Thursday, 31 December 2009

Welcoming 2010

Marina Bay Panorama - Roger Smith

This will be my final entry for 2009 and so I wish all readers a very Happy New Year.

One would hope that 2010 will prove to be considerably better than the current one. The litany of misfortune these past twelve months has been a salutory lesson in what can go wrong: a major recession, the H1N1 swine flu and the rapid fall from grace of Tiger Woods to mention but a few!

2010 will be our fourth year in Singapore and I shall be travelling extensively in East Asia as part of my work. Vietnam, Myanmar (Burma) and the Philippines will all be new countries to experience.

This evening we shall watch the fireworks from Marina Bay from the comfort of our condo window in Queenstown - that is, if another condo built this past year does not block our view?

Come February it will also become the Year of the Tiger but more of this in 2010.

The Old Ford Factory

Museum Montage - Roger Smith

I have been using these few days of annual holiday to sally forth each morning to a different museum.

There are several that I have yet to visit and some that I frequent on a regular basis. Falling into the former category is the Old Ford factory, the site where the British surrendered to the invading Japanese army in 1942.

The trip to the museum is a mini-adventure in its own right; the MRT to Jurong and a change to the Red line sees one arriving at Bukit Batok. The bus interchange is adjacent to the station and easy to find. The bus to board is the 173 which winds through Bukit Batok and passes the museum in Upper Bukit Timah Road.

The much vaunted impregnable fortress of Singapore capitulated relatively quickly and Lt-General Percival received the terms of surrender in the Ford Factory.

As it transpired later, the Japanese were in fact out manned two to one and had seriously considered withdrawing from Singapore but Percival did not know this and his counterpart, Lt Gen Yamashita, succeeded in bluffing Percival by intimating that he had the superior strategic position.

February 15, 1942. Battle of Singapore, British Surrender. Lt.-Gen. Yamashita (seated, centre) thumps the table with his fist to emphasize his terms -- unconditional surrender. Lt.-Gen. Percival sits between his officers, his clenched hand to his mouth. (Photo from Imperial War Museum)

What followed was 44 months of brutal repression at the hands of the Japanese and it is therefore not surprising that many older Singaporeans will neither forgive nor forget what they lived through.

Singapore was renamed Syonan-to by the Japanese and the Old Ford factory documents life during the Syonan years.

The WW2 People's War archive that the BBC produced contains many first hand accounts of the fall of Singapore and the Syonan years. Those who were prisoners of war had harrowing tales to tell but the local population also suffered terribly. See the Haxworth collection of POW sketches and online diary.

Memories at the Old Ford Factory chronicles these events and how people survived.

Despite the cruelty metered out by the occupiers some of the principal Japanese war criminals escaped punishment.

One Masano Tsuji, who orchestrated the 'cleansing' operations of the local population ( i.e. massacres by the truckload), evaded capture. Reportedly he alluded his would-be captors thanks to the assistance of a wealthy Thai Chinese wife and became a 'monk' in Thailand. He ended up back in Japan in 1948 under the protection of the US occupation forces. Even more bizarrely he then went on to author a book documenting his escape!

As a footnote, shortly after my arrival in Singapore the father of my best friend from High School wrote to me. He is a medical doctor who had trained with another NZ doctor, the latter ending up at Alexandra Hospital in Singapore when it was overrun by the Japanese.

The NZ doctor was murdered by the Japanese when they massacred patients and staff on February 14th, 1942. Hear audio recollections

Tuesday, 29 December 2009

2010 Art Calendar

To download a copy click here.

Monday, 28 December 2009

Today's Montage

Raffles Before Durian

Sunday, 27 December 2009


Outside the new Ion mall stands the sculpture of a large nutmeg.

As I have mentioned in an earlier article, this is a reflection of the earlier days of Singapore when there were an abundance of plantations and estates producing nutmeg, pepper and gambier.
Uncaria Gambir

Today I read a little on the history of nearby Bukit Merah and one of the illustrations showed a crude map of the crops grown in the 19th century and their general location.

Again there was a reference to 'gambier' and I was none the wiser. There was another picture of brownish slabs of gambier extract in a factory but with no additional information.

With a little more digging, if you will excuse the pun, I managed finally discovered what this plant is and why it was so important in the early days of Singapore.

Gambier was vital to the tanning industry in 19th century Europe. In 1896 some 49,000 tons were imported by European tanners and chemicals companies.

No pair of kid gloves could do without it!

In neighbouring Indonesia they have another use for the plant; they chew it with areca and betel. In fact, when the British arrived in Singapore there were already some twenty gambier plantations owned by Chinese or Malays in full production.

Friday, 25 December 2009

A Deluxe Room With A View

Golden Mile complex at dawn is a bustling place. It is from here that the majority of buses to Malaysia depart.

We began our third trip to the Genting Highlands from this location on December 20th and on this occasion we chose another coach line - Transtar. On past trips we had travelled with Formosa Travel which meant departing from less salubrious neighbourhoods about 6:30 am. This time there was the promise of a better bus and greater comfort.

Golden Mile at dawn

The coach turned out to be adequate with wider aircraft-styled passenger seats and air conditioning nozzles that were the worse for wear. This meant that it was impossible to switch off the icy blast for the entire journey and resulted in most of us having a case of the 'sniffles' by journey's end.

The style of the seat reminded me that these coach services are facing serious competition from the budget airlines; it is now possible to fly to Kuala Lumpur for about the same price as it is to take the bus. Flying takes an hour and the trip to Genting by bus, six and a half hours.

Even though this was a different coach line it stopped at the same diabolical refreshment centre as Formosa's buses did. The food was just as inedible as on previous occasions and the toilets no cleaner.

The journey was uneventful and we arrived at our destination at the allotted time - 3 pm.

I should point out that this time we had planned to stay at the four star Resort Hotel rather than the 3 star First World. Regrettably most of Singapore had the same idea and all rooms were taken as we had to settled for the First World once again. This time though we were promised as Deluxe Room with a View as opposed to the deluxe room we had on our last stay, which had a view of a brick wall a few metres away.

It is that point that the holiday experience takes a sharp turn for the worse.

Our original idea for a short break was to go to the Cameron Highlands but the thought of a nine hours bus journey put us off. The irony was that having spent more than six hours on a coach to Genting we had to wait in a crowded group tour room for a further three hours while staff processed our reservations and handed out room keys. It would have been as quick to go to the Cameron Highlands.

We had requested a non smoking room on a non smoking floor when our booking was accepted. When we finally got to the reception counter however there were no Deluxe Rooms with View on non smoking floors left in the more modern Tower Two. We therefore had to accept Tower One, which is in need of major renovation. There were holes where fittings had been and some deluded former occupier had even attempted to prize the perfectly hideous art print out of its frame. Unfortunately they had not succeeded.

