Sunday, 30 September 2007


Seen at the Goodwood Park Hotel

Wednesday, 26 September 2007

Fantastic Plastic and Dengue Doses

Yesterday the Robinsons Card arrived.

This elevates one into the foremost ranks of 'serious shoppers'. For those of you who are not familiar with Singapore, Robinsons is a large department store in Centrepoint, Orchard Road.

While it has not reached the same institutional status as Raffles, it is nevertheless a well known entity in its own right. It has been in existence since 1858. The company also owns John Little and the franchise for Marks & Spencer.

I know Marks and Spencer well as despairing Singaporean sales staff constantly refer me to this department store - the only one that caters for Expats of a certain proportion.

When Robinsons has a sale it's a real sale with good bargains to be had. In the past we have garnered the general public's 20% reduction of items but now armed with our Robinsons Card we will have an additional 1o% or more on top of this.

Mind you, the sale items offered are rarely the items I actually want. There are only so many toast racks that one can buy in a lifetime.

I have been eyeing a pair of Clarke's leather sandals that have been on display in the store for the past few months. Each sale cycle seems to pass them by and they are always excluded and remain rigidly at a fixed price.

A new strategy is called for. Instead of expressing overt interest in this footwear (as I have done in the past) I shall now cast derogatory comments whenever I pass the display and within earshot of the sales staff.

"Phew...old stock" is a phrase I have in mind, delivered with an aloof shake of the head. Maybe this subterfuge will motivate them to include my items of interest in the next sale - I suspect not.

Plastic cards are de rigueur in Singapore. I know several colleagues who collect them from different banks and merchandise outlets just for the 'exclusive benefits' they carry with them.

So desperate are these places for your custom that the card annual fees are often waived. If such a fee is ever suggested the holder immediately relinquishes the card and moves on to the next.

In a more serious vein (which is a terrible pun in itself), the incidence of Dengue Fever in Singapore has risen this year. This mosquito borne disease is most unpleasant and often fatal.

Two days a go we received a pamphlet at our door from the Environmental Agency, requesting an appointment to view our condo and assess its mosquito breeding risk.

When the office arrived the reason for the visit became clear. One of our neighbours in another block had contracted the disease and was hospitalised. It doesn't of course mean that Dengue is rife in our neighbourhood as the patient could have contracted the disease elsewhere.

We also learnt an interesting fact that the mosquito that carries dengue, the Aedes, is mainly active between the hours of 7am and 1 pm.

In theory therefore, if you are bitten by 'mozzies' in the evening these are more than likely not the variety that transmits the fever.

I am not sure what the mosquitoes would make of daylight saving but Singapore doesn't have this anyway. If New Zealand cows can become confused by time clock adjustments imagine the predicament of the humble mosquito.

Meanwhile the rainy season hasn't really got underway but when it does so, the dengue situation will improve as the weather is cooler.

The state of my current pair of sandals will not however improve in the forthcoming rains - now where's that plastic card?

Sunday, 23 September 2007

Lantern Festival - Chinese Garden

Take The East West MRT line past Jurong station and you end up at Chinese Garden.

Once a year to celebrate the Autumn Lantern festival, there is a special display mounted in the gardens surrounding the lake and the pagoda.

We enjoyed the spectacle last evening and it was well worth the $S12 per adult admission.

The evening was sultry but there was a gentle breeze off the water which cooled things down.

The other noticeable thing about the Mid-Autumn festival is the re-appearance of the ubiquitous Mooncake.

Being a traditionalist at heart I enjoy the white lotus paste filling with double duck egg yolks in the Cantonese style. The combination of the saltiness of the duck egss and the sweetness of the lotus paste may not be to Western tastes but one bite and I took to them like a duck to water, if you will excuse the pun!

This year the cake have been a bit pricier as thousands of the duck eggs from China were rejected by the Singapore Food authorities.

Another moon cake popular in Singapore are Teochew Yam Mooncakes which have a spiralled, flaky crust.

Other traditonal festival foods include the eating of Pomelo (the Ipoh variety from Malaysia are very sweet), piglet biscuits, baby yams and a most unusual nut called Niu Jiao Jian (Bull's Horn). They were on sale in our local Cold Storage supermarket (see image above left). I have yet to sample Niu Jiao Jian but shall do so when there is a chance to try some.

