Monday, 7 November 2011

We're On The Train To Nowhere

Driving Creek Railway
Roger Smith 2011
Click on image for larger version
The view of the Harbour View Motel is partly obscured by power lines; I say slightly because the vista remains very soothing at any time of day.

Power is a subject with which I have become intimately acquainted these past 24 hours as for a couple of hours last night, there wasn't any.

It reminded me of the old days on the Coromandel where light was provided by a kerosene lantern and cooking took place on a coal or wood-fired range.

Shortly after I had powered down my laptop last evening the lights started to flicker, the electrical relay to make a tango staccato and the alarm clock reset itself to zero.

All very disconcerting but a quick check with the proprietor assured me that it was not my computer activities that had destroyed the infrastructure of Coromandel township.  Apparently the switch over to a new substation somewhere had not gone to plan which meant all of us had to make do with no power.

As we had already showered and eaten it didn't matter too much and I was relieved not to have to watch yet another election debate on local television.

Today the weather has improved and the Southerly storm has blown through.  The top item on our schedule was a visit to the Driving Creek Railway, the brain child of potter Barry Brickell and his life work for the past forty years.

I had known of Barry since the late Sixties when my Teachers College art tutor, the late Frank Davis made the introduction.  He and Barry had been at Teachers College together and according to Frank,  Barry was besotted by trains even then; at parties he could  mimic every sound of a train traversing the North Island's Main Trunk line, including its traverse of the Raurimu Spiral.

First and foremost though, Barry is one of New Zealand's foremost potters although it would be better to describe him as a ceramic artist, as many of the works he produces are large terracotta sculptures.

Fern - Driving Creek
Roger Smith 2011
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I once owned a salt glazed pitcher that I bought from his pottery in the early days and I still have a couple of soup mugs that were created by his hand.

So was the hour's train trip on his narrow gauge railway worth the $25 - in short, every penny!

We wound our way through regenerating native bush including stands of young kauri trees.  One has to be impressed with Barry's energy and single-mindedness as the Driving Creek Railway was largely created by him alone.

Bush Walk - Driving Creek
Roger Smith 2011
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Sculpture - Driving Creek
Roger Smith 2011
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If you do just one thing on a visit to the town of Coromandel, do spare an hour to enjoy the ride on the Driving Creek Railway.

Strathmore Strolls

Strathmore Avenue - Queenstown
This photograph I took from the shady side of the street; not an uncommon approach to photography in Singapore.

We used to walk this way from Queens Condo to the NTUC supermarket at Dawson's Shopping Mall where we did most of our shopping for basics.

You could take the slightly longer route along Commonwealth Avenue turning left into Alexandra Road which was always a wet weather option.  Most of the time though we pushed our small shopping trundler and sheltered under a personal and silver topped umbrella to deflect the heat.

At first glance such housing developments might look fairly sterile places but the planting around the HDB blocks and in the adjacent open spaces means there is always a variety of bird life and other small animals.

Sunday, 6 November 2011


Roger Smith 2011
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The McDonald's Double Up (or double down, I forget which) arrived on its tray looking nothing like the illustration that had tempted me to part with $2 for the privilege.

A lank slice of artificially bright yellow cheese was sandwiched between two meat wafers which bore  passing resemblance to patties, but only just.  Sustaining it was not and neither was the apple crumble and ice-cream.

In the promotional poster the latter came steaming hot on a plate with a generous scoop of snow freeze ice-cream on the the side. In reality it came in a small plastic tub  topped with the ice-cream which reduced it to a mushy mess.

You will have gathered by now that I am not among the legion of fans who frequent McDonalds; in fact it is a 'meal' of last resort.  So it was today as we motored through Thames en route for Coromandel township, from where I have writing this now.  The necessity for food and the relative lack of choice suggested fast food - how wrong we were.

Coromandel is about three and a half hours easy driving from South Auckland where we live.  The only slight delay is the eighty year old Kopu bridge, built in a time when traffic was slight and a single lane with a couple of passing bays coped with most  vehicles.

