Thursday, 26 December 2013

Lazy, Hazy, Days in Singapore

Lianhe Zaobao readers were asked to sum up 2013 in a Chinese character.  According to reports, "Haze" was the winner; no surprises there!

So in honour of this revelation, here's a new T-Shirt design.

Get yours here

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Monday, 23 December 2013


It's many, many years since I have stayed in this regional city in Northland.  Back then it was just an overnight stay as I considered whether to take up a museum job or not.

These past two days we have been spending in the city to escape the Xmas bustle of Auckland.

A visit to Whangarei Falls today was a highlight.  Here are some images of the city and the Falls

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Saturday, 21 December 2013

The Other Singapore - A Tale of Shipbuilding and Baby Food

Those of you who thought there was only one place in the world called 'Singapore' may be surprised to learn that there are in fact two.

More precisely, there were two, one of which is now buried in sand dunes. The other Singapore was established in the mid-1800's by timber interests and situated on the Kalamazoo River, downstream from Saugatuck, near the shore of Lake Michigan. Its first house was built in 1837.  The area had been originally inhabited by Ottawa Indians.

Unlike its South East Asian cousin, the US version didn't produce nutmeg but was renowned for its sawmills, planing mills, ship builidng, barrel factories and other wood products. When Chicago was devastated by the Great Fire of 1871, much of the replacement timber came from Singapore and its neighboring  timber (lumber) communities.

Once the white pine trees were all clear-felled and no longer available, and its protective windbreaks lost, the American Singapore was abandoned and gradually buried by drifting sand dunes.  It now only exists in legend as one of the state's 'lost cities'.

In an excellent April 2010 article, James Schmiechen describes the town thus:

"Singapore existed for about a half century, from about 1837 to the early 1880's. It began, as one pioneer descendant called it, as "an oasis in the woods" - a very early lumber/immigration port and shipbuilding town that tells of how an environmental disaster resulted from the clear cutting of nearby forests and the blowing sands that eventually buried the town. It was, in short, an early American 'disaster city'. Its first mill was constructed in 1835, being surrounded on the north and west by wooded virgin forest and on dunes rising to a height of about 50 feet. Like most of the area settlements, it started as a lumber milling camp and tried desperately to become a town but in reality its handy proximity to Lake Michigan turned out to be a disadvantage".

He also sheds  light on the immigrants who arrived by boat and made up the population of Singapore:

"Singapore was a sort of Michigan "Ellis Island" port of entry for immigrants from all over America, Canada, and Europe. Dozens of Saugatuck area families trace their Michigan origins to Singapore - many of them tradesmen (e.g. bricklayers, carpenters, sailors, engineers) who stayed on in the settlement for a time before moving on to opportunities (particularly land acquisition) in other settlements. Around 1850 the boarding house held families from Ireland, Holland, Norway, Germany, and Canada. Daniel Gerber, the founder of the Michigan family that invented processed baby food arrived in Michigan by way of Singapore in 1863. Early Dutch settlers of the nearby settlement that became Holland, Michigan came to Michigan by way of Singapore".

Singapore also had its own bank and these were often known as "wildcat banks" because of the localised worth of the currency they printed (see examples below) and volatile nature of their businesses.

The moral of the story, if there is one, is that prosperity can be a fleeting thing if you abuse your natural resources and don't plan for a sustainable future.  

The Singapore of Michigan didn't heed this advice and is now lost in the sands of time.  The prosperous Asian Singapore that we know today has a solid focus on renewable and human resources and continues to thrive.

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Friday, 20 December 2013

Sunday, 8 December 2013

Mr Flakey Crust & The Six Kilometres Of Fame

It's a fairly well-know fact that if you eat a lot of pastry your days as an aspiring athlete are numbered.  Too much stodge does not a sprinter make!

So it comes as no great surprise to learn that the recent local entry winner of the Singapore marathon, a pastry chef called Tam Chua Puh, cheated.  

When he turned up at the tape several minutes ahead of Singapore's finest athletes it took the race organisers completely by surprise.  It transpires that Mr tam is somewhat of a dab hand at such deception having pulled the same ruse in the previous two marathons.

The reason; he simply wanted a medal and T-shirt for finishing the race.  So he ran 6 kilometres and then took a short cut to the finishing line, choosing to avoid running the additional 36 k's required for a legitimate result.

Of course he is but one in a long line of marathon cheats.  Take the case of Cuban born Rosie Ruiz who in 1980 was crowned the female winner of the 84th Boston Marathon.  She traveled by subway through the majority of  the course only to burst through spectators a half mile from the finish and claim victory at the finishing line.

