Tuesday, 26 April 2011

Not Living In Disney World

Commenting on its selection processes and the need to keep rejuvenating the party MM Lee is quoted in the media as saying:

"'We combed the whole of Singapore society to select those with the highest integrity and ability to chart the way forward for Singapore. We will never reach a point where we can be on auto-pilot so that any team can just take over. We are not living in Disney World".

Pointing out the many notable achievements his party and the country has achieved over past decades the clear inference is that if Singaporeans choose to 'rock the foundation' they stand to put these gains at risk.

I am not so sure that such a scare tactic will work this time around?  In the past the calibre of opposition candidates has been 'patchy', to be charitable.  This time though a quick glance through the electorate party lists shows that the alternative parties have a good raft of well educated and worldly wise candidates.

Pronouncements from sitting government MP's that a strong opposition could result in blocked policies suggests that they may be more concerned about the Opposition strength than they care to admit.

There is no doubt that the PAP will win the election and by a substantial majority.  With a Westminster- styled government there is no danger of the government benches having their policies blocked.

Monitoring the social media 'buzz' (see research study below) shows a growing groundswell of support for the Opposition parties especially amongst the young, so there could well be more Opposition members voted in.

And, in relation to Disney World, it was of course Walt Disney who said: "If you can dream it, you can do it".
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Saturday, 23 April 2011

Choc Horror

Kate Middleton
Late April is not a good time to be born a chicken.  Not only is there a 'run' on eggs for Easter but also the forthcoming royal wedding promises to cause problems.

If history is to be believed, any fad displayed by the royal partner-to-be will quickly be picked up by the fashion industry in the UK and slavishly copied by wannabe princesses.

It has been noticeable that Kate Middleton has a fancy for feathers and wears these hat plumes on a variety of outings.

Her deceased mother-in-law succumbed to mega shoulder pads in the 1980's giving a good impression of an American gridiron quarterback.

I am predicting the return of the kaftan and spandex pants and, if all goes to plan, of Big Hair a la Dolly Parton.

As someone who retains dimming memories of the 1953 Queens tour to New Plymouth, specially struck medallions and union jack waving, I have to say that all the hype over the Windsor's latest nuptials leaves me cold.
Dolly's Big Hair Day

A royal wedding is great for the UK tourist industry and no doubt a tonic for some during the dire recessionary times that the country finds itself in.  But given the financial restraints that are in place in England the expenditure on this event seems out of all proportion to reality.

Back in NZ the weekend is awash with chocolate and hot cross buns and people are rushing on to the roads to enjoy the last long weekend holdiay before winter - many maiming themselves in car accidents in the process.

The religious significance of the festival seems to be fast fading with a religious march drawing only a handful of participants and children surveyed at the Easter A and P Show not associating the birth of Christ with the festival at all.  Unsurprisingly the word uppermost in their minds was 'chocolate'.

Far more important to most of us is the Monday observance of ANZAC Day; a time for reflection and remembrance for those who lost their lives serving the country in the two World Wars and other conflicts.

The poppy sellers are out and about (poppies remind us of the flowers of Flanders where some of the largest battles of World War One took place) although there is also some controversy swirling around the production of these paper and plastic replicas.

From next year on these 'flowers' will be manufactured offshore in China as the production costs there are cheaper than using the sheltered workshops of the intellectually handicapped where they have been made in the past.

While this poppy production shift may offer greater returns for the Returned Services Association (RSA) it has further deprived a vulnerable section of our community, which is a great pity.

Meanwhile in Singapore the papers show little or no coverage of either the royal wedding or Easter. All front pages are full of electioneering (largely PAP in content) with the PM being quoted as saying that potential office holders will be "thrown in the deep end".

I suspect the same could be said for Kate Middleton.
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Wednesday, 20 April 2011

The Ides of..May?

Tanjong PagarImage via Wikipedia
Tanjong Pagar
So May 7th it is.

Finally the date for the Singapore election has been announced, not that we would have got excited if still living in Queenstown, as the Ang Mo Kio, Tanjong Pagar and Sembawang GRCs are unlikely to be contested by the opposition.

Tanjong Pagar was our electorate and one of the more effective MP's was Indranee Rajah,  whom I note is standing again.

MM Lee Kuan Yew is the senior man in the electorate so it would not be surprising if there is no contest.

Despite turning 88 in September M.M. has said : "I'm happy to be still representing Tanjong Pagar."

Elsewhere though this election promises to be far more interesting, with a lot more professional people being attracted to opposition parties than in previous years.

