I don't know what it is in the human psyche that prompts spur of the moment decisions but what ever it is sees us spending three nights in Hamilton over the Xmas period.
The city does not endear itself to me, as a 1996 Council decision saw my museum directorship made redundant as with that of the Chief Librarian, the Head of the City Zoo, amongst others.
It was of course a cost cutting exercise that was doomed to fail, as was proved a decade later when the Museum and Library once again came under the stewardship of their own directors. But that as they say, is another story.
What is of interest is that the CEO at the time, he who devised the 'brilliant' Hamilton City restructuring plan, is now the CEO of Christchurch City Council; a city still experiencing devastating earthquakes (three more significant quakes over the last 24 hours).
Has he publicly declined to accept this raise - me thinks not!
But back in Hamilton as I write the weather is as humid as Singapore's with rain threatening. For the first time since our return from the Republic we are using the air-conditioning to beat the humidity.
The afternoon was spent visiting supermarkets, fighting for parking spaces and shopping trolleys and looking at prices of items that have been raised in the past week. Why one want to scramble for mince pies and Xmas hams defies belief. The same items will be discounted the following week.
Today is Christmas Day and there is a deathly hush over the city - most of Hamilton seems to have either deserted the ship or slept in, or both.
Our motel proprietor wished us a merry Xmas as he handed me a replacement rubbish bag and coffee sachets. Ours will be a quiet one as we don't celebrate the festival; perhaps a trip to the renowned Hamilton Gardens if the weather holds and they are open.
Pandas are big business as everyone who has ever had one in their zoo knows. So it is in Edinburgh, the latest city to receive this diplomatic loan from China.
But the Rockhopper Penguins are not happy with all the fuss, they are not happy at all. By all accounts they vent their anger (both literally and figuratively) on the heads of zoo patrons who are queuing up at the cage nearby to see the two pandas.
The BBC reports the Zoo's director of business operations as saying: "Our rockhopper penguins in particular have been watching the events at the panda enclosure below with great interest, ever since work started on the enclosure.
"Extremely curious birds, they often gather next to the wall to see what's happening below.
"We're hoping it's not a case of monochrome jealousy, but one or two of our rockhoppers seem to have had surprisingly good aim."
Such a show of public disdain would be unlikely to occur at Singapore's Nigh Safari.
It could however be a question of diet as Edinburgh is also the city that has recently put deep fried butter on its menu, much to the consternation of health officials there. The Braveheart Butter Bombs as they are known are described as a "coronary on a plate"
Scotland's offerings to the world's culinary heritage thus far have included haggis, oatcakes, porridge (from the same cereal as the oatcakes) and whisky. The aptly named Braveheart Butter Bombs are not quite in the same rank as these more traditional foods but will no doubt ward off the winter chills in a similar fashion.
So my theory is that some kind zoo visitor fed their Butter Bombs left-overs to the penguins which upset their delicate constitution. Seeing a queue outside the panda enclosure the penguins saw an opportunity to get their own back.
By all accounts its has not been a good couple of weeks for public transport in Singapore. Some 127,000 commuters were affected by a major 'glitch' in the MRT system which left them hot, tired and frustrated.
Being on a packed MRT train during the heat of Singapore can be uncomfortable but being stranded for five hours in a carriage without air conditioning must have been akin to hell.
In New Zealand, people have been known to force open carriage doors and spill out on to the tracks in the event of similar incidents, as they did on the opening night of the recent Rugby World Cup.
Singaporeans are a little more controlled in such circumstances but they must have been sorely tested. There are also reports that the local taxi drivers, who did very well out of the MRT's misfortune, saw this incident as an "income opportunity" - of course they did.
The Minister for Transport Lui Tuck Yew has also weighed into the fray saying that he too was disappointed by how SMRT handled the MRT disruption and would be holding them accountable. Heads will no doubt roll at some time in the future.
In a country that is so reliant on public transport a series of events such as the above make the population lose faith in the reliability of a service. We in New Zealand know this as we lost faith in NZ Rail decades ago. It is a very hard task for the company to win back custom and confidence once it is lost.
So it is also a question of context; in the main Singapore's MRT system is efficient, clean and reliable, a lot more so than many other countries including my own.
The Xinmsn article included the following sentence " Between January and November 2011, REACH received over 45,000 feedback inputs — a jump of 53 per cent compared with about 29,450 in the same period in 2010."
One has to ask, why is the standard of written English so poor, on a website which is strictly controlled and presumably edited?
What exactly are " feedback inputs" ? They sound like public service jargon to me. As for "compared with about", this phrase is simply poor grammar.
Disappointing, as the article itself expressed the ongoing dissatisfaction of Singaporeans on matters related to transport housing and immigration and was worthy of serious consideration. Being part of the Christmas shopping rush aboard a crowded MRT train is an experience one does not wish to repeat too often.