Then there is a Michigan dentist who magically seems to appear on the winners podium despite being photographed near the back of the pack for the majority of the race.  Or the ex-Army mechanic who took a free ride on a spectator bus only to rejoin the Kielder Marathon and claim a medal.  The latter was subsequently disqualified as several people had noticed him hiding behind a tree near the finishing line before he slotted in behind the leading two runners near the finish.

I blame Tam Chua Puh's lethargy on his trade.  The best pastry, as any cook will tell you, is made with lard as its molecular structure gives a flaky crust.  And lard is a product of pork which, in combination with sugar and salt, is enough to slow anybody down.

Whatever his reasons or motivation, the marathon days of Mr Tam are well and truly over and he will have to content himself with jogging around McRitchie reservoir in the future.
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Monday, 2 December 2013

It's Summer!

Summer Montage
Roger Smith 2-13 - available here

Thursday, 28 November 2013

New Art Book - Digerati II

Delighted to complete this new book project.  My recent art and photography is now published live on this site.

Click on the book and flick through the pages. Enjoy! and let me know what you think by leaving a comment on this post.

Saturday, 23 November 2013

Keeping the Family Secrets Alive - Hawker Masters

I think it is an excellent initiative to acknowledge and reward the food heroes of Singapore.  The hawkers are the culinary backbone of the country and many of the dishes featured in this video were (and remain) personal favourites of mine.

As the list of winners proves, you really need to get out of Orchard Road to sample the true and authentic taste of Singaporean food.

It makes my mouth water just to think about it; it must be Makan Time!

There is now a Hawker Master Trainer pilot programme as well so aspiring hawkers can get up to speed on recipes under the guidance of the masters.

Get this Makan Time Button by clicking here.
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Today's Art Work - Composition #5

Composition #5
Roger Smith, 2013
Copies of this art print are available here
The combination of colour and texture combined in an abstract composition.  Perhaps because it is at last summer weather, the colours selected reflect the season!

A much larger version of the work (unframed) can be seen here.

Wednesday, 13 November 2013

New Art - Queentown Bird Fanciers

Queenstown Bird Fanciers
Roger Smith  2013
This small sketch is based on a photo I took with my mobile phone's camera as I was walking under an HDB block; en route from Queens condo to the Queenstown Public Library, Singapore .

It is a scene that was quite common with groups of retired men hanging their bird in wicker and metal cages above, sitting on plastic chairs and passing the time before the sun got too fierce.

Copies are available for $US 8.25 from  this online site.
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Thursday, 7 November 2013

Tuesday, 5 November 2013

A Singaporean Superhero?

Ever wondered about the possibilities of a superhero dying of heatstroke?

That was my first thought when I saw the video of this guy masquerading as caped crusader.  One can hardly term the "Mean Streets of Singapore" as such, because they simply aren't.  On a scale of one to ten with say Rio being a perfect ten of meanness, Singapore would come in at -1!

And while I am all in favour of people being courteous at all times, I am not convinced that prancing around in a tight-fitting costume that resembles a knock-off of the Singapore flag is the way to do it?

Mr "Justice" as he titles himself, is apparently 21 years old and hails from Choa Chu Kang.  Shouldn't he be in gainful employment at this age, or perhaps he is engaged by the government to conduct an official courtesy campaign?

His message is in reality a cosplay updating of the old song "Don't Worry Be Happy".  No harm in that I suppose.  The 'worry' is that he will one day soon expire on Orchard Road for heat asphyxia, brought on by tight clothing and the noon day sun.
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Friday, 1 November 2013

Not A Bridge Too Far least not when it comes to local Singaporean knowledge about some of their historic bridges.  Several of these are being documented as part of the ongoing cultural and heritage push to document structures and customs before they disappear or are torn down.

Cavenagh Bridge, Anderson Bridge, Elgin Bridge, Read Bridge and Ord Bridge are all featured in the video below.

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Tuesday, 29 October 2013

The Two Olds

Retirement  - no such thing!
I well remember when my father retired.  He chose not to take up a government offer to come chief judge in a New Zealand Pacific protectorate, in preference to his first love, fishing off the rocks on the Coromandel peninsula.

Not that I was surprised at this as he had by then had enough of party political interference in the appointment of the judiciary.  He had also served his country in Word War II which included several years in a German POW camp; he was captured on Crete as many New Zealanders were.

The thing about Dad was he never publicly expressed any negative views about such matters, such was his legal training.  When the time came that he could retire he "packed up his tent" and went fishing.