East Coast, Aljunied, Moulmein-Kallang, Bishan-Toa Payoh and Tampines are reportedly amongst those electorates that will be tightly contested.

After Nomination Day on Wednesday April 27th candidates and parties will commence their duelling  and this will continue for the following nine days, the minimum period allowed by law.

While there won't be much time for fancy rhetoric on the hustings I predict that social media will be playing a big part in swaying public opinion.

The sanctioned mainstream media are already sounding a note of caution (should that be a warning?) that parties "must not descend into character assassination, mud-slinging, falsehoods and scare tactics".

One would hope that such statement in the Today newspaper is not a prelude to a string of litigation designed to intimidate.  Politics by its very nature must be robust and challenging.  Who determines what is a "scare tactic" and what is not?

My hope is that Singaporeans don't adopt the approach of change for changes sake.  An effective opposition with more representation in the Parliament would probably be a good thing to maintain a certain level of dynamic 'tension' and focus. 

Just so long as this is achieved without derailing the real and sustained progress that the country has made these past decades.  I wish them well in their decision making.
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Thoughts On A First World Fish Head Curry

Thoughts On A First World Fish Head Curry
Roger Smith 4/2011
Click on the image, and click again, to see the larger version
Those of you who have had the misfortune to stay in Genting's First World Hotel will know that while a good fish head curry is to 'die for', accommodation at the aforementioned is most definitely not.

In this montage even the fish are attempting to escape the experience!
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Sunday, 17 April 2011

Today's Print

Ethereal Web 1 .............................   Roger Smith  4/2011
(Click on the image to see the larger version)
This digital print has an internet traffic map as its starting point.  The nodes and lines of communication had a gossamer-like quality which I exploited.

Similar structures can be seen in nature, a spider's web on an old post being one such example.

The original is 2276 X 2177 pixels in dimension and copies are available. Contact me if interested.
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Friday, 15 April 2011

Diamond-Tipped Mandibles

It is the change of season here in Auckland; one day it is cool and the next a balmy 23 degrees with an autumnal sun.

This seasonal variation has triggered a number of metamorphic responses in the garden and also it would appear, in the pantry.

There is a report in today's online news about the increasing number of bugs being found in stored food.  Here I was thinking that the extra crunch in my morning muesli was a new ingredient dreamed up by Hubbards Foods, but perhaps I was mistaken?

Larder Beetle - cereals with extra crunch?
Entomologists have been most reassuring describing the caterpillars of the Indian meal moth, warehouse moth and Mediterranean flower moth as "perfectly edible" .  I am still not convinced that I want them in my diet.

Insect infestations are nothing new and in tropical climes such as Singapore the challenges of keeping food stuffs and household commodities pest-free are equally daunting.

Spraying for cockroaches was an ongoing exercise and according to a Singapore pest control service there are some 35 'greeblies' that are honing in on your food and furniture at any one time.

The aptly named Larder Beetle for example has a penchant for cheese.  I can't help but think that this must be a rather anorexic bug as cheese does not figure highly in the Singaporean diet.

I also observed the dogged persistence of a very small ant on the then Tanglin campus of UNSWAsia. This creature was so small that it could get inside through the screw top of a sugar jar.

While I can't pinpoint this species it was a surprise to discover that I had a namesake in the Singaporean ant world.  Roger's Ant, or Hypoponera punctatissima as it is known to its friends, wanders around aimlessly leaving no trails; an aptly named creature!

According to the bug scientist quoted in the article today, these insects can "chew straight through any packaging - they've got diamond-tipped mandibles. Once you've got them, you've got them"

So this autumn, or Fall as my friends in North America call it, we shall keeping a close eye on the pantry to ensure that no such infestations occur. 
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Tuesday, 12 April 2011

Painting With Passion

For three years in the later 1970's and early '80's I headed an art school in Papua New Guinea. I taught people such as Larry Santana (known as Larry Mike in those days) who went on to become and important and internationally regarded painter from PNG.

My Niugini Days blog covers these times but I was reminded of them today when looking at the local arts calendar in Auckland.

A contemporary gallery is featuring the work of Jeffry Feeger, one of the new and emerging artists from Papua New Guinea.  His painting style is featured in this short video below.

What I loved about about this portraiture was the passion exhibited in the painting and the 'studio assistant' at the beginning of the process!  The choice of colour palette reflects the more traditional 'groun' (local clays) used in PNG body art.

