Monday, 26 December 2011

Chinatown in 1982

Chinatown - Singapore 1982
Roger Smith

Sunday, 25 December 2011

Quakes and Rage

Hamilton Gardens
I don't know what it is in the human psyche that prompts spur of the moment decisions but what ever it is sees us spending three  nights in Hamilton over the Xmas period.

The city does not endear itself to me, as a 1996 Council decision saw my museum directorship made redundant as with that of the Chief Librarian, the Head of the City Zoo, amongst others.

It was of course a cost cutting exercise that was doomed to fail, as was proved a decade later when the  Museum and Library once again came under the stewardship of their own directors.  But that as they say, is another story.

What is of interest is that the CEO at the time, he who devised the 'brilliant' Hamilton City restructuring plan, is now the CEO of Christchurch City Council; a city still experiencing devastating earthquakes (three more significant quakes over the last 24 hours).

This gentleman has just been given a $70,000 pay increase which naturally is drawing howls of outrage from the ratepayers who are faced with a ravaged city and personal prospects that are not much better.

Has he publicly declined to accept this raise - me thinks not!

But back in Hamilton as I write the weather is as humid as Singapore's with rain threatening.  For the first time since our return from the Republic we are using the air-conditioning to beat the humidity.

The afternoon was spent visiting supermarkets, fighting for parking spaces and shopping trolleys and looking at prices of items that have been raised in the past week.  Why one want to scramble for mince pies and Xmas hams defies belief.  The same items will be discounted the following week.


Today is Christmas Day and there is a deathly hush over the city - most of Hamilton seems to have either deserted the ship or slept in, or both.

Our motel proprietor wished us a merry Xmas as he handed me a replacement rubbish bag and coffee sachets. Ours will be a quiet one as we don't celebrate the festival; perhaps a trip to the renowned Hamilton Gardens if the weather holds and they are open.

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Thursday, 22 December 2011

History Never Repeats

Click on image for larger version

Wednesday, 21 December 2011

Panda Envy and Braveheart Butter Bombs

Pandas are big business as everyone who has ever had one in their zoo knows. So it is in Edinburgh, the latest city to receive this diplomatic loan from China.

But the Rockhopper Penguins are not happy with all the fuss, they are not happy at all. By all accounts they vent their anger (both literally and figuratively) on the heads of zoo patrons who are queuing up at the cage nearby to see the two pandas.

The BBC reports the Zoo's director of business operations as saying: "Our rockhopper penguins in particular have been watching the events at the panda enclosure below with great interest, ever since work started on the enclosure.

"Extremely curious birds, they often gather next to the wall to see what's happening below.

"We're hoping it's not a case of monochrome jealousy, but one or two of our rockhoppers seem to have had surprisingly good aim."

Such a show of public disdain would be unlikely to occur at Singapore's Nigh Safari.

It could however be a question of diet as Edinburgh is also the city that has recently put deep fried butter on its menu, much to the consternation of health officials there. The Braveheart Butter Bombs as they are known are described as a "coronary on a plate"

Scotland's offerings to the world's culinary heritage thus far have included haggis, oatcakes, porridge (from the same cereal as the oatcakes) and whisky. The aptly named Braveheart Butter Bombs are not quite in the same rank as these more traditional foods but will no doubt ward off the winter chills in a similar fashion.

So my theory is that some kind zoo visitor fed their Butter Bombs left-overs to the penguins which upset their delicate constitution. Seeing a queue outside the panda enclosure the penguins saw an opportunity to get their own back.

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Monday, 19 December 2011

Walk To Meadowlands

Roger Smith 12/2011
I went for a walk this morning with the camera along a path that leads from Botany to Meadowlands.  The results can be seen in the last four images on my gallery site.
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Off The Rails

By all accounts its has not been a good couple of weeks for public transport in Singapore. Some 127,000 commuters were affected by a major 'glitch' in the MRT system which left them hot, tired and frustrated.

