Tuesday, 28 December 2010

Map Updates

I have started updating my map of Singapore based on past blog posts and experiences.  It includes my various forays into Malaysia.

View Singapore Sojourn in a larger map

It is also nice to record that this rambling discourse has recorded 17,000 visits that came from 125 countries during 2010, including Liechtenstein.

Monday, 27 December 2010

Gone Fishing

Blue Kelong.Image by Reggie Wan via FlickrWe braved the Boxing Days sales yesterday in our local town centre. For once they reminded me of the till queues experienced in the good old days of the Robinsons Sale; a Singapore institution.

The origins of 'Boxing Day' are believed to come from the practice of the British rich distributing their largesse to the luckless poor, thereby accentuating still further the class divisions of the times.

In large households the servants were expected to work on Xmas Day and were compensated by being allowed to take the next day off.  Their masters gave them a box and based on their performance over the year, varying sums of money which were placed inside the box.

Am I alone in spotting the similarity of this Victorian custom with the annual performance bonus which features so largely in Singaporean working lives?

This year we have had the "Boxing Day" sales a week or two before the actual day as the New Zealand retailers desperately canvas for customers.

Unlike Singapore which has recorded respectable economic growth despite the recession, New Zealand has very narrowly avoided a 'double-dip recession', a term which may sound like a chocolate dipped NZ icecream but is in reality far less palatable.

The Singapore government's tight stewardship during the economic turbulence is to be commended and the results are for all to see.

As a trading nation far for its markets and with a strong dollar against our major trading partners, New Zealand has some major economic challenges.  This has not be helped by the past excesses of the welfare state.

Despite the gloom and doom, sport remains high on the list of leisure pursuits in this country and with the traditional summer holidays upon us, many New Zealanders head to the beach.

Fishing is a very popular activity with local television channels featuring fishing shows and the customers purchasing cut-price rods and reels in the Boxing Day sales.

I have very fond memories of this sport with fly fishing for trout as well as rod fishing off the rocks for a catch from the sea featuring in my past.  I have done neither in recent years but the thrill of the catch is still a fond memory.

Source: Straits Times
In Singapore the fishing experience is somewhat different and I must discount fishing for one's supper at a local prawn farm.

Travelling to a raised platform called a kelong is a preferred method and nowadays with few of the Singapore kelongs remaining, Singaporeans go across to Malaysia for their sport.

Boxing Day was not a good day for Singaporean fishermen with the news that three of them drowned and another two were missing returning by ferry from a kelong in Pulau Sibu, off Mersing.

As per usual, the problem was a grossly overloaded ferry which capsized in strong winds and a treacherous current near the Tanjung Leman jetty.

Ferry capsizes in South East Asia happen with monotonous regularity, especially in the Philippines and Indonesia were maritime rules are flouted in a grab for more profit.

Malaysian incidents are fewer but do occur and arresting the captain and boat operator post-event is not going to curb such negligence.

Is prawning fishing?

Meanwhile back on land, hedonistic spending ensures that the mall tills continue to jingle a happy tune.

Crowds are returning to the Singapore malls with Vivo City recording a million more visitors compared to the same period last year and their security staff remain vigilant for any kind of misdemeanor.

According to the Straits Times, pickpockets, shoplifters and even molesters enjoy the festive season. Here in Auckland the 'molesters' usually make the malls off limits but shoplifting has always been a problem.

Both countries though enjoy a good deal and in Singapore the newly Groupon-acquired site Deal.com crashed under the weight of bargain hunters.

Even then, the online option is probably safer than venturing out?

Boxing Day in our southern city of Christchurch was an eventful one with a series of earthquake after-shocks rattling customers and the shelves that were groaning under the weight of bargains.
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Sunday, 26 December 2010

The Joys Of Flying

This new BBC Comedy series "Come Fly With Me" looks a lot of fun.

And don't forget to try out the "Online Check In" with Melody and take a visit to the Passengers Lounge.

