Sunday, 20 November 2011

Accented Deliveries

Teresa Teng  邓丽君
When we returned to New Zealand one of the our more pleasant discoveries was that two television Chinese channels had sprung up in our absence.

In recent weeks we have been watching the CCTV4 stage shows from Taiwanese television which feature a range of singers giving their rendition of popular Chinese musical hits.

Lately the theme for these shows has been movies, starting with the films from the old Shanghai studios, before the Communists took over, and moving towards the present.

Last night the focus was on the films of the Taiwanese actress Lin Chin Hsia who retired in 1994 and is married to Esprit Clothing billionaire Michael Ying.

I have written before that I have been a big fan of the music of the late Teresa Teng& for many years and have a large collection of her CD's and music. But before any reader accords this Ang Mo the kudos for an in-depth knowledge of the Mandarin language or Hokkien dialect I must point out that I am woefully deficient in both.

Lin Chin Hsia  林青霞 
This has not prevented me from appreciating the artistry of great Chinese performers and many of the older Taiwanese singers of both sexes fall into this category.

It is my personal opinion that many of today's Taiwanese performers are more costume than substance and I suspect that the older singers received better training through a more classical regime? Their pronunciation and delivery contains none of the breathlessness of today's generation.

Which bring us to English premier football, or more particularly the BBC's Sportsworld Have Your Say, which warbles from my radio each Sunday morning. "Warble" may be giving the programme too much credit as I find the accents of the British premiership coaches almost indecipherable.

Comments from the English coaches on the performance of their respective teams bare no resemblance to the 'Queens English' which was drummed into me as a child.

For the most part I simply cannot decipher what these excitable folks with their strong brogue are talking about - the rendition is a speech impediment on steroids.

Give me the sultry sounds of Cantopop any day.

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Friday, 18 November 2011

General Election 2011 - NZ Style

The woman on the left side of the coat of arms...Image via WikipediaI have just discovered that all of Mediacorp's radio stations now stream their programmes online so I have been enjoying the classical musical programme from the Singapore studios today; Symphony 92.4FM to be exact.

Yesterday I listened to Love972, the Chinese contemporary channel but today I was out of 'love' and more interested in soothing melodies.

The New Zealand election is next weekend and the shenanigans of the politicians and the media are less than edifying.

Much of the past week has been dominated by the Media trying to make a mountain out of a molehill, or more correctly "a mountain out of a teapot".

After a journalist has broken the law by hiding a tape recorder in a cloth bag and secretly recording the conversation between the Prime Minister and a candidate from another party, the media then got on its high horse when the PM refused to answer questions about the conversation.

To his credit he put the matter in the hands of the police which means that the contents cannot be revealed.  But frankly, who really cares about this sorry saga except for the media themselves?

Here we are in dire financial times, recovering from a major earthquake and all the media seem bent on covering are the so-called "illegal tapes". Even our Inland Revenue Department has resorted to issuing bad cheques so times must really be tough.

Such a load of rubbish would not be allowed to occur in Singapore and while there may be some who may decry the government control of media in the Republic, at least the larger issues confronting the country get air time.

The freedom of the press comes with responsibilities but too often in New Zealand the media gets caught up in its own hype and forgets that the public want substance, not dross.

In addition to the election next Saturday we also have the opportunity to vote on a referendum which will determine whether we wish to keep our proportional representation system, MMP, revert to the tried and true First Past The Post, or adopt a new system of  proportional representation.

Having observed in recent times how minor parties of little consequence can hold the country to ransom, I shall probably opt for a return to our older system of First Past The Post.  I stress that not all minor parties fall into this category, but a number do.  This election campaign the Greens have impressed me as have the Maori Party, although I will be voting for neither.

National will hold on to power with an increased majority if the polls are to be believed. The Labour Party will suffer even heavier losses that the last election and the Greens will capture their largest chunk of the vote ever.