Being passionately involved in your subject matter was something I always emphasised as an art teacher and tried to follow in my own work.

Rabaul - Acrylic on canvas. Roger Smith 1981
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Monday, 11 April 2011

Cutey Yellowish

Cutey Yellowish
There are some fairly bizarre shows on television but none more so than a Korean programme which brings to the fore people with grotesque habits and attributes.

All exhibit some form of pride in their peculiarities which makes the show even more compelling viewing; a Korea's Got Talent spin-off perhaps?

The latest expose is a young lady who goes by the nickname of 'Cutey Yellowish'.  The hue in question refers to her teeth which haven't been subjected to a tooth brush for the past decade.

Ms Ji Hyun Ji, aged 20 labours under the mistaken belief that "As food scraps pile on, they will actually protect my teeth."

Evidently on special occasions she has been known to wipe her front teeth with a tissue but that is the extent of her oral hygiene.

I am surmising that despite her looks she has few close friends, both literally and figuratively.

The TV show incidentally is called 'Martian Virus' which seems a rather apt title considering its content.  Other highlights of this programme have included a man who married his pillow (video below).  No doubt he did so in preference to someone who didn't want to clean their teeth.

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Friday, 8 April 2011

Don't Put Your Son On The Stage...

I can still remember the day I developed a school boy crush on Ana Watson.  I had just hung my small leather school bag on the peg and been marshalled into my new primmer two class, what would now be termed Grade II.

Miss Watson was a young graduate teacher and a Maori from the local Iwi of my home town of Waitara.  The school in question being Waitara Central, in northern Taranaki.

I happened to be great mates with her younger brother Evan, who started school at the same time as I.  He had a younger (and shorter) younger brother who everyone called Peewee.

Our classes with Miss Watson were entertaining affairs which which singing and guitar strumming; my first introduction to this instrument which I went on to play in bands in later life. Ana Watson and her sisters had formed a group The Watson Sisters and sang in close harmony at regional concerts.

My enduring memory is learning a wonderful array of traditional Maori songs which we all sang with a great gusto, albeit in a rather shrill falsetto.  It was the most natural of introduction into the multicultural society of New Zealand.

Owae Marae - Manukorihi Pa
I must have had a modicum of talent as I was selected to join Evan and Peewee is a small 'concert party' which performed as one of the warm up acts to the Howard Morrison Quartet in the Waitara Memorial Hall.  With our piupui rustling we waited nervously in the wings as other acts performed.

After we sang a couple of songs we then entertained the crowd with a spirited haka which had the crowd roaring with appreciation largely at Peewee's protruding tongue and eye-rolling antics as he performed the pukana.  As the only small white body performing I must have appeared quite a novelty but we performed our act  reasonably well and received an appreciative ovation.

My favourite song from those times was the gentle melody of Pa Mai ( hear in the video below)

This Waitara concert was my first real experience of performing on a stage and I loved it!  As a result I would be the first to audition for the various school plays as I made my way through the grades.

I even performed at home home for the neighbourhood children firstly with a small puppet theatre and later doing conjuring with a range of tricks I had saved up and bought by mail order from De Larno's Magic Centre in Christchurch's Chancery Lane.

But it is my first experience of being on a real stage that sticks in my memory long after I left Taranaki.  Performing build confidence and in those days I had it in bucket loads - probably too much for many of my frazzled teachers!

Another highlight from those times was going with my small friends up to the Manukorihi Pa from time to time. In hindsight these were carefree days as any childhood should be.

Such experiences were a good grounding for life and the over emphasis on academic achievement from early childhood these days is, in my opinion, a great mistake.  The world needs well rounded and adaptable people and a childhood rich in cultural interaction and exploration encourages the development of the enquiring mind.
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Wednesday, 6 April 2011

They Don't Make Them Like They Used To

From Facebook
At first I thought this news item on the BBC web site was a belated April 1st joke but unfortunately I was mistaken:

"A Singaporean soldier who was pictured with a maid carrying his backpack has identified himself to his commander and undergone counselling, officials say.

The soldier was "remorseful", defence official Col Desmond Tan said in a letter published in the Straits Times.

The recruit was undergoing physical training prior to basic training.

The image, which was first published on social media sites, has led to debate in Singapore on whether conscripts and their training are tough enough.

Apparently the SAF "has reminded all servicemen to be mindful of their conduct in public". This reporting  is a tad ambiguous.  Does this mean it is alright for the maid to carry your gear out of the public gaze?  I suspect not.

