Monday, 18 June 2012

Pets

During my primary school days I used to have three ribbons hanging above my bed. Made of pressed felt and decorated with agricultural monograms, each reflected an achievement in the local Calf Club Day.

The highest award I managed was a blue ribbon for second place and this was hung around a calf's neck in the judging ring.  For my successes were based on the fact that I lived in a small town that services the local rural community in Taranaki, one of New Zealand's main dairying provinces.

Ian Aitken
Old School Friends
And one had to work hard for this award.  Living in town as I did meant getting on my Raleigh bike and cycling many miles up Tikorangi Road to the farms of one of school friends, Ian Aitken.  Ian's parent had a dairy farm with Jersey cows and many a happy weekend I spent there, riding horses and sampling a farm lifestyle that was quite removed from my own in town.

Not all activities there were as happy. Slicing open the top of my foot with a super sharp silage spade remain vividly etched in my mind and I still have the scars to prove it.  Numerous puncture marks from making huts in the boxthorn hedges that surrounded most farms in those times also remain.

On the plus side there was the fresh cream from the separator in the milking shed, collecting birds eggs of differing hues and and a sense of freedom roaming the fields as we did.

But preparing for our local school's Calf Day was a serious business and meant training your selected calf to follow you around at the end of a rope halter, grooming and covering its hide with a canvas throw and generally maintaining it in tip top physical condition for the day of the show.

Not everyone showed calves.  Some had pet sheep that received a similar preparatory treatment but which were prone to run amok on the day, all of which added to the frivolity.  Other 'townies' chose their own pets and these ranged from cats & budgies to hens.

While we did not know it at the time, these preparations were the basics of animal husbandry and as children we learn a lot from caring for an animal.

So it is not surprising to learn that in more modern times, keeping a pet is still a preferred option for many races.  The Japanese have taken pet care to a whole new dimension; preferring to have a furry or feathered friend instead of having children.  I can only image the outcome if this trend had taken on in New Zealand; imagine having a country ruled by sheep!

Then again... perhaps we already are?
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Friday, 15 June 2012

For The Newly Arrived Expat

Click on either the mug or Tee shirt image to learn more.  This design is based on an early blog post about the stages that newly arrived Expats go through when they land in Singapore.

An Army Marches On Its Vocal Chords?

To foreign ears the composition of the anthem for the annual National Day often seems a bit forced and overblown.

Probably because in the West (apart from excruciating songs produced for major sports events such as the Commonwealth Games), it is rare that anyone makes the effort.

While it is easy to stand on one side and knock overt symbols of patriotism I never felt so inclined.

However I have to say that this year's effort as publicised has reached a new nadir.  It's not the sentiment, it is the delivery that lets it down, as can be judged from the video below.



They say that an army marches on its stomach but clearly the coerced artistes were either slightly tone deaf or they had just consumed a large plate of char kway teow that disagreed with their digestion?

Even the most patriotic Singaporean has found this year's rendition hard to take.  

Kirsten Han in the Huffington Post wrote: "The thing is, though, this isn't new. In fact, Singaporeans more or less begin to expect these cringeworthy songs. It's as if no significant event in our country is complete without a propagandistic song that we can all awkwardly bond over".

However there is another dimension to this musical delivery.  The Services who took up the challenge spend the better part of their day protecting their Nation; they are not auditioning for Singapore Idol, although when I come to think of it, the Forces' performance is no worse.

It should also be remembered that this particular video was designed as a not too serious introduction to the song itself by "Key Appointment Holders for the NDP 2012 Parade & Ceremony committee". 

On the big day "A Nation's March" will be sung by the marching contingents from the Military, Home Team, Uniformed Youth Organisations and civilian contingents as they are march to form up on parade.  

I am sure when the time comes they will do the nation proud and the National Day Anthem will sound a hundred times better.
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Sunday, 10 June 2012

'Chendol Champions' & More!

Chednol Champion - Singapore Keychain Chendol Champion - Singapore Tote Bag Chendol Champion-Singapore Teeshirt Chendol Champion - Singapore Mug
Chendol Champion - Singapore Button Chendol Champion - Singapore Apron Singapore 1910 postman - iPhone Case Old Singapore  - Button
So Shiok  - Singapore Tie Don't Bug Me! iPhone Case Orchid Jigsaw Puzzle Orchid Jigsaw Puzzle
Orchid Jigsaw Puzzle Singapore Orchard Road Jigsaw Puzzle
 iPhone Covers,
Orchid Jigsaws, So Shiok Ties & more!

See them all in the
Chendol is one of my all time favourite desserts and inspired me to produce the design above.  Then I got to thinking, "How is it actually made?"

In Singapore I enjoyed the variety with red beans but it is apparently 'sacrilegious' to mention the word 'beans' in the same breath as the dessert; at least to Indonesians.

The video below gives a good demonstration of how the basic ingredients are prepared, without a fancy Chendol press to create the 'green worms'. Time consuming but delicious!

Thursday, 7 June 2012

On A Clear Day?


There is a certain "sameness" about the outcome of a Singaporean weather forecast as the above illustrates.  The NEA now has a forecast online that is mobile-friendly and gives a daily, 3 hour, 12 hour and 3 days forecast.

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.