The SMRT CEO, Saw Phaik Hwa, even offered to consider stepping down over the incident, which regrettably were followed by more minor disruptions in the days following.

Being on a packed MRT train during the heat of Singapore can be uncomfortable but being stranded for five hours in a carriage without air conditioning must have been akin to hell.

In New Zealand, people have been known to force open carriage doors and spill out on to the tracks in the event of similar incidents, as they did on the opening night of the recent Rugby World Cup.

Singaporeans are a little more controlled in such circumstances but they must have been sorely tested. There are also reports that the local taxi drivers, who did very well out of the MRT's misfortune, saw this incident as an "income opportunity" - of course they did.

The Minister for Transport Lui Tuck Yew has also weighed into the fray saying that he too was disappointed by how SMRT handled the MRT disruption and would be holding them accountable. Heads will no doubt roll at some time in the future.

In a country that is so reliant on public transport a series of events such as the above make the population lose faith in the reliability of a service. We in New Zealand know this as we lost faith in NZ Rail decades ago. It is a very hard task for the company to win back custom and confidence once it is lost.

So it is also a question of context; in the main Singapore's MRT system is efficient, clean and reliable, a lot more so than many other countries including my own.

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Friday, 16 December 2011

Give Me A "G"

Great Moments In Food Court Signage #1

Monday, 12 December 2011

Simply Salivating and Festive Feedback

The Xinmsn article included the following sentence " Between January and November 2011, REACH received over 45,000 feedback inputs — a jump of 53 per cent compared with about 29,450 in the same period in 2010."

One has to ask, why is the standard of written English so poor, on a website which is strictly controlled and presumably edited?

What exactly are " feedback inputs" ?  They sound like public service jargon to me. As for "compared with about", this phrase is simply poor grammar.

Disappointing, as the article itself expressed the ongoing dissatisfaction of Singaporeans on matters related to transport  housing and immigration and was worthy of serious consideration.  Being part of the Christmas shopping rush aboard a crowded MRT train is an experience one does not wish to repeat too often.

From the ridiculous to the sublime; the famous Christmas buffet has reappeared in Singapore' hotels.  Not all of these are strictly traditional.  Take the Marina Mandarin which is serving up Buah Keluak turkey served with chestnut and mushroom glutinous rice, Nyonya Chap Chye, Thai style pumpkin lasagna and Fuji apple and Chestnut pudding.

And if you still have a space left to fill the next day you can amble over to the Sheraton Towers for Buah Roast piglet stuffed with yam and sour apple sauce, Escargot Bourguignon as well as Poached stingray and baby shark with spicy mayonnaise and garlic aioli.

As for me, I shall be dining on a festive sandwich filled with "feedback inputs" which, depending upon the ingredients, may rapidly repeat becoming feedback outputs.
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Sunday, 11 December 2011

Two New Prints - Taipei

White Bridge Taipei
Roger Smith 2011
Click on the image to see a larger version

Rock Taipei
Roger Smith 2011
Click on the image to see a larger version
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Saturday, 10 December 2011

Today's Print - Reeds

Reeds - Singapore
Roger Smith 2011
Click on the image to see a larger version
This image was taken at one of the pools near the food-court in the Singapore Botanic Gardens.  I have reworked it using various Photoshop filters and effects to create a more classical Chinese scene and to better capture the feeling of serenity.

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Friday, 9 December 2011

Memories of Tanjong Pagar Station

This video clip produced by the National Archives of Singapore (NAS) documents the memories relating to the Tanjong Pagar and Bukit Timah Railway Stations.

Although both stations have ceased operations with effect from 1 July 2011, they are important components of Singapore's rail transportation and since the 1920s, they have connected generations of people in Malaysia and Singapore

Thursday, 8 December 2011

How to Beat the Comfort Del-Gro Taxi Fare Hikes

People in Singapore are up in arms about the recent fares hikes and surcharges. Maybe the above is the answer?

Do You Merit It?