However, the forum commentary has largely vilified the National Serviceman involved and rightly so.

One serviceman who did his training the hard way had this to say:

"It’s hard to believe that a grown man who is supposed to be serving the nation is making his female domestic help carry his backpack.”

He’s a disgrace to the army and makes Singaporean men look bad

Others have blamed such an attitude on spoiled 'little emperors' who have had their baggage carried by their domestic servants since birth.

Whatever the reason, the sort of attitude displayed by this conscript is enough to make even the most humble SAF recruit wince.

I am not surprised he is "sorry for the incident". 

Right now the young man in question is probably completing his hundreth lap running around a sport ground, in full battle kit with his rifle held above his head -  such was the discipline in my time.

And... not a maid in sight!
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Monday, 4 April 2011

Fulham Follies And Other Foibles

LONDON, ENGLAND - APRIL 03:  Fulham chairman M...Image by Getty Images via @daylifeMohammed Al Fayed's increasingly bizarre shrine-making has reached a new zenith.

According to Today newspaper and the BBC he has unveiled a statue to the late 'Wacko Jacko' outside Fulham Football Club's grounds.

I doubt very much if Michael Jackson ever entered Craven Cottage or had much of an interest in football, but that  has not deterred the super rich Al Fayed from spending some of his Harrod sales spoils on a  a statue of his departed friend.

Critics of this idea (and there are a few fans who are not enchanted by this development) can "go to hell" or "Chelsea" according to the club's owner.  I would have thought backing Chelsea was a kind of purgatory in itself but no doubt there are those who think otherwise.

The majority of the front page of the Singapore paper seemed to focus on the merits of new PAP candidates although another snippet also caught my attention.

Why is it that so many young, Singaporeans (and the not so young) still want to leave the country?  According to a recent survey, 20% of young Singaporeans did not feel a strong bond to the country and despite feeling differently about their family, were quite prepared to fly the coop.

The more disquieting news is that this same segment are in the better educated demographic and are pessimistic about Singapore's economic future.

26.4 per cent of all respondents expressed a desire to emigrate within the next five years which must be of concern to the country although expect like New Zealand, once the O.E. is out of the system many of these dame people will feel happy to return to the land of their birth.

If any of them are Fulham supporters I would suggest they stay put!
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Saturday, 2 April 2011

No Joke

Yes, it is real: Scrubby Bottoms
The first of April has come and gone and with it the usual line up of gags, spoofs and false news stories.

We have Chaucer to partly blame for promoting this strange annual observance, some 700 years ago in his Canterbury Tales.  Certainly by the 16th century April 1st was celebrated for its foolish japes.

According to an entry in Wikipedia in 1698, several people were tricked into going to the Tower of London to "see the Lions washed".

There have been other classic pranks such as the Dutch television station in the 1950's who informed their gullible viewvers that the leaning Tower of Pisa had finally fallen over.

In more modern times companies such as Google have continued the tradition.  This year is was a new piece of funcionality called Google Motion which claimed one could control Gmail with your body.

Another prank by Google has been to promote the often revelied font Comic Sans, because ithey discovered it "consistently outperformed all others when it comes to user satisfaction, level of engagement, understanding web content, productivity, click-through rates and conversion rates. We’ll therefore be rolling out Comic Sans as our default font across all Google products on April 4, 2011".

However not all strange stories on the first have been April Fools jokes.  Take for example news that a 50-strong gang of chickens that terrorised residents in Southport has been evicted by Lancashire Police.

Or, news that a baker has been flooded with complaints after calling his shop Nice Baps. 

But perhaps once of the most bizarre has been the revelation that Britain's National Trust has published a list of the UK's top 10 "silly walks" to such colourfully-named locations as Scrubby Bottoms, Pembrokeshire, Booby's Bay, Cornwall and Windy Gap in Surrey.

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Wednesday, 30 March 2011

Kerikeri Capers

Paunch compost is not for the faint hearted.  It features in a large street sign in the Northland township of Moerewa and is one of the many things I noted on our three day trip to sub tropical Kerikeri.

Suffice to say it is several decades since I last visited Kerikeri and it has undergone a major transformation.

Where once there were dusty roads, forlorn farms, brightly painted and semi-derelict weather board houses, there are now organic farms, a smart cafe culture and wineries.

We deliberately timed our visit to beat the heat of summer and the peak tourist season.  Late March always has more settled weather and the region is not called the 'winterless North' for nothing.