This is how I remembered it from childhood trips in the late 1950's and into the 1970's.  Unfortunately when Aucklanders 'discovered' Coromandel as a quick weekend retreat the traffic grew exponentially and the old bridge created a huge bottleneck. A new one is scheduled to open before Christmas.

Heading north from Thames one follows the coast.  Even on a blustery Southerly day as it was today, the coast is pretty site although care needs to be taken on the corners.

Coromandel Panorama
Roger Smith 2011
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We are staying at the Harbour View Motel which is, as it name suggests, a series of  six units overlooking Coromandel harbour.  Ranked number one by Trip it has thus far lived up to its rating.  The unit is generous in size and well appointed with a view from the deck looking at moored yachts and an oyster factory at left.

Unfortunately the world is 'no longer my oyster' as the wretched shellfish are loaded with purines which trigger gout.  The pain of the infliction is more excruciating than missing out on the delicacy, but only just.

Duet - Coromandel
Roger Smith 2011
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Tomorrow we intend heading to the Driving Creek Railway built by NZ potting legend and railway enthusiast, Barry Brickell.

Thursday, 3 November 2011

On Feeling Prosperous

It was with considerable interest that I read the findings of the 2001 Legatum Prosperity Index.  According to them two Scandinavian countries, Norway and Denmark rank first and second, followed by two from the Antipodes; Australia and New Zealand in that order.

Given the $NZ16 billion debt that New Zealand has and the significant infrastructural damage it has sustained from a series of earthquakes I find this analysis quite remarkable.

Singapore by comparison ranks only 16th in their index.  So I used their preposterously named 'prosperiscope' to compare the two countries - NZ and Singapore -  and see where they believed the difference lay?

Here are the results with New Zealand in black and Singapore in brown.
The prosperity ranking is based on 8 different criteria:
  1. Economy - measures  countries’ performances in four areas that are essential to promoting prosperity: macroeconomic policies, economic satisfaction and expectations, foundation for growth, and financial sector efficiency
  2. Entrepreneurship and Opportunity - measures countries’ performances in three areas: entrepreneurial environment, innovative activity, and access to opportunity. 
  3. Governance - measures countries’ performances in three areas: effective and accountable government, fair elections and political participation, and rule of law
  4. Education - countries’ performances in three areas: access to education, quality of education, and human capital. 
  5. Health  - measures countries’ performances in three areas: basic health outcomes, health infrastructure and preventative care, and physical and mental health satisfaction
  6. Safety and Security  - measures countries’ performances in two areas: national security and personal safety. Sub-Index Score. Own Calculations. Data are from 2011
  7. Personal Freedom  - measures countries’ performances in two areas: individual freedom and social tolerance. 
  8. Social Capital  - measures countries’ performances in two areas: social cohesion and engagement, as well as community and family networks
As might be expected Singapore is well ahead of the average in terms of the economy

Both countries are level pegging at the global average when it comes to Entrepreneurship and Opportunity.

However according to the Legatum Institute which is an independent non-partisan public policy group based in London, Singapore's ranking fall well short in four areas: Governance, Education, Personal Freedom and Social Capital.

I have no doubt that the Singapore government would take issue with this analysis and the criteria used.  I too find it hard to believe in the gap between Singapore and New Zealand in the area of Education and the 'social cohesion' rating for NZ seems highly over stated and therefore over rated.

The video below explains how the Legatum Institute  arrived at their Prosperity Index.

Video source: The Legatum Institute
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Wednesday, 2 November 2011

Today's Print - Taking The Waters, Queens

Taking The Waters, Queens
Roger Smith 2011
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Tuesday, 1 November 2011

Today's Print - Rocks Taiwan

Rocks -  Taiwan
Roger Smith 2011
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Sunday, 30 October 2011

In the Summertime

It's summer, or nearly summer, with the first really warm days in many months lifting the spirits as well as the temperatures.

At such times the change of breakfast from the winter fare of hot porridge to the refreshing hit of a bowl of cornflakes is most welcome.