Which all goes to explain how the soothing music from Singapore's classical music station will help bring my blood pressure down over the next seven days. Now if I could just get to walk down Orchard Road and view the Xmas Lights I would be even happier.
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Thursday, 17 November 2011

The Pobble Who Had No Toes

Edward LearImage via Wikipedia
Edward Lear
One of my favourite child hood stories from the pen of Edward Lear was titled thus.  The opening verse included the words:

The Pobble who has no toes
Had once as many as we;
When they said "Some day you may lose them all;"
He replied "Fish, fiddle-de-dee!"

Maybe they should have read this out to swimmers in Western Brazil before they went for a quick dip, as several of them have lost their appendages to flesh-eating piranhas.

As the old business saying goes "those who swim with the sharks deserve to be eaten", or in this case, "those who knowingly swim in piranhas-infested waters deserve all that they lose".

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Wednesday, 16 November 2011

If It Itches, Scratch It

The joys of travelling in Zimbabwe

Inspiring Stories and Lifelong Abilities

I read two interesting blog articles by Singaporeans today.  Both tackle the subject of retirement but from different ends of the spectrum.

As a person who received their Singaporean Senior MRT card a couple of years ago I have more than a passing interest in the subject, even though I do not qualify as a 'senior citizen' back here in New Zealand.

The first article is by Wing Lee Cheong, a Singaporean who, by his own description, was born in a toilet in Klang, Malaya to a  seventeen year old mother out of wedlock. She was an uneducated and naive young girl who immigrated from Guangzhou and raised him in the slums of Chinatown in Singapore.

He had the distinction of being expelled from high school in 1963 due to poor academic performance but made good through diligence, hard work an an element of luck.  He has now retired and lives in British Columbia in Canada.

His 'Working my way out of poverty' article I found to be inspiring in its single-mindedness of purpose especially when it came to facing life's hardships and to finding and keeping a job.

For example, lacking a university degree proved to be no impediment to Mr Wing as he was prepared to work for free for three months to demonstrate his worth to a prospective employer.

Within two years of getting this job at American Marine building yachts he rose to become head of department overseeing a workforce of 1,800 workers.  Quite an achievement by any standards, but his luck was to change again when he witnessed a union fracas that led to his persecution and eventual migration from Singapore.

The second blog article dealt with the obsolescence of retirement, putting forward the case that compulsory retirement was out-of-step with the realities of the 21st Century.  As the writer states "When someone hits the socially-dictated retirement age, they bring with them out of the workforce, years of experience, skill and wisdom.".

I confess that I found it difficult to understand why Singapore persists with a mandatory retirement age when it faces severe skills shortages in some areas?  Many of the older Singaporeans I met and worked with were at the top of their game and losing such a talent pool has got to be to the long term detriment of the country.

There is also little incentive to work on after the mandatory age if all you are offered is a proportion of your original salary, unless of course your financial reserves (or lack thereof) makes this a necessary course of action.

The ideal situation is be semi-retired in an environment that is supportive and climatically tolerable,with sufficient security to cover the day-to-day outgoings of life.

It gives one time to reflect that however hard one's own life may or may not have been, there are always others who have had to surmount greater obstacles in their path and have succeeded in doing so.

But let it not be said that all is doom and gloom in the Republic; there are some very talented and fluent writers in the Heartland; take this article on the joys of having a neighbour who texts you at all hours of the day and night - Nincompoop & Unlimited smses.

The SMS fanatic in question is a obviously not a retiree.

Daily Breaks
SG Quitters

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Saturday, 12 November 2011

Durian Cleaners

Durian Cleaners
Roger Smith 2009

Thursday, 10 November 2011

Coromandel in Black and White

See also calendar and postcards in the merchandise panel at the bottom of this blog page.

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
Click on image for larger version
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
Click on image
Sculpture - Driving Creek
Roger Smith 2011
Click on image
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
Click on image
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
Click on image to see larger version
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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