The same old problems of people smoking on these non smoking floors re emerged and the staff chose simply to ignore it. Hotel security spent most of their time slouched over the morning newspaper or conversing on their personal mobiles.

Our room was indeed a room with a view and the view was.... cloud. To be more precise cloud with rain, which is not so surprising given the altitude.

On the third day there was a glimpse of the theme park below but it wasn't until the morning that we left that the sun broke through.

Click on the book for the larger images

The inclement weather meant that the hordes of children on their summer holiday were unable to spend much of it outside and had to be content with the video and games arcades within the complex.

The rain also meant leaks and buckets in the 24th floor lobby. As we were on the highest floor I can only presume that the roof immediately above was less than weather proof.

One final observation about our Genting experience and the First World hotel; at meals we had a choice watching China tour parties spitting their bones and lemon pips directly on to the table, or fighting off the Indian tour parties who attempted to commandeer our chairs at every opportunity.

Saturday, 19 December 2009

A Journey Down Orchard Road

I took a short 'photographic' trip down Orchard Road yesterday morning. The above are some of the images. Click on the book to enlarge.

Thursday, 17 December 2009

Decrepit Piles and Virgin Soldiers

This morning we awoke to heavy rain; a welcome respite from the irritating and oppressive heat of yesterday which had signalled its coming.

It is day two of a short Xmas holiday break and I have been catching up on some local history in the Queenstown library.

There is very little that is memorable about local Singaporean television. One significant, and possibly the only exception, was a series called Site and Sound, written and narrated by Singaporean Dr Julian Davison. The series traced the history of early Singapore through its architecture - the small bits that remain that is, for this is a country of constant urban renewal.

In the library I discovered two sender volumes by Julian Davison; One for the Road and its sequel An Eastern Port. Being contrary, I chose the latter and thoroughly recommend it.

Dr Julian Davison is the son of an architect and grew up in Singapore and Malaysia. At the age of nine he was sent to school in England, though his family home continued to be in Kuala Lumpur until his father retired in 1979. He completed a doctorate in 1988 based on a study of the headhunting rituals and associated oral literature of the Iban of Sarawak.

It is a book punctuated with anecdotes including snippets about the writer and former seafarer, Joseph Conrad's association with Singapore through his maritime adventures.

The chapter about the former Mitre Hotel and its seediness (it was a decrepit pile by the time we arrived in Singapore in 2006) in its later years is amusing, as is the revelation later in the book that a copy of The Virgin Soldiers by Leslie Thomas is hidden in the archive of the National Library but not made available to the general public.

Thomas's book describes the bawdiness of army life in Singapore at the time of the Malayan Emergency. The communist insurgency in Malaya was anything but funny and posed a serious threat to regional stability, although it did ultimately pave the way for the eventual withdrawal of the British from this part of the world and the independence of Malaysia and Singapore.

Many of the old British army bungalows are still in use and rented out to British and other expatriates who are undertaking 'tours of duty' in the Republic. They are airy buildings with echoes of a lifestyle that is long gone. One can almost imagine the punkah wallah sitting on the outside verandah.

No need for a punkah today; the weather is several degrees cooler with the rains.

Friday, 11 December 2009

Bright Shiny And New

Newer is not always better and so it has proved with the refurbishment of the food court in the Singapore Botanic gardens.

It was a place I frequented regularly as the variety of food was good and there were some hawkers who cooked in the old (for that read non-sanitised) style, where one could still savour the richness of a sauce from a well fired wok.

My favourites were sotong pagang (grilled squid, Indonesian style) and the banana leaf curry set which could be had for the princely sum of $5.50.

The fruit juice stall did a roaring trade even though they had a penchant for topping up the glass with sugar syrup.

A couple of days ago the food court reopened and so some of us dutifully returned to this once favourite haunt.

Gone were the plastic chairs and tables and in their place stood rows of environmentally friendly wooden tables; quite in keeping with the mission of a botanic garden.

The food service however seemed to have been inspired by IKEA, with stacks of trays and chrome rails to slide them along. The prices were also a dollar dearer. I can't put my finger on it, but the old food court magic was no longer there.

I guess tourists who eat there would not know the difference but we did. Speaking personally I enjoy the atmosphere of the old coffee shops and food courts, provided they are properly cleaned.

I noted that this is blog posting number 94 for 2009 which equals my best and most verbose year - 2007. In one more day I take an annual holiday and like many people in Singapore I will not be traveling far. Maybe I will try and discover some of the older places to eat during the break?

Saturday, 5 December 2009

Sunday Best and Somerset Simplicity

Our sunday meal is usually taken in the AnchorPoint shopping mall's food court. We have two favourite stalls; the Village Smoked Chicken stall (which I have mentioned before) and a pasta outlet which is featured above.

For a modest $S6.50 a largish portion of pasta and chicken cutlet can be procured. What makes it memorable is the tomato sauce which is clearly not out of a bottle.

On the subject of malls, today we visited the latest to be launched in Orchard Road - 311 @Somerset. Not that Singapore really needs another mall!

This one however has risen from the ashes of the Phoenix Hotel which used to occupy the site between Somerset and Orchard Roads. Its design is more akin to that of Centrepoint across the road and I much prefer it to its recently opened neighbour, Orchard Central.

Some folks of a certain age will remember a song by Leo Sayer called "Orchard Road". While older Singaporeans might wish to claim ownership of the locality, it was actually written by Sayer for his estranged wife, pleading for her return from her flat and forgiveness after a lapse of judgement in their 7-year marital life. She had moved out to a flat in Orchard Road in London.

One can't help but wonder what Tiger Wood's composition will be like given the litany of indiscretions that are unfolding in media this past week? A Putter In My Pocket perhaps?

A Fashionable Orchard Christmas

All decked out for Xmas - Orchard Road
Some interesting facts about the name 'Orchard Road'. It was named after the orchard of one of the earliest planation owners who lived in Singapore in the 19th century - William Scott.

Scott's Road is also named after Scott. His luxurious residence, which was called 'Hurricane House, was subsequently bought by His Majesty Somdetch Phra Paramindr Maha Chulalongkorn, the supreme King of Siam who visited Singapore often in the late 1890's.

It is now the Thai Embassy on Orchard Road and the royal connection and reverance for the monarchy is why the Thais will never sell it to the Singapore government nor any other party.

Sunday, 29 November 2009

Early Singapore - Before Raffles

There is a common misconception that Singapore only came into existence with the arrival of Raffles and the establishment of the then British colony.