So today as I reach the official NZ retirement age and become eligible to reclaim back a small portion of the large amount of tax I have paid the country over forty years, I am reminded of the day my father chose relaxation over re-employment.

In my own case and to paraphrase a Chinese expression it is a case of 'the two olds'.

I turned sixty as a Permanent Resident (PR) in Singapore thereby qualifying for a plastic card that identified me as a 'senior citizen', travel and other concessions.  While this was much appreciated, I felt a bit of a fraud as I was in lucrative full time employment with no intention of retiring from my senior appointment with the British Council.  Singapore has subsequently raised its retirement age since my departure.

Now some five years on and back in New Zealand I still don't really believe that the day has come when I have qualified once again for this status in society.  Yet another piece of plastic arrived though the post entitling me to an even broader range of tempting discounts; not that discount facials and new tyres hold much appeal.  But as my Mother used to say, it is the thought that counts.

The other thing about 'retirement' at an arbitrary age is that it seldom if ever happens.  Where a few generations ago you were given a gold watch for long service and gently ushered out the back door, most of us now spend at least some time on pursuits that are tied into our former full time employment.

I am just as active now in the digital, online world as I ever have been which keeps the creative juices flowing.  The beauty is I no longer have to sit through the tedium of irrelevant staff meetings nor in my car braving the rush hour.

The brave,digital world that allowed me in my working life to communicate with clients, colleagues and friends around the globe, does so still.  So when I think about it, nothing much has changed except that I occasionally miss the face to face socialising that took place in the many staff rooms I frequented.

And I do miss Singapore; the arrival back home at Changi airport, the tropical thunderstorms and verdant foliage, the colourful creepy crawlies and the warmth of its people.  I am blessed that many of them in the 'Little Red Dot' and people I knew and worked with in NZ, remain friends still.

There was an article in the local press yesterday quoting a specialist who has said "Life expectancy in New Zealand is higher than ever, but early retirement is killing people".  The gist being that keeping the mind active keep you living longer.  They could well be right.  The thought of sinking into a lethargic torpor holds no appeal whatsoever!

I can't think of one person I know who has retired to the couch.  All of us are actively engaged in work and/or society. Which just goes to prove that we 'Baby Boomer's', despite the dire predictions of our parent's generation, aren't any lazier than those that went before us.

To paraphrase a certain BBC fox puppet "Boom, Boom" and long may life remain so.
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Friday, 18 October 2013

NUS's University Town Now Officially Open

Good to see NUS's University Town officially open.  When I was working for the Alumni Office it was still in the design stage.

The idea of a cohort or two living and studying on site is a good one; building a sense of community beyond the usual halls of residence.

Monday, 14 October 2013

Today's Art - Winter Stalks

Winter Stalks
Roger Smith, 2013
Copies of this print are available framed and unframed here.

Saturday, 12 October 2013

Sport And Sportsmanship No Longer Share The Same Bed

If you don't like sport then look away, for this is a short and sharp 'rugby rant'.

More precisely it is a commentary on the sad reality of contemporary sport which in many cases now seems devoid of its one important quality, 'sportsmanship'.

I remember with great affection attending the 1956 rugby match between the visiting Springboks team from South Africa and my home province Taranaki.  Resplendent in my amber and black knitted hat which my mother had spent many hours producing, I went with my father to stand on the terraces to see the match.

It was cold as only a Taranaki winter can be but I soon warmed up jumping about with excitement at every flowing movement of the game.  And there was plenty of action, the provincial mascot (a bull called Ferdinand) leaping around with equal vigour.

The 1956 rugby match between Taranaki and the visiting Springboks team
Nobody really gave Taranaki much of a chance of winning but it was team spirit and the home crowd support that saw them match the tourists and produce a very creditable draw.  Several of this provincial team's best performers later went on to become All Blacks.

But this was just one such regional match amongst the many over the years that I enjoyed.  The noticeable difference between then and now being that these earlier players gave their all were part of a wonderful amateur code, unsullied by trappings of so-called 'professionalism'.

Fast forward fifty plus years and we are are in a different era when it comes to sport and what constitutes sportsmanship.  In my day no individual was bigger than the game itself even if you were a star player.  If it was a team sport, you were part of the team and did your best by them for the greater good.

Nowadays it is quite apparent that sport and sportsmanship are diverging markedly. It is all about how much money one can make as a sportsman, or sportswomen.  The impact of any personal decision upon a team is a secondary consideration if at all, to be disregarded if the the money is right.

Being a great athlete does not automatically equate to being a great sportsman, if sportsmanship and the team are measures of one's success both on and off the field.  