Thursday, 23 December 2010

PC Xmas Wishes

I wanted to send some sort of holiday greeting to my colleagues, but it is difficult in today's world to know exactly what to say without offending someone. So I met with my lawyer yesterday, and on his advice I wish to say the following:

Please accept with no obligation, implied or implicit, my best wishes for an environmentally conscious, socially responsible, low stress , non addictive, gender neutral celebration of the summer solstice holiday practiced with the most enjoyable traditions of religious persuasion or secular practices of your choice with respect for the religious / secular persuasions and / or traditions of others, or their choice not to practice religious or secular traditions at all.

I also wish you a fiscally successful, personally fulfilling and medically uncomplicated recognition of the onset of the generally accepted calendar year 2011, but not without due respect for the calendar of choice of other cultures whose contributions to society have helped make our country great ( not to imply that New Zealand is necessarily greater than any other country ) and without regard to the race, creed, colour, age, physical ability, religious faith or sexual preference of the wisher.

By accepting this greeting, you are accepting these terms:

This greeting is subject to clarification or withdrawal. It is freely transferable with no alteration to the original greeting. It implies no promise by the wisher to actually implement any of the wishes for her / him or others and is void where prohibited by law, and is revocable at the sole discretion of the wisher. The wish is warranted to perform as expected within the usual application of good tidings for a period of one year or until the issuance of a new wish at the sole discretion of the wisher.

Best Regards ( without prejudice )

Name withheld ( Privacy Act )

Wednesday, 22 December 2010

Today's Print

Condo - Roger Smith 2010
The view from our outside balcony in Queen's Condo, Singapore with its stark structural elements.

Tuesday, 21 December 2010

Let It Snow, Let It Snow

Photo: Eustaquio Santimano
When I think of Christmas I think of the lights of Orchard Road as they used to be ten or twenty years ago.  In recent years the lighting has been a 'shadow' of what it used to be.

The impact of satellite malls has made themselves felt.  This year will be the first time in five years that I will not be experiencing a Singapore Xmas.  Even a watered down version of Orchard Road lighting is better than the limp affair in New Zealand cities.

This wasn't always the case but as the spirit of the festive season has been steadily eroded by commercial greed and avarice, the little personal touches have been lost.

At least in Singapore the shops stay open on Christmas Day. In Auckland as happens elsewhere in New Zealand, everything comes to a grinding halt.  This enforced break used to last for up to three days but thankfully now the supermarkets reopen on Boxing Day and the Boxing Day sales in the Antipodes remain a feature.

If we are into commercialism at Xmas let's go the whole way!

We have had two weeks of steady rain which has broken the back of the drought we were experiencing earlier in the month.  While in Singapore the weather is cooler and wetter, here the weather is warmer and should be drier from December to February.

Our news is full of Kiwis stranded at Heathrow airport in the UK who will not be making it back to Godzone for the Xmas reunion with family. 

According to a BBC report, Heathrow can only afford one runway sweeping machine to clear the snow and ice, so departure delays are expected to continue for some time.

Having experienced the diabolical atmosphere and attitude of Heathrow on more than one occasion I am not surprised by this news.  Such unpreparedness would simply not be tolerated at Changi.

Perhaps the Brits could try amusing passengers stranded in the terminals by adopting the Bangladeshi approach to entertainment?

Dhaka's Shahjalal International inadvertently screened a pornographic film for a full five minutes before anyone realised what was happening. The presentation replaced their usual recorded documentaries about the culture and geography.

Things like Heathrow's service levels may never change but other things can change a lot.

Take the recent activity in my Singapore 'home town' district of Queenstown, an older estate in the Republic.  Apparently the locals have taken to divesting themselves of their garments if this report is to be believed.

The heat at the bus stops used to get to me, but I was never tempted to strip.  Apparently the gentleman concerned couldn't understand why he was not getting "fries with everything" when he divested himself of his gear at McDonalds.

Try doing that in the UK at the moment!
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Monday, 20 December 2010

A New Fitness Regime?

An American Adaptation

Maybe Singapore could adopt some of these for the malls?  At least in Chinatown they don't try to camouflage the stairways like this.

Friday, 17 December 2010

Problem Posties

I have learnt over time that the Chinese view the properties of food differently to Europeans.  Certain foods are "heaty" and others cool the body.