According to a Wikipedia entry, the first written records of Singapore date to the 2nd century, when the island was identified as a trading post in several cartographic references.

I have been reading an excellent history "Early Singapore, 13002-1819" which is edited by John N. Miksic and Cheryl-Ann Low Mei Gek. One of the contributors is an old friend and colleague, Kwa Chong Guan who I first came to know during our Museum days.

Evidence complied in the volume clearly demonstrates that Singapore has had a long existence as a trading settlement and the Fort Canning excavations also discovered the remnants of royal occupation.

What is most fascinating is the ebb and flow of local regional politics over the centuries - the Javanese, rulers from Aceh and the Portuguese to name but a few. Alliances were made and broken as power shifted from one group to another.

This Singapore History Museum 2004 publication is well worth as read for those who are interesting in discovering the true founding of Singapore.

They say that history is often written by the victors. I find this book a refreshing and informative historical journal which proves beyond doubt of the importance of Singapore before the British.

Saturday, 28 November 2009

The Haj Sheep's Lament

I will never return
to the pastures of Canterbury
fleeced and flocked
dipped and docked

Now interned in holding paddocks
with the Alps behind
the panicked prodding
from cattle truck to waiting ship

It's the dry dust of the desert that waits me
the ritual of the knife
a slash
a thousand blessings

My carcasse given to the poor
in a plastic bag
as an act of piety

So far removed
from the green of Canterbury

Roger Smith - November 2009

Make My Day

Saturday, 21 November 2009

The Descent of Man and Flash Floods

Passport photos track the descent of man. My latest travel document proves the point and replaced the older version as it had only a few months left before the expiry date.

I had reached the stage where airport security were spending an increasing amount of time looking back and forth from my face to the passport. It was definitely time for a change.

So for the past three months I have been a 'stateless' person. My old passport was transported to Wellington in the diplomatic bag along with my documentation for the replacement.

Being captive in Singapore for the duration has been no hard task as I would not have wanted to venture through Changi during the height of the recent APEC gathering.

There has been a steady parade of dignitaries visiting Singapore this past month; President Obama and the Chinese Premier Hu amongst them. By all accounts the meeting appears to have been a great success, with the possible exception of two South American countries whose home-grown spying spat saw them depart early.

I digress.

My new passport arrived yesterday resplendent with embedded chip in the back section. The somewhat chunky appearance of this embedded technology belies its sophistication, although nowhere in the accompanying pamphlet does it explain what exactly this chip does?

For all I know, my every waking moment could be being tracked by some minor official in the New Zealand capital, via satellite. This is not as far fetched as one might think as a whole industry has sprung up around microchips and tracking.

Parents in the UK now have the ability to use a tracking service which maps the movements of their children, through the location of their mobile phone, as can be seen in this promotional video.

The only drawback to this 'intelligent' passport is that the chip section is easily damaged so you would not want to have in in your back pocket in the middle of a Singaporean deluge; such as that which submerged sections of Bukit Timah last week.

Half a month's rain fell in an afternoon and the canal overflowed causing major flooding; a 50 year event according to the Minister for the Environment and Water Resources Yaacob Ibrahim.

Some bloggers are blaming a "third world standard of drainage system" but this criticism is unfair. Forty or fifty years ago such street flooding was commonplace, with the local children rushing out to 'net' fish, crabs and vegetables that had floated away from the nearby wet market stalls.

This time around there were some washed out prestige vehicles but few if any fish were caught.

Saturday, 14 November 2009

The Big Squeeze - Vivo City

The Big Squeeze - today's Xmas display by Tang's at Vivo City

A Most Beautiful Home?

"Let’s make our world the most beautiful home
Where everyone can live and breathe and they can easily roam"
or so says the lyrics of this song which is currently being hammered on Singaporean television.

There is a sad irony about "live and breathe" with the haze continuing and the current state visit of the Indonesian President; whose country is responsible for polluting the lungs of everyone living in Singapore.

My past week has been punctuated by the frightening reality of an antivirus software turned bad. My McAfee antivirus software (which I downloaded from our work network at the behest of our IT department) decided to misbehave.

The result being that I could not access my PC for a day or two. At moments like this one realises just how reliant we have become on technology - checking the weather, the condo prices, the exchange rates...

Thankfully we have some excellent IT technicians at work and one of them was able to correct matters.

I am also without a passport at the moment and therefore confined to Singapore for the duration. There is nothing untoward about this, as I have sent it back for renewal through our local High Commission. The process as I understand it takes a month?

Renewing a passport is an exercise in stepping back in time. Looking at the passport photos in old travel documents graphically documents the deterioration of man. No passport image is ever flattering and it is cold comfort to realise that they get progressively worse over time.

Perhaps it's a case of beauty being in the eye of the beholder.

Monday, 2 November 2009

Hands On

Trying to win - Ngee Ann City

The 1930's depression were infamous for marathon dance sessions which saw people literally drop dead from exhaustion in their quest to win a prize.

While no one yet had succumbed to the heat in Singapore this week, or died from exposure as a result of dancing, there are a number of stalwarts still with their hands firmly glued to cars.

The last one standing gets the vehicle.

Sunday, 1 November 2009

Thoughts On The Welfare State

"You cannot legislate the poor into prosperity by legislating the wealthy out of prosperity. What one person receives without working for, another person must work for without receiving. The government cannot give to anybody anything that the government does not first take from somebody else. When half of the people get the idea that they do not have to work because the other half is going to take care of them, and when the other half gets the idea that it does no good to work because somebody else is going to get what they work for, that my dear friend, is the beginning of the end of any nation. You simply cannot multiply wealth by dividing it."

Adrian Rogers, 1931

Note: This is one of the reasons I am working in Singapore and not New Zealand

A Marconi Moment

Marconi watching associates raise kite antenna at St. John's, December 1901

I can only image Marconi's excitement and sense of achievement when he made the first successful wireless transmissions in Italy in 1895, changing the face of human communication forever.

We have come a long way from then but in recent times the age of open communication has been suffering some king hits.

For those expatriates living far away from their country of birth there are times when one wishes to catch up on what is happening in their nation of origin. For me these occasions are rare but I do like to keep in touch with antipodean developments.

From 1979 to 1981 I lived and worked in Goroka in the Eastern Highlands of Papua New Guinea. Shortwave radio was a boon and many an hour was spent listening to Radio Australia to learn what was happening 'down south'.

Radio New Zealand International with its ever decreasing presence in the Pacific was not much use and I recall that in the evening it was the Chinese stations that jammed the airways.

This is my fourth year living in Singapore and the only radio that we listen to is the BBC. At least there we get a balanced menu of international news and opinion. The Chinese stations still dominate the evening airways as they did thirty years ago.

