Sunday, 8 May 2011

A Bigger Red Dot

Today Singapore has come of political age.  While it is true that the ruling PAP party was returned to power, (deservedly so in many peoples minds) with 60% of the vote (14% less than the previous election), it is equally true that there has been a very large swing towards the Opposition parties.

The very idea that 40% of the 2.35 million eligible voters would choose not to vote for the PAP would have been unheard of two decades ago.

93% of Singaporeans turned out to exercise their vote which shows the level of interest in GE2011.

The big news of the night was the Workers Party win in Aljunied GRC, a rather large 'red dot' in the heartlands, which automatically gives them five seats in the new Parliament.

Three senior Ministers of the last government lost their seats in Alujnied including a distraught Foreign Minister George Yeo, who will no doubt become Ambassador Yeo in the near future. To his credit he remained a gentleman in accepting his defeat.

Hougang too remains firmly in opposition hands.

There remain two electorates that may be subject to a recount, Joo Chiat where the PAP is ahead by 400 votes on election night and Potong Pasir where the margin is even tighter - a mere114 votes.

Thanks to social media's influence on the young and Facebook stars such as Nicole Seah, even safe havens such as Marine Parade were given a wake up call.

The NSP managed to capture 44% of the vote in this electorate although, as predicted, Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong's PAP team were returned to office.

Last night's results also saw the demise of Singapore's longest serving opposition politician- one of two in the last Parliament. Due to boundary changes and party swapping Chiam See Tong had to contest the Bishan-Toa Payoh electorate where his SPP party only managed to get 43% of the vote.

So behind the numbers what does this all mean?  The return of a stable government in a volatile economic environment is a real plus and the PAP's stewardship through the toughest of recessionary times should not be forgotten.

Despite this acceptance, the people of Singapore have signalled strongly to the government that they are not happy with the status quo; especially the growing wealth gap, the influx of foreign workers, rising prices and the cost of housing.

While six Opposition members is a small percentage of the total house they should be able to provide a stronger voice for the people's concerns.   If the government chooses to not address these issues we could see a very different result in five years time and true repentance.
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Friday, 6 May 2011

Flying High Again

Exterior of CrystalMover Skytrain, Changi Airp...Image via WikipediaSingapore's Changi Airport is the world's favorite once again according to Airports Council International.

It is notable that seven of the top ten airports are in Asia / Sth East Asia. Only one in the UK/Europe and a similar number in the USA make the top ranking which says something for customer design and efficiency.

The article states that :
"Heathrow in London came in 99th, with travelers criticizing its long security lines and poor "ambiance." Dublin Airport placed 98th, Germany’s Frankfurt Airport ranked 126th and Charles de Gaulle airport in Paris even closer to being the worst in the world, at 137th"

My visits through Heathrow suggest no ambience at all -  even the new terminal has no soul. Changi by comparisson won 25 'best" awards in 2010 alone.
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Tuesday, 3 May 2011

Cooling Off Day - May 6th

The race for Aljunied seems to be getting more heated by the minute so it is probably a good idea to have a 'cooling off day' in three days time,  the day  before the vote takes place in Singapore.

Singapore netizens have not taken too kindly to reported statements that Aljunied voters will have " five years to live and repent" if they vote in the opposition and this may backfire for the PAP at the ballot box.

It will be interesting to see the election results on May 7th. and the battles won and lost between the parties.
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The Inventiveness of Man

I recall making many visits to The Bath-House, Rotorua's Museum of Art and History, which as its title suggests was once a Victorian styled sanatorium and mineral spa. The opening of the Bath House in 1908 coincided with a visit to Rotorua by the American Rear-Admiral Sperry and 200 of his officers.

The Bath-House
Sited on the edge of a volcanic sulphurous vent, The Bath-House allowed local and overseas visitors to 'take the waters' as a cure for their aches and pains.

Unfortunately sulphur and and other minerals associated with volcanic activity are not conducive to the longevity of museum collections and the then directors had a long standing battle with these elements.

This was also the age of even stranger cures and health devices.  Most of the latter used electricity to deliver their curative effects. The fact that they were in most cases pseudo-science bordering on quackery mattered not a jot.

So it was with some delight that I came across online, the "Prostate Gland Warmer' which was manufactured in 1925 and promised 'healing below the belt'.