In my day our ambition was to play for our province and if you were good enough receive national honours.  A hefty pay packet was never the motivation nor even a consideration.

This past week we have witnessed the less than edifying spectacle of a New Zealand athlete holding both the NZ Rugby Union and the Australian based National Rugby League to ransom as he dithered between accepting one contact offer or the other.  This same player also displaced another who had been previously selected to represent New Zealand at the Rugby League World Cup.

Let's be frank about this - no player is greater than the game itself. This athlete chose to play league in the end so cut him adrift and forget about chasing or signing him in the future.  There are other younger players coming through who should be nurtured and the money that was on the table over this contract offer could be put to better use.

The media (who are making such a meal out of this turn of events) should also be reminded that just last week they were describing the rugby test between the All Blacks and the Springboks at Ellis Park in South Africa as "one of the greatest ever".

The aforementioned player was not in the team and did we suffer as a result?  No we did not.  

The Ellis Park match was great game because it was hard fought, both sides giving their all for the team and because of the sportsmanship shown by the South African captain when an official's error could have jeopardised the opposition's chances.

Today's editorial in the New Zealand Herald neatly sums up the actions of the player I referred to above:
"Williams has good instincts on a rugby field. On the wider field of life he leaves a lot to be desired."

And that is the lesson that sport should be teaching us - sportsmanship is all about consideration for others and working hard for the collective good.

And, if you are a rugby player like I was, surviving eighty minutes in the forward pack on a muddy field was foremost in one's mind!

The author (circled) played representative provincial rugby for Manawatu Juniors in the late 1960's and was part of the championship winning Palmerston North Teachers College teams in 1967 and 1968. Prior to that he played most of his rugby at New Plymouth Boys High School where he was a boarder.
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Tuesday, 8 October 2013

New Art Print - Helter Skelter

Helter Skelter
Roger Smith, 2013
Get a copy here.

Wednesday, 25 September 2013

New Print - Napoleon's Dream

Napoleon's Dream
Roger Smith, 2013

Napoleon's Dream (framed)
Roger Smith, 2013
Framed and unframed versions are available here.

Why Napoleon?

Napoleon’s Egyptian Campaign (1798 - 1801) was an opportunity for the artists and naturalists in his entourage to record the 'weird' and wonderful' creatures that they observed along the way.  These renditions included bats and snakes.

The 150 hand-picked scientists, artists and engineers who accompanied the 55,000 troops of the Armée de l'Orient to Egypt  were known as the savants.
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A Strong Singaporean Woman In Power

Why is there a presumption that Singaporean women are somehow inferior to men when it comes to leadership?

Most of the Singaporean women I have met are highly suited to such a cause; intelligent, articulate and with a passion to make the country succeed.  Some like Mdm Halimah Yacob (who I watched on local television) are already in politics and others I have met professionally are not, but should be encouraged to be.

You may well ask why I pose this question in the first place?

There has been a report today in TodayOnline which covers a recorded conversation with PM Lee.  In it he is reported as saying:

I think Singapore will have to get used to the idea that you have people come in, you have a leader who has not been there quite such a long time, you have to operate in a different sort of way but he can make it work”.

The issue I have is with the last part of the statement “he can make it work.”

Now while I realise that this is but a small snippet of a broader conversation about leadership succession (and probably a Freudian slip), one would like to think that field will remain open for female candidates to take the reins in the future.

And that future might be as the next Prime Minister after the incumbent, Lee Hsien Loong,  steps down.
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Thursday, 19 September 2013

Today's Art Print - Men Hanging On

Men Hanging On
Roger Smith, 2013

Men Hanging On -  close up of the original
Roger Smith, 2013
I felt in a surrealistic mood today so composed the digital art print from my image bank and historical archives.  The concept of men hanging on both literally and figuratively appealed to me.

You can purchase a copy of this print, framed or unframed here.

Sell Art Online
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Monday, 16 September 2013

They Don't Build Them Like That Anymore

I had momentarily forgotten that Singapore once had a thriving car industry but then I recalled the Old Ford Factory; today better known as the place of the British surrender to the Japanese.  The pre-war 1941 Ford Mercury Club Convertible featured in this video was built in Bukit Timah in 1941, shortly before the Japanese invasion.

It has had a chequered life surviving the Japanese Occupation, life in Batavia (Jakarta) with the Dutch, and even further afield before arriving back Singapore. And, at the age of 72, it is still drivable.

The car was taking part in the Motoring Heritage Day staged besides the even more historic (and thankfully retained) former Tanjong Pagar Railway Station.  Good to see the National Heritage Board busily engaged in such activities.
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