Wednesday, 31 December 2008

Additional back-up mechanisms to be installed at S'pore Flyer

Additional independent back-up mechanisms are going to be installed at the Singapore Flyer, over and above the current standby generator, to ensure the wheel keeps moving - Straits Times

Sunday, 28 December 2008

Ibrahaim The Kite King

Ibrahaim was the kite king of Orchard Road some fifty years ago. He owned a small salibat stall; a more primitive version of Kopitiam stalls found around Singapore today.

He was well known to the children of Kramat Lane for his prowess with kites, even though he was then in his early thirties and they were in the main, under ten. Kramat Lane as it was then, with its open canal-sized drains, no longer exists. These deadly ditches have long since been covered over and hotels have taken the place of factories and shop houses.

Kite flying was and remains very popular in Singapore and in a weekend evening of Marine Parade you can often see kite contests underway. And I do mean 'contests' as kite flying here has a competitive edge to it.

References to
Malay kite flying were recorded early in the 16th century with the very earliest using a skin of leaves, reminiscent of the early Maori kite's use of plant materials. 'A study in Polynesian Tradition' 1931, by Nora K. Chadwick suggests that kites were long used in the Malay archipelago to catch fish. There are other references to kites being used by fishermen in the Malay-Polynesian archipelago, a system used to this day.

The aim of kite fighting is to severe the string one's opponent through the use of a carefully prepared
abrasive string.

In the '50's children used to carefully save blown filament light bulbs, They would surreptitiously 'borrow' their mothers pestal and mortar and grind the glass bulbs into an abrasive dust. The metal filament itself was removed from the mix.

A block of the red builders glue made from cow skins would be heated up in old and cleaned tin cans and the powdered glass would be added.

One of the most important attributes was to secure an extremely long and unbroken reel of cotton as any knots and joins in the reel were a potential weakness.

The cotton was pulled through the glue and glass mixture and then strung between trees or poles to dry. There were often many cut hands during this preparatory process but the end result was a strong cutting string to which the kite was attached.

Kite fighting and
tactics to defeat an opponent remain a serious business as the number of Singaporean blog and web sites testify. There is even an active association to promote the sport.

Clearly and unlike in the West, the expression "Go Fly A Kite' has a more positive meaning.

Saturday, 27 December 2008

How to Tell If You’re Eating Made-in-China Food

One of the most interesting sites in Singapore is Talking Their humour can be hard hitting but often very funny at the same time.

I particularly enjoy their Singlish Dictionary of commonly used terms. This was one of their contributions that appealed:

So we’re all worried now about buying food that’s made in China because of all the melamine and donno-what-else their unscrupulous manufacturers are putting into it. But sometimes even products that are labelled as coming from elsewhere could have used Chinese ingredients. Seow leow! Like that, how? Dun scared!

Here’s a handy guide on: How to Tell If You’re Eating Made-in-China Food

1. You’re not actually enjoying a romantic candelit dinner. It’s just that your vegetables are glowing.

2. Before you drank that made-in-China milk, you had only two nipples instead of eight.

3. Your family of five ordered a made-in-China turkey for Christmas, and somehow, everybody managed to get a drumstick.

4. After eating, whenever you burp, the TV switches to Channel 8.

5. The slogan on your microwaveable meal is “Just like your peidu mama used to make.”

6. You can tell your chicken comes from China when it’s always loudly spitting phlegm.

7. Think clearly: when was the last time you had to peel a pork rib before eating it?

8. When you squeeze the Chinese tomato, it says in a Beijing accent, “Mmm, bu yao ma, da ge!” (“Ooh, big brother, don’t!”)

9. Those made-in-China Mentos? Made from 100% real Men’s toes.

10. You keep having to visit the Great Bowl of China.

Friday, 26 December 2008

A Head for Heights

I do not enjoy heights any more. This is why I prefer to be on the 7th floor of our condo rather than in a penthouse on the 38th floor. Well actually there is also another reason for this decision - price - but I digress.

Why do I mention this? Well last year a new tourist attraction opened in Singapore with a great fanfare.

The Singapore Flyer aimed to better the London Eye by providing a view from a great height of Singapore and neighbouring Malaysia (if the heat haze or smog had dissipated enough to see the landmass). The "world's largest observation wheel" we were informed was a marvel of engineering and reliability.

It may be an attraction to others but the idea of being encapsulated for nigh on forty minutes in an air-conditioned metal cocoon while ascending the heights has no appeal to me whatsoever.

I had turned down a previous opportunity on an NUS staff outing to go aloft and I never regretted the decision, preferring instead to stay with my feet firmly on terra firma.

On Xmas Eve a fire broke out in the Flyer's control room and the wheel ground to a halt trapping 176 people for more than six hours. Ten passengers on capsules closest to the ground were encourage to abseil down ropes to safety.

I am eternally grateful that I did not patronise the Flyer and after this incident there has been serious scutiny of the Wheel and its operations. The wheel is currently closed down and one hopes that the small matter of an ancillary backup motor to rescue stranded passengers will be addressed, should an incident such as this reoccur. Currently according to press reports there is no such backup mechanism, hence the use of ropes to 'disembark'.

The retailers at the base of the wheel are having a hard time and are calling for compensation as this time of year is normally where heavy bookings above translate to good business below.