With the advent of Internet radio you would have thought that listening to radio stations in New Zealand would be an easy matter and for the first couple of years it was. I could also catch up with the local television news which was streamed live from the two main NZ channels.

No more.

This year has seen a great leap backwards for internet radio with most of the stations I used to listen to in NZ are not longer available. The reason given: international copyright of content.

The upshot is that open radio or television access to an All Blacks rugby game for any New Zealand expatriate is now a thing of the past. With media now largely in the hands of a few international conglomerates this trend is likely to continue and it is the culture of a country that suffers.

The Aussies though are still beaming their internet radio around the world which makes me wonder if New Zealand is not being just a tad politically/commercially correct when it comes to transmissions?

I am a person who believes in open international communication and views the commodification of culture and media as something distasteful. And yes, I resent the fact that I can no longer follow my favourite sport on internet radio and now have to pay to get streaming rights to a rugby match.

Mr Marconi is no doubt be turning in his grave when the subject of 'international copyright issues' are mentioned.

Or perhaps not .... as interestingly Marconi became a fascist in his native Italy in his later years and the fascists were all in favour of media control.

In this respect it would appear that little has changed.

Saturday, 31 October 2009

Farrer Park and Friday Weather

It's Friday evening again and the thunder and lightening is illuminating the nearby HDB estates. Tonight the storm centre is quite far away but this morning we had a good 'rainy season' pour. This evening the rain is more gentle.

It is not yet fully into the rainy season when the temperatures drop a couple of degrees but at least the cloying humidity is dissipating a little.

SU is to the be the name of the new university that Singapore is building. The Singapore University of Technology is being headed by a US university professor on secondment from M.I.T.

The irony is of course that the new SU campus is situated on the grounds of the previously proposed UNSWAsia which was originally planned to open about now; that is before the Vice Chancellor in Sydney beat a hasty retreat.

Tomorrow we are going via the Farrer Park MRT to visit the new eco mall - City Square. Energy conservation is now being enthusiastically promoted by the government and this one of the malls that is built on eco principles. The toilets use little water for instance; which should be a revelation after a curry in nearby Little India.

There is also an eco-roof that harnesses solar power and rainwater, of which we now have an abundance.

Farrer Park is an area of historic interest as it was here that Singapore's first racecourse was built and where the island's aviation history began.

As I write this I am aware that my friends in New Zealand are experiencing yet another 'late winter cold snap' even though they are supposedly in the middle of Spring.

It is going to be quite a wrench to the system re-adjusting to the chilly temperatures when we finally head south again for retirement. My wife can't wait!

Monday, 26 October 2009

Life's Like That

Doby Ghaut Station

Tuesday, 20 October 2009

Bull Horns and Baubles

This morning's bus was dressed up as a cow. A large pair of white horns rose above the roof of the driver's compartment and a tail with a jaunty sweep decorated the rear.

Bus decoration is part of life in Singapore with the desire to get the advertising message out taking many forms, in this case bovine.

On the subject of decorations it is very surprising to see that the Christmas decorations are already going up in Orchard Road and Tanglin Mall is featuring its nativity tableau.

This a full two months before Christmas actually happens; the festive spirit seems to be coming earlier each year.

Reportedly with the big APEC gathering in Singapore next month the decorations have gone up early to make a good impressions for the delegates.

All of their Christmases will have come at once - literally.

Saturday, 17 October 2009

Beatles To Bowie

As a 'child of the sixties' I am interested to learn that the National Portrait Gallery in London is featuring an exhibition of the decade.
A very good online gallery can be seen here.

Thursday, 15 October 2009

Venturing Forth On Virgo

Cashew Factory - Phuket Roger Smith

Two days ago we returned from a four day cruise aboard the Superstar Virgo, on of the Star Cruises vessels and the largest of its fleet.

Having cruised on Superstar Leo several years ago our expectations were high. The newer ship did not disappoint. I would strongly recommend going Balcony Class as we did; it may cost a little more but one receives preferential treatment including boarding and disembarkation as well as seating in the Lido Theatre.

The cabin on deck 11 was clean, tidy and comfortable and the service we received from the cabin crew was very good. They consisted in main of stewards and stewardesses from the Philippines and China with a few Korean and Indian staff also in the contingent.

Our fellow passengers came from Asia and Australia. Quite naturally there were a large proportion of Singaporeans many of whom had cruised with Star Cruises more than twenty times.
Of the more than a thousand passengers on board about a quarter were from India. The latter were consistently late in boarding and returning to coaches during the day excursions in Penang and Phuket.

One matriarch whom we encountered on our Phuket day trip was exceedingly demanding and arrogant. She remained cast like a sari-ed whale in the bus instead of getting down at several of the stops, spoke loudly to her two spinster daughters when the tour guide was attempting to speak to passengers and did not endear herself to her fellow passengers in any way, shape or form.

Food - As with all cruises life consists of endless eating! We had our breakfasts and lunches in Bella Vista restaurant on deck six. The first lunch and dinner we had in this restaurant were excellent and set our expectations for the trip. Unfortunately the Gala night fare at Bella Vista and the subsequent lunches and dinners were not up to the same standard as our first experience; rock-hard profiteroles, less than warm fish dishes did not impress.

The highlight was using up our free $200 credit for food and beverage which one receives as a balcony class member. We chose to have an Italian meal in the Palazzo restaurant which was superb.

Entertainment in the Lido Theatre was of a high standard with the most impressive being the Brazilian dancers and a troupe of Chinese acrobats who performed atop a white grand piano. A classy production all round.

We would not bother with the day trips again in either Penang or Phuket and many of the 'regulars' stayed aboard the ship. The cashew factory in Phuket was of interest but Patong Beach, which received the brunt of the Boxing Day tsunami, was a typical Thai beach resort full of tatooed Expats and massage joints.

A selection of images from the trip can be seen in this online flip book.

Click on the flipbook to view

Saturday, 10 October 2009

Montage Mania

Singapore Montage
Roger Smith

Thursday, 8 October 2009

Sunday, 4 October 2009

Thoughts From The Shaky Isle

One does not acquaint Singapore with earthquakes but judging on the results of the past week this perception could well change.

We have had two solid tremors felt in various parts of the Republic and all thanks to the major quakes in neighbouring Sumatra, some 530 kilometres away.

Coming as I do from the 'Shaky Isles' of New Zealand I am no stranger to these but the sensation of experiencing an earthquake does not get any more pleasant with age.

We were trained at a very early age to get under a door frame (or failing that a strong table) whenever the ground started to rumble and rock. My Singaporean colleagues however have had no such training, as the look on their faces clearly showed when we experienced the second quake one morning.