Banana palms in fruit, magnificent nikau palms and tropical foliage grows with wild abandon in these parts and we were fortunate to sample the season's newly picked mandarins.  Kerikeri has been well known for citrus fruit and the fruit we tasted were some of sweetest I have ever had.

The town is far more laid back and less touristy than its near neighbour, Paihia.  I remember a summer holiday in Paihia when I was ten years old.  Our family tented in the local camping grounds and had the beach front largely to ourselves.  I first learnt to row a dinghy from these shores and got as brown as a berry -  skin cancer was largely unknown at the time!

The camping ground has disappeared and has been replaced by a rows of motels, each vying for custom in what has become a Bay of Islands mecca for the tourist trade.  Being only fifteen minutes drive from Kerikeri we decided to spend a morning in Paihia.  Some T-shirts caught our eye as these were heavily discounted to $NZ8 at the end of the season.

The rock oysters were as plentiful as ever and the old ferry from Paihia to Russell still plies its trade. Russell was formerly known as Kororareka. During the whaling and sealing days it became known as the "Hell hole of the South Pacific" with rampant prostitution and a complete absence of any laws.  It is a much more sleepy place now.

We stayed in three and half star accommodation in Kerikeri; the Colonial House Motel.  The place was nestled in the trees and a tui sang each morning and evening from the highest branches.

Our cabin was clean and comfortable for the two of us and our deal provided for a free continental breakfast tray and 20 Mb of broadband.  Our affable hosts Alan and Andrea whipped up a batch of complementary cookies for us as guests which was a nice touch. All for the princely sum of $NZ120 per night.

It took us four hours to drive from our home in Auckland to our motel, allowing for a good break enroute.

Kerikeri and it environs are best known as the first place of European occupation in new Zealand. The Mission House or Kemp House as it is often known is the oldest building in the country and was constructed in 1822. The adjacent Stone Store is also one of the first.  Both have been lovingly restored by the Historic Place Trust.

It is also the home of Makana chocolates which offers free tasting which were yummy but pricey.  Best value for money along the Kerikeru Road leading into town, was the bakery at Reeds Vege Express.  Their filled rolls and savoury muffins were great value.

For those who enjoy a stroll through native bush, there are several interesting walking tracks to suit all levels of fitness.

If you are visiting New Zealand and fancy experiencing our heritage, natural beauty and some of the best that New Zealand has to offer in local produce then don't miss Kerikeri.  It is an easy car journey from Auckland.

All in all for us, a very pleasant three days away from city life. 
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Death By A Thousand Cuts

Source: Captain Capitalism
My death by a thousand cuts took place in a claustrophobically small aircraft toilet, some thirty eight thousand feet about the Earth.

I had forgotten to pack a razor and had resorted to using the one provide in a cellophane pack by the airline.

Being early morning in the time zone I had left eight hours before didn't help my mood as I wrestled to open the packet in the small confines of the toilet cubicle.

The trick, of managing to keep any hot water in the stainless steel basin also eluded me.  It was then I discovered that the small tube of shaving cream provided was of sufficient vintage to ensure that it had hardened solid and could not be coaxed out, no matter how hard I squeezed.

Not to be outdone I resorted to using liquid hand soap form the dispenser attached to the wall.  The arrival of turbulence prompted the announcement from the stewardess to "please return to your seats and securely fasten your seatbelts".

It is the first and only time that I decided to disobey this instruction.  My shirt had been removed by this time to stop the liquid soap continuing its run and there way no way I was going to repeat the procedure after the airpockets had passed.

The hand held plastic razor was of the twin blade variety.  Not that I had any problem with reverting from the  usual four blade version I was used to, to this more primitive and flexible piece of plastic and sharpened steel.

The fact that razor manufacturers always seem to add another blade to their product on an annual basis I find slightly absurd.

A more apparent problem soon emerged with the first sweep of the blade across my chin.  Forgetting that the blade was of similar vintage to the tube of cream I was therefore mortified to notice that large bloody welts had suddenly appeared on my face.

I am not sure if it was the altitude, but blood seems to run more freely in a pressurised aircraft cabin.  There was no choice but to forget about shaving and focus on first aid with the help of a dwindling supply of paper tissues.

Thankfully when I emerged from the toilet as a bloodied version of the Australian comic Norman Gunston, there were few awake in the cabin to witness my sheepish return to my seat.

While Heathrow customs did look somewhat askance at my appearance, the rest of the journey into London proved uneventful.

However I learn a valuable lesson: I pack my owner blade razor and will never again try to use the complimentary airline version.

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