Monday, 9 July 2012

The Season Of Slumber And Decay

The thrushes get bolder mid winter. Five them pointing to all points of the compass stood stock still as I passed and then resumed their desperate search for grubs amongst the leaf litter.  In the plentiful bounty of summer or spring they would have immediately taken flight, but not so mid-July.

The walking tracks in my neighbourhood are muddy with sections forever shaded from a weak sun that is low in the horizon.  It's been a cold winter with temperatures dropping to zero degrees and a solid frost glistening white on the roof tiles.

It's a season of slumber and decay. Old wood is cast aside and the bored holes make by huhu bugs are exposed.  There is evidence of foraging animals and the pavements adopt a mossy green camouflage.
Old borer holes and rotting logs
Photo: Roger Smith 2012
Amidst all of the dank grey-green and gloom there are some bright spots.  One species of manuka is resplendent with its canopy of white flowers and a fantail flits amongst the branches, accompanying me part of the way.
Flowering manuka
Photo: Roger Smith, 2012
The White Feather
Photo: Roger Smith, 2012

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Friday, 6 July 2012

Singapore: diverse, not dull

Singapore: diverse, not dull - Financial Times
This video has just been published by the Financial Times and outlines how life is for Expatriates living in Singapore.

As mentioned in an earlier posting, this was not the lifestyle I chose to lead while living there but many did, and seemed quite happy doing so.  The old Black and White colonial houses along places such as Tanglin Road really are a throw-back to the faded days of the 'Raj', but it is good to see that many are still in existence.
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Tuesday, 3 July 2012

Preparing for the Future

SINGAPORE - JULY 02:  The Supertree Grove is i...
I was pleased to see that Singapore had won the award for being the best prepared city for the future, for the second year running. Pound for pound it leaves other cities dead when it comes to infrastructural planning and development.

OK, maybe the maintenance of some of this infrastructure still leaves a little to be desired from time to time (for this read the recent MRT problems) but in the main the country can rightly boast to be at the forefront when it comes to future-proofing.

It also scores well for economic potential and business friendliness but it has to be of concern that it has slipped down the rankings in human resources and quality of life.

The PM has signaled more investment in "new housing estates and upgrading old ones, improving public transport with more train lines and buses, and introducing more green spaces in the city." But is will be the human cost that will keep the government occupied in the years ahead as they try to maintain a balance between building a society that is even more compassionate and encouraging greater immigration from skilled and foreign workers.

Gardens By The Bay is an eco-initiative that impresses me greatly. It was just commencing its ground works when we left Singapore and now it has been officiallly opened with reportedly 70,000 people visiting the complex in the first two days of its opening.

Spanning 101 hectares, it is part of the Singapore's 'City in a Garden’ vision, cost over $1billion Singapore dollars and houses more than 250,000 rare plants.
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Monday, 2 July 2012

Uncle Roger Remembers

Today marks the second anniversary of our departure from Singapore, returning to New Zealand on the evening SIA flight.

It's a date that fills me with some sadness as I felt blessed to have been able to work in a country I had for so long admired.  Better still to be able to live and work under a local contract conditions and be domiciled in Queenstown away from the Expat hot spots.

There are some , and I am not one of them, who regard Singaporeans as being somewhat distant and remote.  I never found it so, having made some good friendships with colleagues that I still maintain.  As with any culture and country if you are prepared to make the effort to assimilate and learn the local customs then your experience will be the richer for it.

Use a country as a temporary halt and only mix with your own expatriate community and you will selling yourself short. If that's your approach then you will also miss out on the real friendships that can be forged.  It is the same all over the world and I observed similar traits and reactions when I worked in Papua New Guinea in the late 1970's/ early '80's.

There's a 'buzz' about Asia and Singapore in particular that I really enjoy; it's vibrant, everyone is focused on making their lives better because you can't expect the government to mollycoddle you if you are not prepared to get stuck in yourself.

And then there are the tropics themselves - the luxuriant foliage, the warm and torrential rains that announce themselves with deafening thunder, the bugs, birds and flowers that are larger and more colourful than those found in temperate climes.

The diversity of cultures in a country like Singapore is a delight and in the main harmonious.  I worked with Singapore nationals and PR's of different ethnicities and from many countries; a rich mix that makes life in the Little Red Dot even more interesting and rewarding.  We can all learn so much from the customs of others.

My admiration for the founding fathers of Singapore, the relative safety of the streets and of course the richness of Asian cuisine were all reasons that first attracted me to Singapore on my first visit there in the early 1980's, and remain with me still.

So on this day I remember with great fondness being called "Uncle Roger" by those whose friendship I value in Singapura.  I count myself very lucky to have lived and worked there and my heart remains in the Heartland with my soul (as I wrote in an earlier poem) in places such as Fort Canning.
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Sunday, 1 July 2012

Any Time Is Makan Time!

The Singapore Wall Clock -  yours for just $19.95
Seems the ideal "going away present" to me? A montage of Singapore icons (and yes the ubiquitous weather map is included!). Available here.

Monday, 18 June 2012


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!