Being  a 'mine of useless information' my thoughts turned to how cornflakes were first discovered.  It transpires that an Adventist with a penchant for strict discipline was feeding the patients in his Sanatorium a diet that was designed to decrease libido.

Kellogg (for that was his name) believed that spicy or sweet foods would increase passions. In contrast, corn flakes would have an anaphrodisiac property and lower the sex drive.

Interesting he chose a rooster called Cornelius to be the mascot of his fledgling company; a bird that is renowned for its sexual prowess and clearly not a great devourer of cornflakes.

But advertising at Kelloggs was not all 'fowl' and the odd spot of violence was also promoted, as this 1908 poster depicts.

The late John Lennon counted cornflakes amongst his favourite foods and during the Beatles' reign wrote two songs related to the cereal.

"I Am The Walrus" had one line about "sitting on a corn flake", and the song, "Good Morning, Good Morning" was inspired by a jingle for a British corn flake cereal commercial.

I regret to say that no one was similarly inspired by a bowl of porridge although Bob Marley's hit song, "No Woman, No Cry", contains the lyric "Then we would cook corn meal porridge of which I'll share with you".

Just think what he could have written if he'd laid off the ganga and eaten cornflakes instead.

One final thought on the subject, if Singapore is serious about raising the fertility level of its population maybe NTUC needs to stop stocking cornflakes on its supermarket shelves.
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Saturday, 22 October 2011

Lucky Or Not?

Today this blog recorded its 44,444th page view. Not a very auspicious number in Chinese numerology as"4" is considered an unlucky number in Chinese because it is nearly homophonous to the word "death".

How I wish I had had double this number of page views as this would have guaranteed me wealth and prosperity. The Chinese word for "8" sounds similar to the word which means "prosper" or "wealth".

With Powerball being drawn tonight I am in search of a change of luck although I am not obsessive about numerology. The same cannot be said for someone in Chengdu who paid USD$270,723 for a telephone number with all digits being eights.

Even the pragmatic Singapore Airlines reserves flight numbers beginning with the number 8 for routes in China and Korea although I expect that is more marketing than luck.

One numbering tool I did come across was Singapore's retirement savings calculator which shows how big your nest egg needs to be when you retire. It is an excellent tool factoring in inflation, projected lifespan and desired retirement age.

The Retirement Calculator - CPF Board of Singapore
After trying this out there will be many others who will hope that they win Powerball as the results can be sobering, especially if you have only a few more years before retirement.

Luck comes in all forms, not necessarily monetary. Consider the case of two Singaporeans who escaped certain death by a mere five minutes. A cargo lift plunged three storeys to the ground, smashing their cars, which were parked directly below the lift shaft.

The old adage of being in the right place at the right time certainly holds true in this case; the right place being well away from malfunctioning lifts.
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Thursday, 20 October 2011

Today's Print - Idol

Roger Smith 10/2011
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Tuesday, 18 October 2011

Keeping Occupied

With the Occupy Wall Street protesters figuring prominently in the news it comes as no surprise to learn that there are copycat demonstrations springing up like mushrooms.

While their concerns may be commendable, if not a little diverse, the enthusiasm does not necessarily translate from country to county.

In New Zealand notice has been given of a similar mass protest and one can expect the usual rag-tag and die-hard protest movement supporters will turn up and try to turn the rally for their own political purposes.

As there are general elections next month the whole "Occupy Aotea Square" scenario smells suspiciously like a political party hijack attempt.

Facebook Page
But it is in my recent home of Singapore where the "Occupy Movement" has aroused the interest of the local constabulary but few others.

There is a Facebook Page that someone has put up but it has failed to mobilise the masses and motivate them sufficiently to assemble at Raffles Place.

As one Facebook contributor said "Instead of going to Raffles Place today, everyone went to #OccupyBenJerryChunkfest instead".  Given the Singaporean love of a good food event this is hardly surprising.

Not that the police are taking such incitement lightly as unauthorised public demonstrations are banned in the Republic.

