Monday, 4 June 2012

Base-Less Rumours

Our airwaves have been full recently of the USA's claims that it is now making the Asia region its 'pivot'. At first, as the radio volume was down, I thought the announcer said 'divot', which is a term used by golfers to describe the clump of grass hefted from a large hole they had inadvertently dug in a pristine fairway.

Come to think about it, 'divot' is probably fitting as having extracted itself from a large hole of its own making in the Middle East it is now seeking to fill in another in the Asia Pacific region.

It is only now with the re-emergence of China as an international power and the USA heading towards energy self sufficiency that  North America has shifted its focus; forgive my cynicism but it wasn't that enthusiastic about engaging in recent times and when encouraged to by countries in the region. It is only now when it perceives China as a threat to its own supremacy that it has shifted focus.

Hot on the heels of this announcement has come another stating that there will now be four littoral combat warships posted in Singapore not the one that had been 'based' there.  It begs the questions of when is a military base not a military base?  Four ships with all of their supporting personnel sure looks like a military base to me.

Not surprisingly China has not been too enamoured by this development although so far their reaction has been measured, with its spokesman telling a forum in Singapore that "I believe that this is the United States' response to its own national interests, its fiscal difficulties and global security developments".

So are such enhanced alliances good for Singapore?  In a global strategic and financial sense probably yes, with many becoming more than a little concerned about the growing Chinese fleet and its territorial spats with its neighbours further north.

But Singapore will also not wish to alienate China; it is a delicate diplomatic line that it must tread to avoid doing so.  Such strategic considerations are not new for the country positioned as it is between much larger neighbours who in the past have been belligerent.  It is the ASEAN way to agree to disagree but not interfere in the sovereign rights of others. Bruma being a very recent example.

And 'sovereigns' are also top of mind at the moment as Queen Elizabeth kicks of the 60th Anniversary of her reign. In former colonies such as New Zealand, the event is muted but acknowledged.  Some suggest that the millions of pounds spent on the Thames flotilla and other entertainments would be better spent on reducing poverty but this seems like sour grapes.  Sixty years on the throne is quite an achievement and I am old enough to remember standing with my primary school friends, waving a Union Jack during her first visit to NZ as monarch, in 1953.

Not that we can expect a royal flotilla being moored in the Singapore River.  The only foreign flotilla moored offshore is likely to remain that of the Americans.

One of the most viewed images of the Royal Thames Pageant
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Thursday, 31 May 2012

The Crab Masters

Black Pepper Crab
Black Pepper Crab (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
There's  always a danger writing a travel review on a site such as TripAdvisor, when it is a couple of years since you last visited a place or have been to eat there.

I took to adding my pennyworth when I was doing  a lot of travelling and still find it a great place to start planning for a trip; what other people say in their candid reviews can be quite revealing!

My most recent entries were motivated by a television programme that graced our New Zealand screens this week. Masterchef plucks wanna-be chefs from public entries and puts them through a competition process.

This week the final four New Zealand entrants were transported by Jetstar (business class I might add) to Singapore.  They were housed in suites in the new Marina Bay Sands hotel and had to cook a selection of classic Singapore dishes on a raised platform in Chinatown.

The recipes for black pepper crab, fish head curry and Hokkien prawn noodles were provided by KF Seetoh of  Makansutra fame. Mr Seetoh certainly knows his food but his table manners, as I recall from watching him on Singaporean television, left a lot to be desired.  Talking through mouthfuls of food never ranked highly as entertainment for me. To be fair he is ten on the Richter scale for enthusiasm about his subject.

To add to the challenge the New Zealand entrants had to cope with a sudden deluge, lightening and thunder claps from a typical Singapore storm.

Another barrier was the requirement that they purchased their ingredients from the nearby Chinatown market.  Having no knowledge of the local dialects meant that they struggled to make themselves understood and in one instance the fish stall holder flatly refused to serve the Ang Mo waving a handful of gelatinous squid.  Maybe not a good look from the Singapore Tourism Board perspective but not an uncommon occurrence.

They struggled through the challenge with several of the resulting sauces looked less than appetising.  The locals who were crowding around the platform watching gave them warm applause for their efforts.

