Friday, 26 September 2008

Raining On The Parade

As I write we are experiencing a tropical deluge with accompanying gunshots of thunder and lightening flashes.

Nothing too unusual about this given that we are in the Tropics and the rain comes as welcome relief after a week of high humidity and brain-numbing heat.

The big difference is that today is the first time the Formula One drivers get in their cars to try out Singapore's new road circuit ahead of Sunday's grand prix.

The F1 Night race is not resonating with most Singapore's despite the media's attempt to talk up the event. I have yet to find anyone who is going to see the race in person. Some politely say they think they might watch it on TV but I actually doubt that many will.

Most comment has been about the inconvenience to public transport and the lack of custom in the large shopping malls due to road closures.

Welcome to the world of street circuit racing! These events are by their very nature disruptive.

I recall promoters in Auckland, New Zealand desperately trying to convince the local City Council of the economic benefits to that city when in reality, it would have seen the main arterial route into the city from the North Shore completely cut. Fortunately the race did not go ahead.

Here in Singapore millions have been spent of lighting and other infrastructure for the world's first F1 night race. I hope they see a return on their reported $105 million investment. When public statements in the media a week before the event switch to talking about 'intangible benefits' then one gets the sense there is a growing realisation that the receipts are not going to match the outlay?

I am not against motor sport, far from it - I even belonged to a car club at one stage in my life. I have however worked in, and been associated with, international events so I recognise hype over substance when I see it.

F1 is no different in many respects from yachting's America's Cup. It is a rich man's sport projected to the masses. Along the way it sells motoring product, but to the rich list followers it is just another event on the annual social calendar. It also transpires of course that these super rich moguls rarely pay to attend the races as they are feted by corporations and the finance sector who cover all expenses to get them track side.

Commentators should therefore not be surprised that the people in the Heartland are tuning their TV's to watch English soccer in preference to motor racing. This event has little relevance to their daily lives and the cost of tickets mean that they are unlikely to attend in person.

Some will even be leaving Singapore to escape from the event if reports in the local papers can be believed.

Wednesday, 24 September 2008

Killem Tru

"Killem Pest, Simply the Best" proclaimed the T shirt. It was worn by a slight man on his way to work on the MRT.

The slogan reminded me of two things. Firstly the Papua New Guinea pidgin language that I was used to hearing in the Highland of that country where a similarly sounding word to "killem" is deployed, usually in the context of "kilim tru" i.e. make sure he, she or it is truly dead!

Not a very reassuring phrase if one is being chased by a kukakuka tribesman with the pig tusks through his nasal septum turned skywards.

The second thought that came to me is about the pests that one finds in the tropics - the cockroaches of various sizes and hues, ants of every scale and description and not forgetting the ever-present mosquitoes which carry a variety of nasty diseases.

Pest control is a growth business in Singapore and at certain times of the year 'fogging' is all the rage with large clouds of presumably noxious chemicals smoking out the hiding places of every creepy crawly.

I am not sure what the chemical make up of this 'fog' actually is, but what continues to surprise me is that very few of the operators wear protective masks as they apply the mixture.

Seeing the pest control man on the MRT yesterday was part of a final journey to Buena Vista MRT station and onwards on the 95 bus to my former place of work, the National University of Singapore. I will not miss this trip.

If I got to my Queenstown station by 7 am then the journey was reasonably comfortable. Afterwards the crowds packed the carriages especially in recent times where more and more people have been leaving their vehicles at home and turning to public transport. The wait for the 95 bus at the Buena Vista bus stop was the worst part of the journey - hot, sticky with little moving air, one often was left feeling in need of a second morning shower.

Now I am temporarily a man of leisure, with a couple of week's annual leave to use up before commencing my new job with the British Council, based in Singapore.

Quite apart from the new Director's post, I am looking forward to renewing my acquaintance with an old favourite - the 111 bus - which will transport me to the British Council in the Tanglin area.

But this is three weeks away and in the interim I have a holiday in Taipei to look forward to.

Sunday, 14 September 2008

Mongols in the Fall

The carpet of yellow and red stretched for as far as the eye could see.