"Police received reports that a netizen is instigating the public to stage a protest gathering at Raffles Place on Saturday, 15 October 2011 in support of a similar protest action in New York," police said in a statement.
Police urge members of the public not to be misled and participate in an unlawful activity."

So the "Occupy Raffles Place" was, to put it politely, a bit of a fizzer.  To quote Mr Brown " At Zero Hour zero turned up".

Zero Hour at Raffles Place with not an "Occupier" in sight
Photo by The Online Citizen
There were by all accounts a bevvy of waiting journalists but no protesters. According to a recent Reuters report covering this global movement against capitalist ethics or lack thereof, 'Singapore leads Asian reticence in denouncing corporate greed'.

The satirical Facebook site "Occupy Bishan MRT" is of far more interest to those of us who have braved the madding crowds at rush hour.  Parody or not, there is little humour to be had  in standing in the welter of humanity at such an hour.

When I worked at NUS I used to take the MRT from Queenstown each morning which was an education in itself.  I wrote several short observations about what I saw and felt while traveling  - Happy, Happy Talk & Terminal VelocitySudoku Man and Architectural Revelations and was even inspired to write a short poem on the subject.

Taking public transport in Singapore is still the best way to take the pulse of the nation and observe one's fellow citizens - and not banker in sight.

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Thursday, 13 October 2011

Little Known Singaporean Exports

I have to be up front and state that I wasn't aware that a Singaporean had won the title of New Zealand's Miss Erotica. It was a story in The New Paper that drew this to my attention.

Apparently the surgically, well-endowed Ms Tan has ambitions to become a porn star, something she would struggle to achieve had she stayed on in the Republic.

She is currently an event manager at one of New Zealand's leading universities which no doubts gladdens the hearts of many students but does little for promoting gravitas within this esteemed institution.  She also has the distinction of being the first Asian to win the title.

When we signed a free trade agreement between our two countries little did we know what we were going to import.

Mother of two, Audrey Tan may be more pleasant on the eye than a container load of computer chips or a tanker full of refined oil but I can't see much growth potential, unless of course silicone implants are now being produced in Jurong?.

It has to be said that Miss Erotica does not figure highly on the New Zealand radar at the moment as the country struggles to come to grips with a major oil spill off one of its pristine beaches and the Rugby World Cup is nearing its conclusion.
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Wednesday, 12 October 2011

Today's Print

Growth Rings
Roger Smith 2011
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Tuesday, 11 October 2011

Eat The Rich

Chef presenting a plate with a doubtful meat, with a cow with a barcode in the background — Franck Boston.
All photos courtesy of Shutterstock.
Eating and food are subjects very close to my hearts as they also are with most Singaporeans. So it was with great interest that I read the New York Times article on the shooting of food commercials - Lights. Roll. Action. Drip!

The role of the film director is well known but that of the commercials film director, less so. There are more than $4 billion in television air time bought by restaurant chains and food conglomerates each year so directing productions such as these are big business.

The tricks they get up to creating these advertisements remind me of a magician's sleight of hand. For example the steam wafting over the casserole comes not from the food, but from a stagehand crouched under a table with the kind of machine that unwrinkles trousers.

Alfredo sauce appears when the fork emerges from the pasta but this is courtesy of tubes hidden in the back of the dish and hooked to what look like large hypodermic needles.

Food is also used for satirical purposes. Take the example of Rich and Tasty: Recipes for the New Class Warfare which appeared on BoingBoing. As the writer sees it, this is the guide that 99% of the population will turn to when the opportunity to feast on the fortunate presents itself.

The American bias shows through in the sample recipes included:

Peter Kellog Corn Flakes
Roast Perlman with Confit de Kerkorian
Braised Bezos and Soros tips
Round Eye of Icahn on a George Kaiser Roll
Walton Family Stew
BBQ Sumner Redstone w/Pickled Sam Zell
Ross Perot Tartare
Sergey Brin in Brine

The Wall Street protests may be drawing attention to the inequalities of the US-style capitalism and creating such commentary, but I doubt if you'll find any of these recipes at the Redhill Hawker Centre in Singapore!

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