While this may seem strange to those brought up on a western diet, the balance of foods is deemed to be criticial for continuing good health.

The Cantonese seem to have more food taboos than other dialects but I am prepared to be corrected.  One of my favourites relates to foods that should not be consumed because they give one wind.  Bamboo shoots are forwned upong by some.

The Cantonese produce a post-natal dish of chicken with ginger wine which is consumed from the first week of a confinement period. Reportedly it protects the stomach, promotes blood circulation, helps to ward off coldness and dispels 'wind' in the body.

The Cantonese classification of food explains why certain foods are taken and why they have paid so much attention to the body's reaction to the ingestion of various types.

Hakka, Teochew, Fuzhou and Nyonya all have their own variations of confinement dishes with the Peranakan  dishes being more spicy than some.

Beans have a universal and deservedly notorius reputation for gas production. Carbohydrates in some foods which can not be broken down and absorbed in the intestine are the problem.

In New Zealand it would appear that we have a different approach to  the problem of wind; we sack people.

A farting postie has failed to get his job back.  He apparently falsified his time sheets as he had to make a lot more toilet stops than most.  His Ying Yang balance was clearly out of kilter but maybe his defence should have been that he was 'full of beans"?
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Monday, 13 December 2010

Today's Print

Dancing Pipe  ......................................  Roger Smith  12/2010

I took a walk around our Mews development today and came across this water pipe which the builders are still using.

Sunday, 12 December 2010

Entente Not So Cordiale

Logo used by Wikileaks"Big fat red faces for Singapore leaders" thundered the Sydney Morning Herald this morning.  Naturally this got my curiousity going.

A too strong laksa perhaps?  No I was mistaken.

It proved to be the frank assessment by Singaporean diplomats of their ASEAN and Asian neighbours as (apparently) revealed in cables leaked to WikiLeaks.

The Straits Time's headline for the same news item was undertandably more subdued - "S'pore diplomats on region".

Which ever way one chooses to deliver it, the cable contents are embarassing and at variance to the public persona displayed, and public announcements made, by the ASEAN membership.

As I wrote in a recent article on the Digital Consultant blog, the WikiLeaks saga has "proved without doubt, the duplicity of diplomacy; what has been said publically is often at complete variance to what is being shared in private."

While privately many Singaporeans may agree with the sentiment that "Malaysia's "dangerous" decline is fuelled by incompetent politicians, Thailand is dogged by corruption and a "very erratic" crown prince, Japan is a "big fat loser" and India is ''stupid''" very few, if any, would say so publically.

What these revelations have done to the "binding spirit" of ASEAN, one can only imagine.

To cap off a week of diplomatic misery comes the news that there is a be a second and competing site, created by former WikiLeaks collaborators who are less than enchanted with Julian Assange.

This one is to be called 'OpenLeaks'.

..... and with Xmas in mind, Santa's cables and WikiLeaks
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Friday, 10 December 2010

A Hole In Geylang

Stories in the Republic must be few and far between if a pothole occupies the minds of Singaporean media; albeit a growing subsidence.

At a time when the world is focussing on student anarchy in Britain, the arraignment of WikiLeak's founder Julian Assange and the "Not So Nobel Prize", it is hard to see why a hole in Geylang should prove attractive?

Subsidence is after all not something new in Singapore.  The MRT and road tunnelling has produced subsidences in the past that have been far more spectacular.

In June of 2008 Marina Boulevard developed a five metre wide despression to the consternation of some citizens.

I have always marvelled at the levels of tunnels in the MRT especially where the various lines intersected at stations. Quite an engineering achievement.

In New Zealand we specialise in large holes which people through money into.  In most parts of the world  these are called ponzi schemes and just yesterday, a couple were charged with fleecing Kiwis out of $15 million.

These are minor glitches if one compares the 10 per cent of the entire stock of US currency on this planet which is unusable after printing problems in manufacture produced defective notes.  They are the also first bills to have Preident Obama's signature on them which is not exactly a good omen for the future.