From the ridiculous to the sublime; the famous Christmas buffet has reappeared in Singapore' hotels. Not all of these are strictly traditional. Take the Marina Mandarin which is serving up Buah Keluak turkey served with chestnut and mushroom glutinous rice, Nyonya Chap Chye, Thai style pumpkin lasagna and Fuji apple and Chestnut pudding.
And if you still have a space left to fill the next day you can amble over to the Sheraton Towers for Buah Roast piglet stuffed with yam and sour apple sauce, Escargot Bourguignon as well as Poached stingray and baby shark with spicy mayonnaise and garlic aioli.
As for me, I shall be dining on a festive sandwich filled with "feedback inputs" which, depending upon the ingredients, may rapidly repeat becoming feedback outputs.
Reeds - Singapore Roger Smith 2011 Click on the image to see a larger version
This image was taken at one of the pools near the food-court in the Singapore Botanic Gardens. I have reworked it using various Photoshop filters and effects to create a more classical Chinese scene and to better capture the feeling of serenity.
Although both stations have ceased operations with effect from 1 July 2011, they are important components of Singapore's rail transportation and since the 1920s, they have connected generations of people in Malaysia and Singapore
I am in favour of everything being based on merit although it has to be said that at least one of the Hawker centres I frequented was anything but meritorious. I am referring of course to the old version of the Mei Ling food centre which when we first arrived in Singapore was run down, and speaking frankly, grubby in the extreme.
However it must also be recorded that the government spent a considerable sum in upgrading Mei Ling with the result that before the hawkers moved back it was spic and span. But old habits of grubbiness die hard, a term that seems appropriate when describing the state of the newly renovated food centre a few short months after relaunch.
This was a pity as most of the hawker centres we frequented were of good standard. Now the NEA has indicted that it will assess requests for new food centre based on merit. So for the first time in over a quarter of a century the government will start building food centres in new housing estates, the first being in Bukit Panjang with ten more to follow within a decade.
Coupled with this initiative is a lateral thought that such centres could be much more than a 'gobble and go' eatery. A consultative panel has suggested that such places could promote graciousness which may be a stretch of the imagination, especially when one considers the packets of tissues placed on table tops which reserve a place.
However two of their other suggestions seem to have merit; such centres could offer employment for the disabled and for people who want to set up small businesses.
Mirroring the 'Meals on Wheels' idea found in places like New Zealand, the hawker centres could also deliver food to nearby homes housing the elderly. With an aging population this seems a pragmatic and sensible solution for those lacking mobility in their advancing years.
The combination of food centre and merit reminds me also of a recent conversation I had with my doctor, an expatriate Malaysian Chinese whose family emigrated to New Zealand several decades ago. He was bewailing the fact that Singapore's hawkers are not what they used to be. As he put it, too many recent immigrants to the Republic attempting to copy the classic Singapore dishes with varying degree of success.
I have to admit that he has point, as the traditional recipes and families jealously guarding them are getting our of the trade. While this is a great pity it is also a fact that any cuisine evolves with new influences contributing over time.
Promoting the value of the traditional fare is deemed to be important in Singapore and to be granted the title of "Singapore Hawker Master" is meritorious in itself. The award was launched early in 2011 to celebrate hawker food and give recognition to deserving hawkers.
According to the Straits Times the 'popular roti prata eatery Casuarina Curry Restaurant was named a Singapore Hawker Master at the Asian Masters Gala Dinner on Wednesday night'.
Those of us who have enjoyed a crisp Roti Prata would say "well deserved"
Previous winners of the Singapore Hawker master Award have included:
East Coast Lagoon Food Village #01-48
Char Kway Teow Category
Outram Park Fried Kway Teow
Hong Lim Temporary Food Ctr #01-44
Nasi Lemak Category
Haji Maksah Berkat Chahya Food (Boon Lay Power Nasi Lemak)
Blk 221B, Boon Lay Place #01-106
Those of us who live or have lived in Asia and other parts of the world know that levels of corruptions vary. In some it also most impossible to do business or get any service without money or a favour changing hands.
I recall more than one such incident when travelling in India, the most blatant being a customs official in Calcutta who was running our luggage through a metal detection unit and asked for a 'gift' - which he did not get I should add.
It seeks to quantify the levels of corruption or lack thereof in individual countries. Their transparency index measures each country in the world on corruption. See how they compare by clicking on each country. Use the drop-down menu to see how scores have changed since 2008.
India has dropped 8 places this year signalling that the level of corruption is increasing rather than declining.
Singapore has been proactive for many years in trying to stamp out corruption, especially in government and ranks a reasonable 5th in the world.
New Zealand's rank is better at #1 but this does not mean that it is corruption-free; indeed no country could make that claim.
There have been several incidences of corruption highlighted int the press in recent years ranging from the fall of a local politician to immigration staff accepting bribes. Most governmental corruption cases in NZ relate to immigration.