Roti Prata
I am in favour of everything being based on merit although it has to be said that at least one of the Hawker centres I frequented was anything but meritorious. I am referring of course to the old version of the Mei Ling food centre which when we first arrived in Singapore was run down, and speaking frankly, grubby in the extreme.

However it must also be recorded that the government spent a considerable sum in upgrading Mei Ling with the result that before the hawkers moved back it was spic and span. But old habits of grubbiness die hard, a term that seems appropriate when describing the state of the newly renovated food centre a few short months after relaunch.

This was a pity as most of the hawker centres we frequented were of good standard. Now the NEA has indicted that it will assess requests for new food centre based on merit. So for the first time in over a quarter of a century the government will start building food centres in new housing estates, the first being in Bukit Panjang with ten more to follow within a decade.

Coupled with this initiative is a lateral thought that such centres could be much more than a 'gobble and go' eatery. A consultative panel has suggested that such places could promote graciousness which may be a stretch of the imagination, especially when one considers the packets of tissues placed on table tops which reserve a place.

However two of their other suggestions seem to have merit; such centres could offer employment for the disabled and for people who want to set up small businesses.

Mirroring the 'Meals on Wheels' idea found in places like New Zealand, the hawker centres could also deliver food to nearby homes housing the elderly. With an aging population this seems a pragmatic and sensible solution for those lacking mobility in their advancing years.

Get the TShirt
The combination of food centre and merit reminds me also of a recent conversation I had with my doctor, an expatriate Malaysian Chinese whose family emigrated to New Zealand several decades ago. He was bewailing the fact that Singapore's hawkers are not what they used to be. As he put it, too many recent immigrants to the Republic attempting to copy the classic Singapore dishes with varying degree of success.

I have to admit that he has point, as the traditional recipes and families jealously guarding them are getting our of the trade. While this is a great pity it is also a fact that any cuisine evolves with new influences contributing over time.

Promoting the value of the traditional fare is deemed to be important in Singapore and to be granted the title of "Singapore Hawker Master" is meritorious in itself. The award was launched early in 2011 to celebrate hawker food and give recognition to deserving hawkers.

According to the Straits Times the 'popular roti prata eatery Casuarina Curry Restaurant was named a Singapore Hawker Master at the Asian Masters Gala Dinner on Wednesday night'.

Those of us who have enjoyed a crisp Roti Prata would say "well deserved"

Previous winners of the Singapore Hawker master Award have included:

Laksa Category
Roxy Laksa
East Coast Lagoon Food Village #01-48

Char Kway Teow Category
Outram Park Fried Kway Teow
Hong Lim Temporary Food Ctr #01-44

Nasi Lemak Category
Haji Maksah Berkat Chahya Food (Boon Lay Power Nasi Lemak)
Blk 221B, Boon Lay Place #01-106

Chicken Rice Category
Tian Tian Hainanese Chicken Rice
Maxwell Food Ctr #01-10

Bak Chor Mee Category
Xing Ji Rou Cuo Mian
Blk 85 Bedok North St 4 #01-07

Just the thought of the above makes me behave like one of Pavlov's dogs!

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Saturday, 3 December 2011

Friday, 2 December 2011

How Corrupt Is Your Country?

Those of us who live or have lived in Asia and other parts of the world know that levels of corruptions vary.  In some it also most impossible to do business or get any service without money or a favour changing hands.

I recall more than one such incident when travelling in India, the most blatant being a customs official in Calcutta who was running our luggage through a metal detection unit and asked for a 'gift' -  which he did not get I should add.

Now there is the Corruption Map of the World from Transparency International and reproduced in the Guardian.

It seeks to quantify the levels of corruption or lack thereof in individual countries. Their transparency index measures each country in the world on corruption. See how they compare by clicking on each country. Use the drop-down menu to see how scores have changed since 2008.

India has dropped 8 places this year signalling that the level of corruption is increasing rather than declining.