Given the economic dowturn I intend to remain with my feet firmly on the ground - in all senses of the term.

Thursday, 25 December 2008

Lighting Up Christmas

By a conservative estimate probably 70%+ of Singaporeans awoke today with the thought of celebrating the trappings of Xmas - the unwrapping of gifts, the wails of excited children grazing their knees as they fell of new bikes and for the more religious who celebrate the festival, a visit to the nearest church.

Most of all Christmas is a time for children. My mother was English and I recall many pleasurable Xmas mornings checking out the 'stocking' at the end of the bed, in the wee hours of the morning after Santa had paid a visit. There was always an orange right at the toe of the sock and this was followed by small gifts & sticky toffees.

Infrequently a larger item was to be found in the bedroom - my first tricycle arrived in this fashion. Usually though the larger and family gifts were to be found at the base of the Xmas tree in the lounge. No artificial plastic varieties of tree here.

We always had a real tree as did everyone else in our small Taranaki town. We lived at 90 Browne Street in Waitara and the pungent of a pine still reminds me of those days and the time we took prior to Xmas in decorating the tree.

Here in Singapore there are others of different faiths, to whom this day means very little in a religious sense. It is they who man the shopping malls and food courts.

Finally there are people like myself who awoke to a full menu of spring cleaning duties scheduled in advance by my wife, which included the cleaning of lounge lights and fittings and pondering over the reasons as to why a replacement fluorescent tube was failing to illuminate?

Banal as it seems there is some satisfaction in getting these domestic chores out of the way before taking the free bus to Anchorage shopping centre for a Xmas lunch. For the past two years (as I have previously recorded in this epistle) we frequented the Xmas buffet at Le Meridien Hotel.

Two things have happened in the intervening twelve months. The hotel has been bought and renamed and we weighed up the cost of this repast and decided for the money we could do better. I used to be a fan of the esteemed Singapore buffet but no longer. This style of eating encourages gluttony and I need no encouragement at all!

So early afternoon we tucked into a meal of turkey at Jacks Place, doffed out glittery party hats to all assembled and departed to Dawsons shopping centre to pick up replacement light tubes.

This is the joy of Singapore, the shops never close and it is always possible to pick up such commodities as and when one requires them.

The rest of the afternoon has been spent loading up my new work laptop with files required for my travel to Hong Kong and trying to get my large spatulate fingers accustomed to the very small and textured mouse button that is hiding itself quite successfully in the centre of the keyboard.

Already the local supermarkets are getting prepared for the really big celebration that happens in a month's time - Chinese New Year. The festival this year will celebrate the Year of the Ox. As I sit trying to digest today's Xmas meal I feel an affinity with the oxen in question.

Sunday, 14 December 2008

A Pleasing Hum

A hard disk that develops a whine is a disconcerting thing. Mine has progressively been rising up the decibel scale and has reached the stage where the noise had to be interpreted as a plea for renewal.

When I think about it, my trusty Dell has given good service these past four years, despite the rigours of a country relocation and numerous other house shifts around Auckland before that.

It is interesting to reflect how 'state of the art' four years ago is now consigned to the dustbin of history with new computers quadrupling their performance and capacity in the intervening years.

The upshot of all this was a trip yesterday to the Dell shop on the second level of SunTec City shopping mall where a charming sales person relieved me of $S1,700 and promised delivery of my new system within five to seven days.

They are able to meet these deadlines as Dell is manufactured to order in neighbouring Malaysia.

I have chosen a Dell Optiplex 760 Minitower a small business model of PC very similar in specification to that installed at the National University of Singapore during my time there.

Over Xmas I will have the unenviable task of reinstalling all the programmes that I use and hooking back up to Singtel.

Once thing that is obvious at the moment is the probability of striking some very good deals at the moment in Singapore and this I did with my PC purchase. With the economic situation as it is, the retailers are pacing nervously outside of their outlets and with a bit of bargaining it is possible to get more for less.

No doubt had I waited until 2009 to replace the equipment I could have got the computer even cheaper. However this was a case of "needs must" and I could not wait any longer.

I should also mention the beauty of the range of external hard drives now available. I am using one that stores 550 gigabytes of data more than enough to store my entire digital life including an entire music collection and several years worth of photography.

After cementing a beautiful relationship with Dell we walked across the second level foot bridge to Marina Square complex for lunch at The Coffee Club. Here again the crowds such as they were, were window shopping with few couples actually buying.

Monday, 8 December 2008

Singapore - Xmas Activities

" World's Tallest Chocolate sculpture" - Centrepoint Mall

Soft Toy Xmas Tree - Takashamaya

Two weeks out from Xmas day and the Malls are doing their best to attract shoppers, with varying degrees of success.

There are a lot of people out and about but, given the economic times, few of them are clutching shopping bags when they exit the stores.

There has been huge investment made in Orchard Road before the economic bubble burst and it will be interesting to see who survives and who does not when two new malls open at opposite ends of the main shopping thoroughfare in 2009?

Imported festive cheer is very expensive. An an example, a small Xmas cake that we bought in Marks and Spencer in London two weeks ago for a little more than five pound is retailing in Marks & Spencer, Singapore at $45.

Today is a public holiday in Singapore - Hari Raya Haji . It is an important date in the Muslim calendar and is celebrated as such in Singapore by the Malay and sectors of the Indian community.