From 25,000 feet it was a scene I remember well - the Canadian Fall. "Fall" always seems such an appropriate and utilitarian term for the season of "autumn".

Apparently we have the French to blame for the term "autumn" as it comes from the Old French word autompne and was later normalized to the original Latin word autumnus. Before the 14th century however the season was known as "harvest" a solid, self-explanatory and sensible British term!

Why do I mention the above while being safely ensconced in tropical Singapore away from all of the vagaries of the aforementioned season?

The answer is very simple - we are currently celebrating the Mid-Autumn festival, an event which is actually the Moon festival and dates back some 3,000 years to the Chinese Shang Dynasty.

The mid-Autumn date is the time that the Moon is meant to be at its most beautiful and everyone admires it.

There are no falling leaves in Singapore in the autumnal sense, just expanding waistlines as everyone buys and samples Moon cakes. These 'weight-watcher delights' are given as networking and relationship building gifts not only to family and friends but also by corporates to valued clients.

Legend also has it that the Mongols where overthrown during this time by embedding messages related to the popular uprising inside Moon Cakes.

Now the only embedding that takes place is the insertion of new and exotic fillings within the crust. Each year there are more and more unusal fillings literally breaking the mold.

This year for instance I have sampled; champagne Moon Cakes, rum liqueur varieties, roast chicken/pepper & lotus, bilious green pandan versions, green tea and even durian moon cakes.

I remain however a traditionalist with a strong preference for lotus paste and double egg yolk, the latter being salted duck eggs which are a strong counterpoint to the cloying sweetness of the lotus paste.

One is of course meant to take a small slice of the cake and have it with tea. The novice Ang Mo may attempt to eat a whole cake at one sitting but I doubt that this attempt would ever be repeated - they are simply far too rich.

There are also quite distinct regional variations of this delicacy. I prefer the Cantonese style crust which is a red-brown and baked. Also popular in Singapore are the Teochew style which is a flaky pastry version that is deep fried.

I confess to being "moon-caked out"! Yesterday we visited Takashimaya department store and in the centre court there were dozens of stores featuring mid-Autumn goodies and there was much sampling to be had. After doing the rounds of the various stalls we both felt rather ill from too many sweet offerings.

As a footnote I should also record that after more eight years of working in the university world I am leaving to take up a new role as Director of Online Operations(East Asia), for a well known international organisation that has its regional hub based in Singapore.

This is a challenge that I am very much looking forward to and, as my work will involve travel to at least 12 countries in the region, I will be able to further expand the geographic coverage of this epistle.

Tuesday, 9 September 2008

Today's Print

" Hearts " .......... Roger Smith

Saturday, 6 September 2008

Gourmet Fair

It's another Saturday afternoon in Singapore and as is our want, we spent the middle part of day in town and then returned home to take time out to read the Straits Times.

Today's visit took us back to Suntec, this time to take in the Gourmet Food Fair (pictured below). If truth be known there has been a promotion in the above mentioned newspaper which encourages people to visit the fair and leave their coupon, in the valiant hope of winning $6,888.

I am not sure of the odds of winning but they must be very long indeed. It was noticeable though that the foot traffic in the malls is definitely less than the same time last year. No doubt this is a result of financial downturn affecting all major economies, including Singapore's.

There were nibbles galore to sample as we did the round of the stalls from herbal jellies to various version of the classic Bak Kwa.

Following this we went down a couple of levels and visited the large Carrefour supermarket. Here too were a range of delights to try, as a variety of sales people did their best to get us to buy their products.

If one is clever enough is possible to sample the equivalent of a three course dinner without paying so much as a penny! Judging from one old Auntie I spotted making here second circuit around the display booths I suspect other have already worked this out long before I.

From the upper deck of the 111 bus on our return journey one could see the development of the Marina Bay areas and dominating the scene, the Marina Bay Sands Integrated Resort (casino). It is meant to open next year but there still seems a lot of work to complete it?

Good news... the $New Zealand dollar has fallen below the $Singapore for the first time in about two years. This means that we can send funds back to put on deposit as the interest rates in NZ remain close to 9% whereas in Singapore one is lucky to get over 1%.

This week promises to be an eventful and exciting one and I hope to expand upon this observation when next I write.