Singapore has been proactive for many years in trying to stamp out corruption, especially in government and ranks a reasonable 5th in the world.

New Zealand's rank is better at #1 but this does not mean that it is corruption-free; indeed no country could make that claim.

There have been several incidences of corruption highlighted int the press in recent years ranging from the fall of a local politician to immigration staff accepting bribes.   Most governmental corruption cases in NZ relate to immigration.

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Wednesday, 30 November 2011

New Singapore-Based Designs

Click Here to see all of these original  Singapore Designs

Tuesday, 29 November 2011

Today's Print - Fossil

Roger Smith 2011
A beetle photographed in Singapore, on Sentosa Island, and a pool of oily sludge in New Zealand are combined in the print.

More images at Worldlense.
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Food For Thought But No Makan

Visit the PicturesSG site
I have discovered the PicturesSG web site which I would recommend to anyone with an interested in Singapore's social history.

The eleven categories in the collection give a good overview of the country's development and visitors are encouraged to tag images which will help reserachers compile more information on the image concerned.

I did a search using the tag 'Queenstown' to see what they had in their databases. There were 29 results, mainly architectural at this stage of the collections development. A search of 'makan' revealed nothing and given the national obsession with eating houses past and present I would have thought that at least a few& pictures would be tagged using this term?

The English term 'food' yielded what I expected for the above (see screenshot right) so I hope the National Library's metadata policy does not exclude local terminology.

One would have to hope though that they will also be able to pull in images from other sources and collections.

For example the Heritage Board's YesterdaySG site is an excellent reference point and draws contributions from bloggers with images and stories to tell about Singapore's past.

The Story of Lorong Mydin is one of a series in Pixels and Grains and Clarice Theo's contributions are first class, as are those by Noel Tan.

But there are other sources for images both contemporary and historical which should be captured or at the  very least integrated into the national Library's collection.

Here are a couple more.  HistoryPin promotes itself as a " a way for millions of people to come together, from across different generations, cultures and places, to share small glimpses of the past and to build up the huge story of human history"
It may not be loaded with Singapore information at the moment but I predict that it has that potential as it combines social media functionality with features such as a sliding timeline.

In a more contemporary vein is Woophy which has been up and running since 2004 and so has a wealth of imagery associated with a variety of countries, including a small portfolio of 700 plus photos of Singapore.

Of course one of the largest collections is that housed within the passworded boundaries of Flickr. In just two groups alone on this platform there are some 224,000 images some of which deserve to be filed for posterity. Another is Singapore Memories which shares 1,700 images of Singapore's social history.

Then of course there are blogs such as this one which record a snapshot of time.

Now somehow if the new PicturesSG could somehow harvest these images as well what a truly wonderful resource it would be. But at least its a good start and I congratulate the National Library Board for their initiative.
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Sunday, 27 November 2011

On The Couch

Sofas - Botany Road
Roger Smith
This week in my neighbourhood the roads have been littered with non biodegradable bric a brac.  This is the annual refuse collection of such materials provided by our local Council.

Unfortunately such a treasure trove of old washing machines and worn out rubber tires attracts a significant number of our Polynesian brethren and a few other hangers-on in their trucks and cars, eager to pick up anything that might turn a small profit.

Actually I haven't really made up my mind if this is 'unfortunate' or not?  If someone has a use for a misshapen slab of concrete why not let them have it.  It is just that it is less than edifying spectacle.

Not that such behaviour is confined to the streets of Auckland.  Our condo in Singapore saw a regular procession of maids and assorted ground staff, fossicking through the waste bins on the look-out for some expat throw away item.

There were many of these cast-offs as the cost of freight from Singapore back to a home country meant that it was not cost effective to do so.

Also less than edifying was the humiliating defeat of the New Zealand Labour party in last night's General Election; not that it was unexpected.

As this map in the New Zealand Herald shows the electoral map is now dominated by the blue of the National Party which means that the Prime Minister John Key is secure for another three years.

Source: NZ Herald
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