A small hole in Geylang doesn't seem so bad after all.
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Wednesday, 8 December 2010

Today's Print - Magnolia

Magnolia ..................................................................... Roger Smith  12 / 2010

Tuesday, 7 December 2010

Igniting The Passions

Bak Kut Teh herbs
Bak Kut Teh Herbs
Radio advertising holds little attraction to me; it is a necessary evil that happens between the playing of tracks that I remember from my distant past.

CoastFM here in Auckland plays music I can sing along to and many of the the tunes I used to play in bands in my youth.

There are two recurring adverts that seem to monopolise the airways.  The first is a sexual potency product with the stimulating name of "Herbal Ignite". The second is is a concrete mould and gunge remover called "Wet and Forget".

I can't help but wonder what would happen if the courier van got the deliveries of these two products mixed up?  Very quick growing mould no doubt, or.......?

The copyrighting for the first product's radio advert is mildy amusing with references to satisfied wives and 'big boy'.  Wet and Forget extols the virtues of easy application and guaranteed performance -  somewhat similar to the Ignite I would have thought.

Ignite is New Zealand made and attempts to capitalise on the greener aspects of the country  - "produced in an environment famous world-wide for its pristine mountains and forests, and unpolluted air and water, free from pesticide or heavy metal contamination".

Wet and Forget's web site boasts a green superhero whose aim it is to eliminate the "Muggers of Mossville".

While I rarely listened to commercial radio in Singapore, I hazard a guess that very few of their advertisments were for sexual stimulants, unless one counts Tiger Balm, which is best kept for sprains and bruises.

Tiger Balm has an interesting history having originated from a herbalist of the Imperial Court who set up shop in Burma.  His two sons bought the ointment to Singapore at the beginning of the 20th century.

It is the other parts of the tiger that are meant to turn wimps into studs, but these potions are to be found in Chinatown, not on the radio.
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Saturday, 4 December 2010

Chop Chop!

My staple diet in Singapore was rice in its many and varied forms. Something I should add that I thoroughly enjoyed, even though my diet has now changed again and a knife and fork is called for in New Zealand.

Chop sticks were the utensil of choice in Singapore and I mastered these many years ago, so felt completely at home in any foodcourt or kopitaim.

How I wish though that we had been able to use some of the new adaptions of the humble chopstick:

The combination glasses and chopsticks set may have many virtues but I have yet to think of one.

Then of course we had the HDB-inspired combination of clothes peg and chopsticks.  I can envisage these anchoring washing on the bamboo poles that sprouted from the upper stories of the HDB blocks.

Finally we have a nifty design which is both a sauce dispenser and chopstick set

A quick squeeze of the chopsticks and a squirt of soy sauce embellishes the dish.  Struggling with a piece of kampong chicken might result in an overdose of the sticky black fluid but this is clearly a minor inconvenience.

It is truly remarkable what the human mind can dream up in moments of complete idleness!
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Friday, 3 December 2010

Their Cup Runneth Over

TOKYO. President Putin on a tatami at the Kodo...
President Putin working out
We all knew that Australia's bid to host a future World Cup was doomed when they trotted out a severely plasticised Crocodile Dundee as part of their promotion. Most people could understand Elle McPherson's presence but a botoxed Paul Hogan was a step too far.

By comparison, the 'Alpha Male' remained in his Moscow lair, secure in the knowledge that Russia had its bid in the bag.

There was no need for Mr Putin to follow the steady stream of ex-Presidents, Prime Ministers and nuptial-contemplating Royals to FIFA's European headquarters.

Money talks when it comes to football's governing board and little else matters. Recent corruption allegations should have reinforced this understanding and people delude themselves if they think otherwise.

It is not just football; witness the recent debacle of the Commonwealth Games in India.

The reality of all of these global sporting events is that it is a select number of multi-nationals who make money out of them and these corporations and individuals are not really worried where an event is staged.

Sure, there is political kudos for those who win the right to stage a world sporting event but the real financial returns are few and far between, if at all.

It is highly debatable that the common man reaps any economic benefit at all from global events being staged in their country.

Usually there is a huge PR spin during the bidding process to sell the idea to the country and an equal amount of professional justification to cover up the real financial numbers at an event's conclusion.