Friday, 21 September 2007

The 'Dry' Season

The air was still and steamy
and my clothes were damp and dank
not a breath of wind was stirring
while the drains beside me stank

Just a plaintive throaty warbling
ahigh the pong pong tree
the dry season's come a'calling
for the bird as much for me

The fumy buses passing
by the shelter where I stand
I wave in desperation
with make shift fan in hand

The dry seasons come a'calling
to the Queenstown MRT
I stand upon the platform
just my plastic card
and me

Sunday, 16 September 2007

With A Pinch Of Snuff

This weekend we visited the Chinese snuff bottle exhibition at the Asian Civilisation Museum.

From the Sanctum of Enlightened Respect III is the third part of the exhibition installment from the collection of Singaporean collector, Denis Low.

There were 355 snuff bottles on display and the artistic interpretations in miniature were quite outstanding.

Unlike many of the exhibitions on view, this was in a free section of the museum and open to all. Denis Low's collection is regarded as one of the worlds finest.

It takes us next to no time to get to the museum as we take the MRT from our station direct to Raffles Place and exit at the Battery Road entrance. A quick stroll across the Cavenagh Bridge and we are there.

All in all a most pleasant afternoon topped off with another splendid duck curry at the Museum's Indochine restaurant.

This entry has taken place over a couple of days and yesterday, Monday September 17th, marked the anniversary of our arrival in Singapore exactly one year ago. It is therefore appropriate to pause and reflect on what has happened these past twelve months.

Firstly, apart from good friends left behind, I have no regrets about leaving New Zealand and coming to Singapore. I rarely even look at the NZ Herald online but when I do so it seems to be a litany of violent assaults in South Auckland, police on trial for various offences, news of an increasingly moribund Labour Government and politically correct nonsense such as allowing illegal Algerian overstayers a right of passage into the country. Not forgetting of course the continuing failure to address the severe traffic problems in the major cities. Lots of talk and no action!

In direct comparison, I can walk the streets of Singapore at most hours of the day and night in relative security, there is no major 'P' drug problem that threatens the fabric of society, the economy is booming and the air of optimism in the Republic is invigorating.

Not everything should be viewed through rose coloured spectacles of course. The heat at times can be oppressive, even for the locals. The positive side of this is no more winters! It does mean that a lot of time is spent in an airconditioned environment.

Singapore is not a big country and it has a lot of buildings and (increasingly) people. This means that one needs to escape from time to time to places such as the Botannical Gardens for some quite reflection but generally speaking I enjoy the hustle and bustle that accompanies the day.

I remain employed by a university even though it was not the same one that I left new Zealand to be part of. The UNSW Asia debacle still rankles, not because I wish to retain any association at all with UNSW, but because of the pain and suffering inflicted on everyone left high and dry by the Vice Chancellor's actions. Working at NUS is far more productive and the university far better endowed than most.

All in all, a stimulating 12 months.

Thursday, 13 September 2007

The Day the Earth Moved

Last night the earth moved for me - and for most of Singapore.

Just after 7 pm as I was sitting at the keyboard our condo building started to sway gently. At first I thought that my chair was not level but then the sensation started again.

There was one immediate explanation - an earthquake.

Coming as I do from "the shaky isles" as New Zealand is sometimes known, I was no stranger to this type of disquieting event. But is is a rare phenomonon in Singapore which is well over 700 kilometres away from any seismic plates.

It was clear that for us to feel it there must have been a massive rupture of the earth near Indonesia and this proved to be so. An earthquake of 8.5 on the richter scale was recorded in Sumatra. This morning there was another of similar magnitude.

So far there have been no reports of any damage in Singapore and the government has reassured residents that buildings here are designed for such events.

However I am glad our own condo is not built on reclaimed land as much of Singapore is. Liquefaction can be a serious problem even when the epicentre of a 'quake is far away.

Today I joined my colleagues for a staff event. We bussed to the recently refurbished National Museum and spent a very pleasant coupe of hours enjoys the spaces and exhibits.

I was reminded by one feature that has been retained - a wrought iron spiral staircase - of the ghostly apparitions that are said by some to frequent the building.

When my wife was a school girl they were told by their teachers that if they ever dared to climb the stair unspeakable horrors would befall them.

Later when I told this story to a former director the museum (who is a personal friend) he shared another version of this story, that a taxidermist lived at the top of the stair, lying in wait for recalcitrant children. No doubt an excellent control measure for school groups!

