Sunday, 6 February 2011

Chinese New Year In Chinatown

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National Day - What National Day?

Today is Waitangi Day, a day that means very little to many New Zealanders, despite it being touted for the last few decades as our 'national day'.

Last night on television a local commentator bewailed the fact that there were very few if any Kiwis of European stock (labeled 'Pakehas' in politically correct circles) showing up at the celebrations on a Northland marae.

National Days -  The Good (left), The Bad and the Ugly (right)
I use the term 'celebration' advisedly as most of the media focus is on noisy protesters and mud slinging, both verbal and literal. In reality Waitangi Day means very little to many Kiwis and certainly doesn't feel like a National Day.

Compare this to the orchestrated celebration in Singapore where we had impressive displays of aerobatics for the country's jets, live concerts and huge firework displays.

New Zealand of course could never stage such displays, even if it wanted to, as a previous Labour Government kneecapped the fighting wing of our air force. We have no fighting jets.

A couple of retro-fitted and ancient Hercules aircraft lumbering past just wouldn't produce the same effect as the Singaporean strike force.

I know there may be some in Singapore who see their celebration as political posturing by the PAP but  it is not a view I subscribe to.  At least there is an attempt to pull all sections of the community together to celebrate the tangible benefits of nationhood.

If New Zealand truly wants a day that unites the population they need look no further than Anzac Day; a day when we remember those men and women who gave their lives during past wars.

At least the current New Zealand Prime Minister is trying to look forward and distancing himself from the 'grievance' industry that has grown up around land claims and Waitangi Day.  John Key has a successful working relationship with the Maori party thanks largely to the intelligence and foresight of that party's leader, Peter Sharples.

So on this our 'national day' few of us will feel motivated to turn on the television and watch the goings on at Waitangi. There is far more interest in New Zealand's sterling performance in last night's Rugby Sevens in Wellington and for many of us, on the Chinese New Year celebration.
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Saturday, 5 February 2011

Rabbiting On

We are in the throws of Chinese New Year in Auckland and even our local libraries are getting involved with special programmes of workshops, demonstrations, music, dance and stories.  Unfortunately my local Botany Library does not feature so we will need to go further afield to see what is on offer.

I have discovered that there is a Chinese Digital Community which contains historical  and contemporary information about New Zealand's Chinese community.

This is an great development when one considers how mono-cultural New Zealand, was even two decades ago.  Sure CNY doesn't have the 'punch' of a celebration in Asia but at least we are acknowledging the importance of other cultures in our society.

I feel a little sorry though for my Chinese fish and chip shop owner, Shirley, who has to remain open over the festival.  Ever pragmatic, the local Chinese and new immigrants alike have determined to keep their businesses open in the search for profit!

Closing for a week as some coffee shop businesses did in Singapore is not an option, especially in these days of recession where everyone is feeling the pinch.  Not everyone is happy with having to work through the holiday though and Chinese staff in the Auckland casino are reportedly very angry about having to do so.

Year of the Rabbit from Frater

There is concern expressed in some quarters about the rise of aged immigrants from mainland China who are coming to New Zealand.

According to the New Zealand Herald "New Zealand is becoming a popular destination for retiring Chinese, with more than 1200 over-50s relocating here in the past year and numbers rising fast".

This trend should come as no surprise, as most are joining their families who had already migrated here and it is the Chinese tradition to look after ageing parents.

The concern is that many of these senior citizens cannot speak English,  do not work and could end up straining already stretched social services in this country.

"China accounted for more than one-third of residence approvals in the parent and sibling/adult stream ... up 16 per cent from the previous year."

I would have hoped that NZ immigration would have thought this policy through many years ago when the drive was on (and still is) to attract Chinese immigrants.

In the categories the government had hoped for (wealthy, skilled workers and students) the results have been far from satisfactory.

Two wealthy Chinese have been granted conditional residencies after investing more than $10 million each in "approved investments" and 43 others - more than from any other country - are waiting to be granted approval, or have received approval in principle to transfer more than $1.5 million each according to an earlier article in the Herald.

From my observations since our return from Singapore, it would appear there are more aged British migrating here than Chinese.  One would have thought that they would place a similar strain on services?
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Friday, 4 February 2011

Gong Xi Fa Cai

Happy New Year Everyone!

Tuesday, 1 February 2011


We went for a drive to Maraetai yesterday, which is about half and hour away from where we live.

A week ago many of the beach front properties there had been flooded by the combination of a large spring tide and the remnants of a tropical cyclone.  There was little visible  evidence of this damage remaining.

The park and beach was full of Pacific Island families enjoying themselves with BBQ's and vigorous touch rugby games.

Maraetai is a typical beach side town made up of baches and older weatherboard house with the usual sprinkling of general stores and fish and chip shops.

The New Zealand summer has been punctuated by strange weather patterns so people are making the most of the sunny days in what is turning out to be, a wet and windy summer.

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Friday, 28 January 2011

Today's Print

Chapel Road, Summer - Roger Smith 2011
Click on  print to see larger image

No Place Like Homing

Common rock pigeon (Columba livia) I had often wondered why there were so many pigeons nesting and congregating around Queens condo and the adjacent Queenstown MRT.