My 'food reviews' are a lot less edifying.  A mention of the White Dog Cafe in Vivo City and the relevant virtues of loaves from Peck bakery in Takashimaya seems to be the sum total of my input in the food columns of TripAdvisor; but maybe I am just getting started.

Two years on and I still miss my true Singapore makan.
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Monday, 28 May 2012

How Goes Hougang?

HDB flats in Hougang, Singapore.
HDB flats in Hougang, Singapore. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
So another bi-election has been fought in Singapore and, as anticipated, Hougang has remained firmly in the opposition camp.

Should we be surprised by this result?  I think not.

Grassroots support in this electorate has in recent times always backed the Workers Party.  Issues of social inequality and the basics such as the cost of living, housing and reliability (or otherwise) of public transport have all been factors that contributed to the Opposition's success.

In some ways it is a paradox that Singapore's status and wealth as a modern economy and nation has been built upon the consistency of the local political system; a single party in power since independence has brought stability through the roughest times but it has also engendered a deep desire for change amongst younger and better educated Singaporeans.

As a government it is difficult to counteract this negativity and find fresh faces to motivate the populace whilst at the same time maintaining what they perceive to be a steady course.

There was a modest gain for the PAP over their recent General Election result (a little over 2% in voter support) but they made little inroad into the hold that the Worker's Party have in Hougang.

The growing wealth gap and the suicidal driving of an inebriated Chinese national in his Ferrari, which resulted in the death of an innocent taxi driver and his passenger, certainly did not help matters.  Imported foreign expertise is a very sensitive issue and especially when some choose to flaunt their wealth and flout local laws in so doing.

Have a look at this  video which shows a well-healed PRC (the term for a foreigner from China) actually bringing a fully laden shopping trolley in to a Singaporean bus and being helped by the bus driver, another PRC. No wonder the locals get upset!

Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean has put a brave face on it claiming that the result is not a reflection of voter dissatisfaction with the PAP-led Government. I am not sure that I agree with his assessment.  While it is true that Hougang is 'special' I suspect part of their antipathy is due to the fact that they feel left out of the rewards of society and measure themselves against the upper echelons of society who they see as receiving greater benefit.

Detractors of  Singapore's political system can hardly quibble at this example of democracy in action, nor its outcome.
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Saturday, 26 May 2012

Project Monument

Here's an interesting project sponsored by Intel. Project Monument allows you to to share the iconic objects that have shaped your life. Watch the video and click through for the project detail.

Sunday, 13 May 2012

Heartland Heartache

I have just read a very interesting and informative article by Louis Lee on the cost of living in Singapore. Even in our years in Singapore the price of basic hawker food was on the rise so it is not too much of a surprise to see that the price of a simple bowl of noodles is now $5 and expected to rise to $7 a decade from now.

The concern, as the writer points out, is just how affordable living in Singapore has become for its own citizens.

They are not alone in experiencing this global phenomenon in the current economic climate but Singapore is not a welfare state and so any cost of living associated with the basics of food, housing and transport hits its Heartland hard.

The above chart shows the change in Singapore's CPI (Consumer Price Index-All Items Inflation) in the past 12 months.

Moving from right to left it is easy to see that most of the basics have risen significantly with the transport figure reflecting the government's rise in COE (Cost Of Entitlement) which gives one the right to purchase a vehicle; not the actual purchase price of the vehicle itself.

Another significant contributing factor is the cost of public housing.  The HDB's own Retail Price Index chart (below) outlines a significant jump in price from the beginning of 2007; a rise that shows little sign of declining.
Source: HDB
There is no quick fix to curb these rises in CPI, especially in with the global winds of economic uncertainty swirling around as they are at present.  Singapore's reliance on trade, energy sources and it relatively small size make it extremely susceptible to the vagaries of global trends. While the government does its best to offset these factors, life for the average Singaporean is not getting easier faced with a trend of rising prices across the board.

It should be noted that this situation is not unique to Singapore; others are facing similar challenges.

If you look at a similar time span to the HDB chart above for the New Zealand CPI (from the 1st quarter of 1994 to the present) the real purchasing power for New Zealanders has declined some 33%. i.e. a 49.3 percentage change.

Australia's CPI from March 2008 to March 2012, month on month, also rose more than 10%

For those on fixed or low income such rises are bad news, whichever country one lives in.
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