Those countries such as China and Russia who can marshall the resources of a nation with little fear of a public backlash, will continue to stage "successful" sporting events.
Others should count themsleves lucky that, in these times of economic uncertainty, their bids for the FIFA world cup hosting were unsuccessful.

Related articles
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Wednesday, 1 December 2010

Flabby Old Men?

The latest revelations from Wikileaks is very much in peoples minds and they are causing huge embarrassment for the States.

While MM is renown for his straight talking on any subject, I think he will be very displeased to see a private conversation about the North Korean leader being aired across the Net.
The Guardian has the full text of the communication posted on its web site.  If you read the memorandum in entirety it would seem to me to be a frank and fairly astute assessment of the political machinations of North Korea and the perspective of China.

"The next leader may not have the gumption or the bile of his father or grandfather. He may not be prepared to see people die like flies. China is calculating all this. They have their best men on the job. They want to help the United States to advance common objectives. But they do not want the South to take over the North, MM Lee said"

Sunday, 28 November 2010

Heat and Dust

Heat and Dust - Roger Smith  11/2010
Click on image to see larger photo
Yesterday I could hear the roar of a crowd echoing around our neighbourhood. This is a rare occurrence and I decided to investigate.

Three blocks away is a park and it transpired that two enthusiastic gridiron teams were slugging it out in the heat and dust.

Gridiron has a small following in New Zealand where the predominant codes are rugby and rugby league.  Most of the practicioners are Polynesians with a few displaced Yanks making up the team.

The ground is already rock hard as summer has come early to Auckland.and their protective gear was put to good use in every bone-crunching tackle.

The rules of the Amercian game remain a mystery to me, and to most of those on the sideline.
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Thursday, 25 November 2010

It Pays To Advertise

There is much debate in the Singapore media about the new design of the men's water polo team's swimming togs.

An unfortunate juxstapostion of the crescent moon and the bodily location has got the government agency in charge of communications buzzing:

The Ministry of Information, Communication and the Arts (Mica), which governs the use of the national flag, revealed that the team did not seek its advice or approval for the design.

'We would have told them that their design is inappropriate as we want elements of the flag to be treated with dignity. This is because many Singaporeans recognise these elements as representing the Singapore flag,' said Ms Carol Tan, director of Mica's resilience and marketing division.

Manhood and virility were key elements of a popular water polo base drama that played on Singapore's television but real life emulating art is a step too far for some.

The designers who were meant to have the flag elements placed more to the side than full frontal clearly misundertstood their brief, or should that be briefs?
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Pike River Requiem

Its a cool, crisp dawn with a strong New Zealand sun emerging to dominate an intense blue sky.

And it's a dawn that will not be shared by twenty nine of my fellow countrymen.  They have been interred in a West Coast coal mine this past week, only to be confirmed as dead late yesterday when a second gas explosion ripped through the Pike River mine.

The West Coasters of this country are no strangers to such tragedies, and mining, upon which much of their economy relies, is centred on high quality, gaseous coal seams.  It's a lucrative but dangerous occupation.

While there have been some recriminations that the police were over cautious in not allowing a rescue operation early on, most would regard these statements as ill founded.

The advice of old miners is that the best time to effect a rescue is straight after a blast, as the gasses have been dispersed.

This could well be true, but testing of the gas content of the mine showed that the level remained extreme and the risks of a rescue were just too high.

Whatever the truth about the rescue approach the incident has reached a terrible conclusion.  New Zealand is a small country and we share the mining families grief.

Mention must be made of Peter Whittall, the CEO of the mine and an Australian who earned a very rare round of applause from the assembled media, at the end of a gruelling press conference in which he announced the second deadly explosion.

His face grew more noticeably haggard by the day and yet he never waivered from the job he had to do, communicating with the families and the media.  He has earned the enormous respect in this country.

The tragedy that has unfolded over the week has has etched itself into the psyche of New Zealanders and today flags will be flown at half mast throughout the nation.
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Monday, 22 November 2010

Nothing New Under The Sun

One of our local supermarkets has an irritating television advert playing at the moment.  It consists of people converting vegetables and then playing them in a poor rendition of a NZ classic pop song.