They were the bane of our life fouling the air-conditioning platforms and in turn encouraging a stream of ants and other nasties to their nesting sites.

Now it seems science has provided the answer.  Pigeons apparently sniff their way home with their right nostril according to new research out of Italy.

The Italians are of course good at sniffing out stories themselves, as is witnessed in the ongoing Berlusconi saga -  but that is another story.

The aforementioned pigeons would be severely handicapped if they were to develop an allergy and find their right nostril blocked.

According to the study a blocked right nostril means that pigeons are unable to create the "map of smells" that guides them on their journey.

The scientists plugged either the left or the right nostril of homing pigeons raised just outside Pisa.

They released the birds from Cigoli, 40km away, and followed the birds' return routes using GPS trackers. The 'right nostril disadvantaged' fared worse on the return journey.

Perhaps this same theory applies to Singapore's feathered vermin? The pollution levels around Queenstown got quite bad at times and I figure that the pigeons have this worked out.

By not going anywhere they run little risk of blocked nostrils leadings them astray.  There is the added advantage of coffee shop scraps and nesting sites in the nooks and crannies of the MRT line.

Perhaps the NEA could conduct a similar experiment in the hope, that by blocking the noses of Singapore pigeons, they might fly across the Causeway to Malaysia?
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Thursday, 27 January 2011

Unwanted Publicity

They say that all publicity is good publicity but it was a big disappointment to discover that two Singapore hotels figure prominently in Asia's Top Ten Dirtiest Hotels.

To make matters worse the ill-named Goldkist Beach Resort heads the list.  One poor guest was disconcerted to learn that “Taxi Drivers will laugh if you say you are staying here”  and I quote "Waaa, why stay there lah! This place only for party at beach, better stay somewhere else, not good for tourist".

Aspinalls ("Sleeping on the street would have been cleaner") came in third.

There is actually no excuse for filth and lousy service and I am sure the Singapore Tourist Bureau will be paying them a visit, along with the environmental agencies.

When an Australian guest writes: "No words can describe how horrible this place is and not exaggerating when I say it is the worst hotel I have ever stayed in" then this sort of bad press travels on the web and undoes all of the excellent work the STB does to promote Singapore.

To provide a balanced review I sought out the best service for hotels in Asia thinking that at least one Singapore hotel would make the list, given the national emphasis on service training for staff - alas no.

But all is not entirely lost as The Quincy Hotel ranked #1 as the Trendist Hotel in Asia and the New Majestic made #9 in the same category.

Next year it would be nice to see a Singapore hotel top all of the best categories; now that would be a goal to aim for.
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Tuesday, 25 January 2011

CNY Goodies and the Results

While all New Year goodies taste delicious one should remember that there is a 'cost' to everything!

Seeing it is the year of the Rabbit it might be advisable to do what the 'lapin' do and just eat carrots.

- 1 whole mandarin orange (60g) 28 calories

- 2 pieces of kueh bangkit (10g) 38 calories

- 1 piece of nian gao (20g) 46 calories

- 2 pieces of love letters (26g) 112 calories

- 1 handful of peanuts (20g) 113 calories

The slices- 1 handful of cashew nuts (20g) 116 calories

- 2 pieces of cashew nut cookies (24g) 124 calories

- 2 pieces of pineapple tarts (50g) 164 calories

- I handful of prawn rolls (45g) 228 calories

- 1 slice of pork bak kwa (57g) 229 calories

- 1 handful of melon seeds (45g) 251 calories

source: Today Online
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Friday, 21 January 2011

Flying High

Spider womanImage by Sherwin Huang via FlickrBeing a maid in Singapore is clearly a 'dying art'. On Thursday yet another maid fell to her death while attempting to clean windows from a great height.

Standing on flimsy stools and leaning out to clean the glass is simply not a good idea and during our four years in Singapore it was not an uncommon occurence for such accidents to happen.

Short of employing maids with wings, there is not much that can be done about this practice unless highrise residents are prepared to accept that 'dust happens'.

The exterior of our condo windows were never sparkling clean as tropical rains and nearby road dust ensured that visibility was less than pristine.

Last October another maid fell to her death.  This took place in Commonwealth Avenue where we used to live.

The Manpower Ministry attempts to improve safety awareness but accidents related to maids cleaning windows, hanging laundry or watering plants continues.

Maid In Singapore: The Serious, Quirky and Sometimes Absurd Life of a Domestic WorkerMoM adopts a carrot and stick approach; they offer safety courses but are also prepared to take court action against employers who failed to provide safe working environments.

Penalties include a fine of $5,000, jail for up to six months and being banned from hiring domestic servants.

Such accidents aren't confined to Singapore.  Saudi Arabia has a poorer record in this regard and some of the circumstances are far more suspicious. e.g. "fell from a two-story building while trying to run away from her sponsor".

Maids are a fact of life in Singapore and many modern Singaporean families would find it difficult to operate without them.

Incidents of maid abuse do happen but they are fortunately rare. I observed in our own condo that some employers made their maids very much part of the family while others adopted a far more rigorous form of servitude.

We did not employ a maid during our time in Singapore although many PR's and Expats did and still do.
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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!