From the picture above it would appear that this 'warmer' was plugged directly into a normal lighting socket and I leave it to the reader's imagination to decipher where the other end was inserted.

According to the Museum of Questionable Medical Devices this device was originally invented in 1918 and came with the promise that it would "stimulate the abdominal brain".

This should not be confused with the The Recto Rotor, "The Latest and Most Efficient Invention for the Quick Relief of Piles, Constipation, and Prostate Trouble." Ouch!

Not all inventions of the time were for internal use.  Equally important was the promotion of good health through exercise.The Dumb-Bell Cane pictured below gave one 'the physique of an athlete without wasting a moment'.

Quackery still exists and the gullible are still taken in by promises of miracles cures.  I wrote earlier about some of these we came across in Singapore, such as the irradiated ankle socks which promised to improve circulation.
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Saturday, 30 April 2011

Tuning In

The chances of New Zealand being declared a republic in the near future are slim if the viewing statistics from last evenings Royal Wedding are to be believed.

51 per cent of men and 67 per cent of women watching TV last night tuned in to the royal wedding on free-to-air television according to a report in today's NZ Herald.

The topic on most people's minds this past 24 hours - NZ ringed in red.
Click on the image to see the larger version then click again.
There has also been considerable interest in New Zealand's only professional basketball team, the Breakers, winning the Australian competition.  This is a first for any NZ professional team; beating the Aussies in their own competition.

The Canadians, unlike their compatriots across the border, were more interested in the results of their election than the royal nuptials.

Meanwhile we are tuning into autumn which is something the Canadians would also appreciate.

Autumn Botany Downs - Roger Smith 2011
Click on the image to see a larger version
Related articles
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Who Is Challenging Whom?

Click on this image to see the larger chart and then click aagin.

Friday, 29 April 2011

Unfortunate Sign Juxtaposition

It never ceases to amaze me how people installing event signage rarely consider the placement of their banners.

The above are two classic examples, taken from photos taken by passing Singaporean motorists. I am sure that the ruling PAP party would not be impressed with the contractors responsible for this contextual cock up.

Meanwhile an enterprising citizen has decided to employ Google Maps to record election rallies (see below) although I can't see any for the ruling PAP and must presume that the publisher is in the Opposition's camp?

在較大的地圖上查看Singapore GE 2011 Rally Venues

Thursday, 28 April 2011

Boring? Moi?

"Singapore is boring, we all know that, but what are the definitive 10 things that will deliver you to snoresville?" so starts an article by Elaine Ee, CNN GO.

Why do we have to put up with such 'Negative Nellies"?  Sure, some of the local's pastimes might seem somewhat passive to outsiders, but the energy-sapping climate has a lot to do with one's energy levels and a preference for indoor pursuits.

Ms Ee's list in count-down order includes the following:

10. Go to the cinema
9. Take a drive
8. Have dinner at the airport
7. Listening up at Speakers’ Corner
6. Day camping in East Coast Park
5. Read the newspaper
4. Watch local television
3. Go for a walk in a shopping center
2. Have a ride on the Singapore Flyer
1. Indulge in a spot of gambler watching

I concede that local Singapore television is a bit of yawn with its numerous Hawker food shows but is the television in other countries much better?

Replace Hawker food shows with Masterchef in Australia or New Zealand and the fare looks pretty much the same; just another helping of cheap reality show programming.

And I should add, traditional hawker food is delicious and I quite happily spent time debating the relative merits of chicken rice stalls with friends and colleagues.

The Singapore Flyer never attracted me except when I watched stranded passengers abseiling down its guy ropes.  The main problem for the Flyer is that  the recently constructed and nearby Marina Bay Sands Roof Garden is actually higher than their Big Wheel and offers better views (see Image below).

View from Marina Bay Sands looking down on the Singapore Flyer - image chensiyuan

As to Speaker's Corner, this small piece of real estate has largely become obsolete as most opinion is shared through social media and on blogs such as this one.

To be fair to CNNGo they did feature another article on Singapore in 2009 entitled, "50 Reasons Why Singapore Is #1". By my calculation that is 40 more positive reasons than negative if both articles are taken into account.
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The Singapore Electorate Map

Click on the Map and then click again to see the larger version
2.35 million Singaporean voters but in the case of a no-contest in some electorates, not all will get to vote.

For example, a friend has told me that she is getting to vote for the first time in 10 years as her previous GRC has now become a SMC.
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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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