to my colleagues, but it is difficult in today's world to know exactly what to say without offending someone. So I met with my lawyer yesterday, and on his advice I wish to say the following:

Please accept with no obligation, implied or implicit, my best wishes for an environmentally conscious, socially responsible, low stress , non addictive, gender neutral celebration of the summer solstice holiday practiced with the most enjoyable traditions of religious persuasion or secular practices of your choice with respect for the religious / secular persuasions and / or traditions of others, or their choice not to practice religious or secular traditions at all.

I also wish you a fiscally successful, personally fulfilling and medically uncomplicated recognition of the onset of the generally accepted calendar year 2011, but not without due respect for the calendar of choice of other cultures whose contributions to society have helped make our country great ( not to imply that New Zealand is necessarily greater than any other country ) and without regard to the race, creed, colour, age, physical ability, religious faith or sexual preference of the wisher.

By accepting this greeting, you are accepting these terms:

This greeting is subject to clarification or withdrawal. It is freely transferable with no alteration to the original greeting. It implies no promise by the wisher to actually implement any of the wishes for her / him or others and is void where prohibited by law, and is revocable at the sole discretion of the wisher. The wish is warranted to perform as expected within the usual application of good tidings for a period of one year or until the issuance of a new wish at the sole discretion of the wisher.

Best Regards ( without prejudice )

Name withheld ( Privacy Act )

Wednesday, 22 December 2010

Today's Print

Condo - Roger Smith 2010
The view from our outside balcony in Queen's Condo, Singapore with its stark structural elements.

Tuesday, 21 December 2010

Let It Snow, Let It Snow

Photo: Eustaquio Santimano
When I think of Christmas I think of the lights of Orchard Road as they used to be ten or twenty years ago.  In recent years the lighting has been a 'shadow' of what it used to be.

The impact of satellite malls has made themselves felt.  This year will be the first time in five years that I will not be experiencing a Singapore Xmas.  Even a watered down version of Orchard Road lighting is better than the limp affair in New Zealand cities.

This wasn't always the case but as the spirit of the festive season has been steadily eroded by commercial greed and avarice, the little personal touches have been lost.

At least in Singapore the shops stay open on Christmas Day. In Auckland as happens elsewhere in New Zealand, everything comes to a grinding halt.  This enforced break used to last for up to three days but thankfully now the supermarkets reopen on Boxing Day and the Boxing Day sales in the Antipodes remain a feature.

If we are into commercialism at Xmas let's go the whole way!

We have had two weeks of steady rain which has broken the back of the drought we were experiencing earlier in the month.  While in Singapore the weather is cooler and wetter, here the weather is warmer and should be drier from December to February.

Our news is full of Kiwis stranded at Heathrow airport in the UK who will not be making it back to Godzone for the Xmas reunion with family. 

According to a BBC report, Heathrow can only afford one runway sweeping machine to clear the snow and ice, so departure delays are expected to continue for some time.

Having experienced the diabolical atmosphere and attitude of Heathrow on more than one occasion I am not surprised by this news.  Such unpreparedness would simply not be tolerated at Changi.

Perhaps the Brits could try amusing passengers stranded in the terminals by adopting the Bangladeshi approach to entertainment?

Dhaka's Shahjalal International inadvertently screened a pornographic film for a full five minutes before anyone realised what was happening. The presentation replaced their usual recorded documentaries about the culture and geography.

Things like Heathrow's service levels may never change but other things can change a lot.

Take the recent activity in my Singapore 'home town' district of Queenstown, an older estate in the Republic.  Apparently the locals have taken to divesting themselves of their garments if this report is to be believed.

The heat at the bus stops used to get to me, but I was never tempted to strip.  Apparently the gentleman concerned couldn't understand why he was not getting "fries with everything" when he divested himself of his gear at McDonalds.

Try doing that in the UK at the moment!
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Monday, 20 December 2010

A New Fitness Regime?

An American Adaptation

Maybe Singapore could adopt some of these for the malls?  At least in Chinatown they don't try to camouflage the stairways like this.