Several just sat at their desk with frozen expressions of uncertainty no doubt wondering why I had leapt from my seat and was heading for the nearest door frame.

Suitable door frames are hard to find in Singapore. For a start most buildings are not made with wood and secondly most have partitioned spaces so solid rooms are anything but.

Interestingly given the geology of the country not everyone felt the tremors. The first big Padang 'quake took place without us feeling it in our condo whereas people on the East Coast and Raffles Place felt the full effects and evacuated their buildings.

Another worry must be the reclaimed land upon which a significant part of Singapore is built. Liquefaction is a major destroying force during earthquakes and reclaimed land however well compacted is very prone to this.

The vision of the soon to be launched Integrated Resort (pictured) half submerged would give new meaning to the title of 'Marina Bay Sands'.

I expect through that most new structures have been built to withstand the earthquakes of the strength we might experience here. Fortuitously Singapore does not stand on a major fault line unlike its near neighbour, Indonesia.

It is just a matter of time (and a short time at that by all accounts) that the pent up pressure of the Indian/Australian and Eurasian tectonic plates on the western side of Sumatra will be released in a major 'quake of nine magnitude.

Professor Kerry Sieh of Nanyang University's Earth Observatory has publically stated that the recent quakes are 100 times smaller than the big one when it comes; a less than comforting thought.

Some twenty years ago I saw a map of the faults lines that criss cross New Zealand's capital city Wellington. At the time I raised the question with a colleague "Could an earthquake somewhere else trigger an event in another location"?

"No" was the unequivocal reply, "Such events are very specific to the location".

It would seem now that his analysis was flawed as scientists have recently discovered that the major 2004 earthquake in Sumatra may have weakened the San Andreas fault, 8,000km away in California.

If this is indeed the case being a mere 500 kilometres away from the Big One when it strikes is not that reassuring.

I shall be stocking up on half price moon cakes to tide me over such calamities should they occur in the next fortnight. The Autumn Festival concluded last night and the cakes in question are always heavily discounted after the event.

Wednesday, 30 September 2009

The Bluest Skies You Ever See Are In Toh Payoh

Well hardly....!

Even though this song verse describes Seattle rather than Singapore I had hoped it might apply, but is not to be.

By the time I came to leave work this evening the haze had almost reached the levels we experienced three years ago.

Visibility from our condo window (above) is getting worse by the minute even though the official PSI Index seems to indicate the problem is 'moderate' 53 reading over the 24 hours.

I suspect that the next 24 hours will have a totally different reading and we can taste the smoke in the air. So much for Indonesian cooperation in combating burn-offs!

Sunday, 27 September 2009

Today's Print

The Big Drop
Roger Smith. Sept 2009
(Click image for larger version)
A bulldog paper clip transformed using a close up lens and various digital imaging tools.

Saturday, 26 September 2009

Every Home Needs One!

Demonstrator outside John Little's store in Orchard Road

Why Not Feature Locals?

I really don't know why a number of local organisations in Singapore persist in using blue eyed, blonde children in their adverts; when their audience are Singapore residents and their children?

The local children of Singapore are just as intelligent in looks and abilities so why not use them?

The above banner is outside an HDB housing estate in Queenstown and is just one example amongst many that I have seen. Note the images used (inserts).

Not Everyone Is Affluent In Singapore

Recycling Singapore Style - Queenstown
Photo: Roger Smith (Click image for larger version)

As the mega rich spend thousands of dollars on the Formula One event in Singapore this weekend spare a thought for some of the 'heartlanders' who are feeling the pinch.

The above is a not uncommon sight on the streets of Singapore where a few older folk stretch their savings further by taking on recycling activity.

Used drink cans are prised from rubbish bins, flattened under heel and added to plastic bag carriers. Clean cardboard and old newspapers are also much in demand.

Even in our condo the maids and ground staff regularly scavenge through the recycle bins to see if there is anything worth salvaging.

Given that many expatriate tenants dump perfectly servicable appliances upon their departure, this practice probably proves to be quite lucrative.

Sunday, 20 September 2009

A Sporting Chance

I enjoy sport, or at least I used to before the era of professional sport killed most of the codes I enjoyed.

Rugby was a much better game as an amateur code and I played a lot of it. It also used to appear on free to air television in New Zealand but rarely does so now.

Win at all costs seems to be the prevailing sporting ethic and it is a sad indictment on htose who play and administer games.

The South African Caster Semenya is the latest victim, with that country's senior track official now admitting he lied about gender tests being carried our prior to the runner's winning performance in Europe.

Then we have the Formula 1 fiasco which demonstrated that Renault cheated to ensure they won last year's Singapore Night Grand Prix.

This is not the sort of publicity that Singapore wants at this crucial time before the next Grand Prix, scheduled to start in a fortnight's time, as it takes the gloss off the event.

In the aftershock of a major recession event ticket sales have been hard hit and sports cheats make life even harder for organisers to attract support.

A few months ago Singapore hosted the Asian Youth Games.

Yes, there were a few teething problems and home support was disappointing. The refreshing thing was that it was about gifted amateur athletes doing their best - the true ethos of sport.

I expect next year's Youth Olympics will be held in Singapore in the same spirit and the country will the better for it.

Ultimately as the saying goes "Cheats never prosper" and long may this remain so.

Saturday, 19 September 2009

Mooncake Time!

It's the Autumn festival once again and families are flocking to the centre of Takashimaya department store to try out the many varieties.

It is very easy to over indulge in the sampling thereof and I am the living proof that this is so.

Quite why we acknowedge this as an 'autumn' event in Singapore is stretching credibility. There are no leaves turning rusty brown and falling from trees. The only things that do fall are large branches in the height of a tropical storm and every year serious injuries are reported.

The Singapore weather chart on televison records no drop in temperature. The graphic that appears is usually the one at left and the temperature hovers between 30 and 33 degrees C.
The Autumn Festival excitement is for children as much as the adults and perhaps even more so. The former clutch their small dough piglets that are imprisoned in plastic baskets. A child sized lantern or two is selected and even these seem to get more sophisticated as the years go by.

The Way We Were

Wednesday, 16 September 2009

Here's Looking At You

Corporate art collection on view - Seoul

Autumn in Seoul

My accommodation at Fraser Place in Seoul could not be better and I am writing this entry from there, at 8 am on an Autumn morning.

First impressions of a country and a capital are often formed on the trip from the airport into the city. Having touched down early evening after a six hour flight from Singapore, Seoul's haze reminded me very much of the current Indonesian smog that is choking Singapore. Many Asian cities have a similar challenge with Jakarta probably being the worst.