Sunday, 9 September 2007

Pearls Before Tourists

I'm not an oyster shucker
but an oyster shucker's son
and I'll keep on shucking oysters
'till the oyster shucker comes

This ditty paraphrases a bawdy student drinking ditty, but is rather apt never the less. The reason being, that we hosted some friends from New Zealand this afternoon and together experienced the great OG Store Bonus Offer.

Here is how the Bonus Offer works.
You buy an item and are given a voucher to redeem, on the third floor of the store.

The free offer is a genuine pearl. The novelty being that a store attendant (who clearly drew the 'short straw' and is up to his or her armpits in 'airflown' Suzhou oysters) shucks a fresh oyster in your presence and extracts your pearl.

So far, so good with no additional money changes hands. However when you come to claim the pearl the hard sell begins.

"Surely madam would be more interested in having your personal pearl mounted in a customised silver setting?"

"Your ear would be unbalanced with just one pearl mounted, so how about a second one at a discount price?"

" See how we have the latest equipment to provide a secure mounting for your pearl - it's a very good colour and deserves the best."

$50 dollars later and clutching two small black jewellery boxes that house your marine treasures, you leave the store.

You know in your heart that if you hadn't weakened, the raw pearls in their small, zip lock plastic bags would have been more than adequate in their natural state.

But.... and it is a very big but....... you have to be made of steel to weather a persuasive Singapore sales pitch. Few succeed.

Friday, 7 September 2007

Things Happen In Threes

Things always happen in threes and yesterday was no exception.

First there was the death of Luciano Pavarotti. While not being a great fan of opera I would have to concede that his was a 'mountain' of a voice and his decibels were matched by his imposing stature.

Pavarotti's version of Nessun Dorma sent emotional shivers down one's spine. (see this You Tube clip)

As with all great artists, his life and times were almost as interesting as his music. I recall seeing a documentary entitled "Pavarotti in China", which although panned by the critics, clearly showed the reverence accorded him by the Chinese.

The second thing that caught my eye was the sacrifice of two goats by Nepal Airlines. Faced with mounting technical problems they resorted to the Hindu god of sky protection to rectify the situation.

I don't know about you, but I see this as a worrying precedent and not one that encourages me to contemplate long air journeys.

Perhaps we shall see Air New Zealand addressing its falling international capacity by sacrificing an All Black forward or two?

Mind you; if the national team does not do well in the Rugby World Cup which starts today, it could well be that the entire New Zealand population would be willing to observe this ritual.

This leads me to the third event, the Cup itself. In Singapore the emphasis is on Soccer not rugby. There have been some belated feature stories this week in the Straits Times but rugby as a sport is very much second fiddle to association football.

I went to our local cable provider - Starhub - to see if they would be screening any of the games. The sales staff member thought they would be but could not tell me what channel or programme it might be, except to say that it would be a 'special package' which would cost me extra.

"But don't worry" he enthused "When the time comes we will release the details".

"It is tomorrow" I informed him. Not surprisingly, he was unable to continue the conversation.

I have therefore resorted to the Internet and having paid the princely sum of $US49.99 will have access to all of the games, albeit 24 hours after they have taken place!

Saturday, 1 September 2007

Hair Today, Gone Tomorrow

A short and curly observation:

It's one of the inescapable facts of life - hair thinning is the barometer of age.

Men have concocted a variety of ways to sweep their hair across a balding pate. Inevitably the result is Hitlarian.

In Singapore however I have noticed a strange phenomenon. Both hair and nails grow with greater alacrity than they do in the Antipodes. This is good news for men of advancing age, chiropodists and hairdressers.

I am not sure of the science behind this observation but is clearly not just wishful thinking on my part. Perhaps it is the change of diet or climate?

There is some scientific evidence that hair grows slightly faster in the hot months according to at least one study.

A 1991 article in the British Journal Of Dermatology explored "androgen-dependent" hair growth in bald men living in temperate climate. Androgen-dependent hair includes some scalp hair and other hair whose growth is influenced by a kind of hormone called androgens. By contrast, androgens do not affect the growth in other types of hair such as eyelashes and eyebrows.

According to Tobin, the 1991 study suggested that androgen-dependent hair growth is faster during the spring and summer months and slower during the winter months in temperate regions such the US. Althought this study was conducted in men, the results may also apply to women