Here though the smog is largely industrial rather than agricultural burn-off and you can taste the air.

There is a dogged determination in the faces most as they go about their business - this is a city where business is to be had. The people are a hardy yet friendly bunch.

Alongside this commercial reality are the obvious references to culture and heritage. The city's investment in public art is very impressive. I have discovered a wealth of sculpture on my walks from the hotel to the British Council.

During my travels yesterday I also spotted a variety of western style steak houses which seem to be a popular alternative to the noodle and kimchi fare that others offer. Bread shops and patisserie also seem to be springing up like mushrooms and can be found every couple of blocks.

This morning I will use the camera on my mobile phone once again and capture some of the sights of this bustling metropolis.

Tuesday, 15 September 2009

Seoul Scenes

Hammering Man - Jonathon Borofsky

Align CenterPublic Art

Saturday, 5 September 2009

Busker Bliss and Men In White

I have just met the most discordant erhu player in Singapore, bowing his way to infamy outside the Doby Ghaut MRT station.

The sound was reminiscent of the whining of a spraying tom cat marking out its territory.

This noise that masquerades as entertainment also reminds me that MediaCorp is scheduling numerous re-runs of the excruciating Singapore Idol.

I am all in favour of buskers but a modicum of talent would have helped and perhaps it would be a good idea to have this folk vetted before a license is issued?

My train of thought turns to the automated airfreshners that my wife has bought 'on special'.

These are proving to be reasonably effective in combating the second hand smoke that filters into our apartment from inconsiderate neighbours. They too make a sound like a cat about to cough up a fur ball, as they release their scent into the room. Most disconcerting.

Did Lee Kuan Yew become Prime Minister by a single vote cast by the then PAP chairman? This is the topic gripping the Singapore media at the moment upon the release of a new publication "Men in White". Other bloggers claim that not all of the founding members were interviewed during the research phase but I have no way of verifying this.

My aim is to try and get hold of a copy to read as it appears to give a more comprehensive overview of the formation of the ruling PAP party than some previous publications.

And does it matter that MM became the PM by a single vote? In a democracy a one vote majority is all that is needed.

Most would agree that Singapore would not be where it is today if someone else had been holding the reins of power.

The White Bridge

We never crossed the white bridge in Taipei
your yin
my yang

we scurried past
as ships across a bay
of mild unease and discontent

a bridge too far perhaps?
every advance followed by a retreat
maintaining the balance

avoiding the meeting of love and laughter

Roger Smith September 2009

Sunday, 30 August 2009

Publish and Be Damned

Something seemed very strange with the format of this blogger platform this past week until I discovered that the setting for the Google Chrome browser needed adusting. All is now back to normal.

I have come across a very interesting publishing programe that can be embedded into social media sites. Let me demonstrate:

It is called 'Issuu' and I can see all sorts of applications for this open publishing programme. The educational value of such a tool is immense and I will be sharing it with colleagues at the British Council.

Speaking of which, I will be heading to Seoul in a couple of weeks; my first trip to South Korea. They tell me mid-September is a pleasant time of the year to visit, unlike mid summer which is very hot and mid winter which has temperatures below freezing!

A couple of weeks after I return from Seould we are taking a short four day holiday cruise aboard Superstar Virgo to Penang and Phuket. We had a great time on her sister ship Leo a few years ago and have opted for a top deck stateroom with balcony. More on this cruise later.

Sunday, 16 August 2009

Breed, Breed, Breed

The government's ongoing concern with the low birth rate which is less than the replacement ratio has once again come to the fore in the local media. It is one key reason given for allowing a large influx of foreigners into Singapore to drive the economy - a matter many Singaporeans feel very sensitive about.

To the outside observer and Singaporeans of a certain vintage, this problem appears largely of the government's own making. If one reads the history of social engineering from the 1960's onwards it becomes apparent the reluctance to breed was first triggered by a deliberate campaign to reduce population.

In those times parents who had more than two children were penalised and the incidence of abortion was high. Having a third child carried a stigma and financial cost.

Mui Teng Yap wrote an interesting paper on this subject entitled Fertility and Population Policy: the Singapore Experience in which he wrote " Singapore has long been known for its use of social policies to influence fertility/reproductive behaviour. This began in the late 1960s/early 1970s and continues to the present, although the demographic objective has changed from
anti-natalist to selectively pro-natalist. "

There was also great concerned that 'educated' Singaporeans were not breeding and the under classes were.

This changed in 1987 when the rule became "have three if you can afford them" but I suspect by then that the damage was done in that the cultural perceptions of what constituted a family had changed.

The current PM has four children, with the first born from his second marriage (Li Hongyi) also being born in 1987 according the to online biographies. His first wife tragically died of a heart attack during childbirth.

In 2004, "Dr Love" organised a TV show to encourage couples to have children but it did little good. In 2001 the Baby Bonus Scheme was introduced providing financial incentives but the Straits Times has just reported that even with a record bonus there has been little take up.

I wonder how the now elderly who wanted more children in the 1960's feel (and in particular those women who underwent abortions) when they see the current government efforts to increase the population through immigration?

As an aside, news also today that Minister Mentor's grandson Li Shengwu was named the top overall economics student across Oxford's 30 colleges. He has an excellent political and economics pedigree on both sides of the family- his maternal grandfather is economics professor Lim Chong Yah who also obtained his PhD from Oxford University.

Monday, 10 August 2009

Today's Culinary Hint - Village Smoked Chicken

We live not far from the Anchor Point Mall and on a Sunday often take the free bus from Queenstown MRT station to the mall. In the basement is a recently revamped food court and my favourite is the village smoked chicken from the Old Hong Kong Roast stall.

It is simply delicious as it is prepared in the traditional manner - smoked inside a claypot for maximum flavour.

The dessert stall is also very reasonable and their chendol is one of the best in terms of ingredients offered

Make Mine A Cookie

Yesterday Singapore celebrated its National Day. Two things happened which made it memorable.

Firstly we had televised National Day parade which was very well choreographed. The Military paraded with full colours and an impressive range of armaments were on view. Navy divers 'found and defused' a mine as part of the programme.

The mine in question looked suspiciously like the World War II variety. I remember seeing one of these lethal devices mounted on a concrete plinth in the northern Taranaki town of Mokau when I was a child - perhaps it remains there still?

Interestingly the first 'mines' was used by the Chinese as early as the 14th century. Needless to say I am not an expert on mines so perhaps mine design has remained the same these past fifty years and we were after all, viewing the object on television through the murky waters of the Marina Bay.

The colour and pageantry was impressive as was the fact that most of Singapore stopped at 8.22 pm to recite The National Pledge.

The second thing that happened yesterday was the pressing of our condo door bell. When I opened it, there stood the diminutive figure of our neighbour's eight year old daughter. Shyly we offered up a plastic container with some of her homemade cookies, baked under her mother's direction.

I was very touched by this gesture and can honestly say that in the three years that I have been here, this small offering meant more than any end of year bonus. It was a great way to celebrate National Day.

Saturday, 8 August 2009

Coughing Crows and the Little Red Dot

A crow coughed as it passed my window. At least it would have coughed had it been physically able to do so. The birds sweep down their highway from roost to food market, following the contours of the MRT lines.

Visibility of these lines is not the best with the Haze (i.e. pollution from Indonesian burn-off fires)reducing visibility and making it very difficult for anyone with respiratory conditions.

I cannot for the life of me understand why Singapore continues to donate tens of thousands of dollars to Indonesia for smoke sensing equipment, when Indonesian small holders and plantation owners blatantly disregard their own country's directives. The Indonesia government seem powerless, or unwilling, to effectively police their own laws.

A former Indonesian President B.J. Habibie once disparaging referred to Singapore as a "little red dot" and this sort of paternalistic attitude clearly persists.

Sunday, 2 August 2009

Another Day, Another Shopping Mall - Ion Opens

Bedlam in Basement 4

More sins of the flesh - Chocolat!

Time Out Under The Stairs

Sunday, 26 July 2009

Singapore HeritageFest

I want to give a big tick (to quote a local televsion advert that is running at the moment) to the National Heritage Board for their National HeritageFest.

At Vivo City yesterday we came across a booth and sound stage which was erected as part of the cultural celebration (Sound Stories). I picked up a couple of heritage trail booklets which are pictured above. They both are excellent productions; well written and each with an interesting trail map to follow.

There were a number of interesting snippets about places that my wife can remember from her early childhood. For example the New World Park which was very popular up until the mid 1950's and where one paid $1 for three dances with local women - and they only got 8 cents a dance to keep.

Apparently there were also some interesting cabaret acts including a stripper called Rose Chan who wrestled pythons as part of her show.

Python wrestling seems to have fallen out of favour here in Singapore I am pleased to report, but we are gearing up for a local election in 2010 or possibly before, which promising to even more entertaining.

Saturday, 25 July 2009

Kopitaim - Mee and You

Kopitaim - Vivo City....... Roger Smith
After a week of London "stodge" it's back to the hawker stalls of Singapore for some serious eating. Not that I didn't enjoy reverting to my former diet of roast beef and yorkshire pudding, but give me some hearty mee any day.

I am feeling mildy jet-lagged today after arriving back in Singapore last evening. My flights were delayed by electrical storms over Munich which closed the airport for an hour.

It was a fairly bumpy trip right the way through with turbulence over the Bay of Benga - this was not as a result of the curry I had eaten I hasten to add.

Tuesday, 21 July 2009

Pret A Manger

One of London's small pleasures - a lobster sandwich and mango smoothie from Pret A Manger - for less than
five pounds.

Monday, 20 July 2009

Say Cheese

There are many great mysteries in the world one of them being why London hotels, unlike their counterparts everywhere else in the world, do not provide a facecloth?

It is 6:15 on a money morning and my body clock has still not adjusted to the UK time zone after my 16 hours of flights from Singapore, Saturday evening and Sunday. I awoke at 3 am and dozed fitfully until 5:30.

The trip on Lufthansa from Singapore was interesting. The ability to sleep reclining on a business class seat made a lot of difference. The chef's fare had all of the classic German trimmings. I passed on the calf's cheek in brwon sauce and had a light meal instead.

We arrived in Munich ahead of time and I had a couple of hours to wait. It was here that I made another discovery.

The Lufthansa Lounge provided a nice breakfast of excellent breads and fresh fruit. I chose the latter - a large bowl of sliced and diced fruit. The adjacent bowl of thick yoghurt also looked inviting so several dollops of this were added on top.

Having found a table and had a mouthful of coffee, I turned to the fruit. My first mouthful told me that I had made a frightful mistake. The 'yoghurt' was in fact a cheese sauce which the Germans spread on their thick slices of black bread. Needless to say a fresh bowl of fruit was called for.

Back in the transit lounge I studied my travel companions-to-be. Sitting directly across from me was a buxom, bottle blonde fraulein reading her teenage fashion magazine. To her left was a dishevelled Britain. He and his luggage had a distinctly rumpled look. I am being charitable, as his suitcase was in fact filthy and, as it so proved, he had habits to match.

He had a partially eaten bag of sunflower seeds in his backpack which he withdrew from the depths of his dirty linen that were in the same bag. The bag had burst and so he spent the next ten minutes fossicking and digesting the spilt seeds that he rescued from the lining. Having completed this exercise he opened his small suitcase which revealed even more dirty washing.

We arrived at Heathrow a quarter of an hour earlier than scheduled which the pilot proudly proclaimed through the intercom. This impressed the Heathrow staff not a jot. Despite several calls from the cockpit no steps nor transport appeared on the apron. We had to wait for 15 minutes more in the aircraft cabin until Heathrow ground staff honoured us with their presence.

Welcome to London; they have a lot to learn from Changi airport.

Friday, 17 July 2009

Today's Print

Robinsons - July ........... Roger Smith 2009

Jakarta Hotel Bombings

News in this morning that the Ritz Carlton in Jakarta, where I stayed a couple of months ago (see this entry), has been attacked by Indonesian terrorists.

The hotel cafe where several people were killed is where I and my regional colleagues enjoyed our breakfasts when we attended our meeting there.

It is fairly sobering to consider that it could have been us amongst the dead and maimed - it is just luck that our visit did not coincide with this cold blooded act.

One Giant Step For Mankind, One Giant Step For SMRT

You may think I am referring to an event that took place forty years ago; the first men on the moon.

My train of thought however is focused on the more mundane - a step towards reclaiming the cleanliness of Singapore's public transport.

This week we have at last seen evidence of the local authorities cracking down on eating and drinking on the MRT and I hope they will extend this vigilance to other forms of transport such as buses.

While the rules have existed they have been quite frankly poorly policed, with inspectors only reacting after complaints have been made and not being proactive. At least I have never seen any such policing when I traveled.

When I took the MRT regularly each afternoon, it was necessary to run the gauntlet of ill-disciplined school children and itinerant labourers sitting on the carriage floor, sucking on drinking straws and munching on a variety of kueh kueh.

It would appear that I am not alone in applauding this renewed inspecting vigour. The general consensus is that citizen journalism has prodded the SMRT officers into action. Let us hope that this diligent approach is maintained.

And as to the other 'step for mankind' all those years ago; I remember listening and watching the moon landing unfold and realising for the first time how this journey meant we were no longer confined to one planet.

Tuesday, 7 July 2009

Puddle Jumping

It was 30 degrees at 5 pm in Taipei yesterday and children were jumping through fountains fully clothed to ward off the effects of the heat.

I am staying at Grand Hyatt which is opposite Taipei101 and a quick ten minutes stroll to the British Council where I spend my working day.

My fellow guests include the 158 strong Austalian cast of Phantom of the Opera who are opening their show here in a week's time. I sat next to the sound crew at breakfast and it reminded me of my days as a 'roadie' for the touring exhibition Te Maori in the late 1980's.

The Aussies thought I was an American from my accent - have I changed that much after three years in Singapore?

There is also a heavyweight US dignitary staying at this hotel although one never sees him or her.

How do I know this to be so? The heavy set suit brigade are in evidence with their earpieces and crackling intercoms.

One of the security detail breakfasted alongside me yesterday; a large and well muscled black American. He received a summons which saw him drop his walkie talkie and then quickly abandon his breakfast and hurry off to his duties. Indigestion is clearly one of the less known trials of an ex-marine.

As to the hotel itself, the service is excellent and the decor a little tired but well maintained. I am on the 8th floor, having refused my first room on the 14th which smelt of residual cigarette smoking despite the fact that the entire hotel is smoke free. The is a recurring problem in Asia where Chinese tourists and businessmen point blank refuse to follow the non-smoking rules.

Today I am at the British Council for a second round of meetings and presentations. I shall return to Singapore tomorrow.

Thursday, 2 July 2009

Not Not, Not Responsible

One has to feel sorry for the civic-minded taxi driver at Changi airport. Mindful of the H1N1 flu swirling around him, he donned a surgical mask to protect himself and his passengers from any possible cross infection.

Unfortunately this act of social responsibility proved entirely counter productive. Upon opening the back door and spotting the masked driver, his potential customers made an incorrect assumption that he was suffering from the pestilence, recoiled in horror and scurried off to find another cab.

The driver's preparedness to protect his passengers and himself is highly commendable. Unfortunately he had incorrectly assumed that other Singaporean were as responsible as he.

I travel on public transport and our bus drive this week has been punctuated by the sounds of sniffles and chesty coughs. Not a protective mask was in sight I hasten to add. This poor public attitude would not be tolerated in Japan, where the culture of wearing a protective mask when ill is firmly entrenched.

The government has been attempting to educate the population to be more socially responsible but the message is clearly not getting through when it comes to public transport.

What is happening is that parents are keeping their precious children well away from public gatherings and the streets are also much quieter than usual.

The organisers of the Asian Youth Games which are being held in Singapore must be cursing their luck. Not only have they hit by the economic downturn but the much hoped for supportive crowds of Singaporeans have not eventuated. One can blame H1N1 for this non attendance.

Saturday, 27 June 2009

Yam Sale

Yam Sale - Roger Smith - July 2009

A Queenstown Evening

The woman with no teeth was vigorously gumming a bread roll as she walked towards us past the Kings Icecream cart.

At this time of the early evening the baker at the Queenstown MRT discounts his baking, in an attempt to clear the shelves before nightfall.

Early evening is a pleasant time for a stroll, as the fierceness of the tropical sun has largely dissipated and local residents take the cooling air, emerging from the nearby HDB estates.

There are the Indians in their ruby red saris with ornate gold trimming, Malay women walking in groups; their head covered in deference to their religion and bow -egged Chinese bachelors heading to the food hawker stalls for a meal or to wile away the hours talking over a cup of the local three-in-one coffee.

And there was us, making our way back from a quick jaunt to the Queenstown Public Library. We are well served in this regard and the library is well patronised, staying open as it does until nine in the evening.

The air is freshened by a gentle breeze and the smell of fried fish and spices tempts the nostrils. Not even the sound of the passing MRT trains at regular interval intrudes upon the contemplation of another day passing.

Saturday, 20 June 2009

Of Subs And Skum

News this week that the Singapore navy has two new submarines being fitted out in Europe and due for arrival in the new year.

This came as news to me as I wasn't even aware that they had a submarine fleet. Scarcely surprising given the secretive nature of the Service.

The secrecy is quite unlike that experience a few years ago by the Australian Navy when they proudly launched their own home-grown fleet. Unfortunately the propulsion units must have been developed by a diesel mechanics from Wagga Wagga and were an abysmal failure.

They were so noisy that when in motion it was reminiscent of dragging a bridal set of tin cans across the ocean floor, rather defeating the requirement for operations by stealth.

Singapore Archer class subs. ( the abbreviation for submarine, as opposed to the more popular Subway breadrolls consumed in their thousands each day for rabid Singaporean teenagers) are in fact not new but refitted and upgraded version of a Swedish vessel.

It is a little known fact that the Swedes have been playing around in submarine for 100 years. Their other claim to fame are Ikea meatballs, which have got noticeably smaller in recent times.

Once the size of a billiard ball they now resemble '
tom-bowler' marbles. I tried them once but found them bland compared to the New Zealand home variety. The Ikea version are very popular in Singapore, ranked second to the deep fried chicken wings which are consumed with great gusto.

I always enjoy looking at packaging in other languages. Ikea's product line has some interesting titles such as the package of marshmallow mushrooms (above). Anything with 'skum' in it holds little appeal to me.

Knowing how clever the Singaporeans are at bargaining I suspect a year's supply of meatballs has been negotiated as part of the submarine Archer refit deal.

Tuesday, 16 June 2009

A Hard Rain's A-Gonna Fall

Actually is has, but not in a Dylan-esque manner.

Following three weeks of high temperatures and humidity the last couple of days have brought a welcome respite. The sound of thunder drawing ever nearer is most welcome although some times the heavens are all sound and no action.

Not so this morning, when we had a refreshing rain and the temperature during the night had dropped to a relatively comfortable 25 degrees.

The is the time that many of my colleagues from Britain head home for their summer holidays. The few Kiwis that head south on vacation do so with some trepidation, as the winter temperatures in New Zealand will take some getting used to after Singapore.

My job means that I will be confined to travel in East Asia for the next few months; Taipei early July followed by Tokyo mid-August. Their summers are renowned for heat but I am hoping that three years in Singapore has acclimatised me to such extremes.

Mojave Desert - from the shady side of the bus

I recall a trip from Los Angeles to Las Vegas where our bus broke down in the middle of the Mojave desert (above). Now that was hot, but it was a dry heat not the energy-sapping Singapore variety which we have been experiencing for most of June.