While boring at least the idea had a degree of novelty, or at least so I thought, until I discovered this CBS news item.

Vienna's Vegetable Orchestra plays concerts in all over the world and they even have their own website.  This is not a novelty act. They are committed to " the further exploration and refinement of performable vegetable music is a central part of the orchestra's aesthetic quest".

I never had aspirations to play the courgette.  Classical pianoforte training followed by a misspent youth playing in rock bands  was music enough for my ears.

The New Zealand advertisement and its orchestral clone can be seen in the clip below.

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Monday, 15 November 2010

To Everything There Is A Season

One of my best friends rang me a couple of days ago with news that he has to have a heart bypass operation.

This news came out of the blue and was hard to equate with a very fit individual, who is at least a decade younger than I.

Not that I am induly worried, as such operations these days are realtively common and I have every confidence that he will pull through just fine.

However it does make one pause and reflect on the transcient nature of life.  As the song says:

"To Everything
There is a season
And a time to every purpose, under Heaven"

It would seem that this phrase, adapted from the book of Ecclesiastes,  also applies to some of the natural heritage landmarks of Singapore.

The Mandai gardens are a botanical site of some historic interest if only for the fact that they were established by one John Laycock in 1951.  It is Singapores' oldest commercial orchid garden and is about to close as its lease will soon expire.

My Laycock's other claim to fame is that he gave Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew his first job, and an early taste of politics when he acted as an election agent for Mr Laycock and his pro-British Singapore Progressive Party (SPP).

Panorama of Mandai Orchid Gardens supplied by Panoramic Earth

While no doubt there is degree of sadness that these gardens will close, the hard reality is that they are a commercial operation in a country where land is at a premium.  The Mandai operation has clearly seen better times, and patronage is down on what it was during the garden's hey day.

Any heritage value needs to be measured against the Botanic Gardens which are with doubt a national treasure of international significance.  Can the same be said for Mandai Gardens, whatever the tenuous linkages the orchid garden has with M.M.?  I suspect not.

Saturday, 13 November 2010

Pudding Discrimination

"Run, run, as fast as you can.
You can't catch me!
I'm the Gingerbread Man!" 

But catch up with him they did; the absurdity of human beings at times being simply mind boggling!

A politically correct Lancashire council have stripped Gingerbread biscuits stripped of their gender and renamed them gingerbread 'persons' on menus for 400 primary schools, leaving parents astonished about the change.

According to a report in Indian media the wording went out on the new autumn-winter weekly menu provided by the Lancashire School Meals Service.

Little wonder that spoofs of political correctness have been popular on the Net.  One of my favourites is the Politically Correct Little Red Riding Hood which commences:

" There once was a young person named Little Red Riding Hood who lived on the edge of a large forest full of endangered owls and rare plants that would probably provide a cure for cancer if only someone took the time to study them.

Red Riding Hood lived with a nurture giver whom she sometimes referred to as "mother", although she didn't mean to imply by this term that she would have thought less of the person if a close biological link did not in fact exist.

Nor did she intend to denigrate the equal value of nontraditional households, although she was sorry if this was the impression conveyed.

Reading the full story is worth the effort.

And many of our more cherished festivals do not escape a ribbing either.  With Chrismas almost upon us I reproduce the Politically Correct Santa.

'Twas the night before Christmas and Santa's a wreck...
How to live in a world that's politically correct?

His workers no longer would answer to "Elves,"
"Vertically Challenged" they were calling themselves.

And labour conditions at the North Pole
Were alleged by the union to stifle the soul.

Four reindeer had vanished, without much propriety,
Released to the wilds by the Humane Society.

And equal employment had made it quite clear
That Santa had better not use just reindeer.

So Dancer and Donner, Comet and Cupid,
Were replaced with 4 pigs, and you know that looked stupid!

The runners had been removed from his sleigh;
The ruts were termed dangerous by the E.P.A.

And people had started to call for the cops
When they heard sled noises on their roof-tops.

Second-hand smoke from his pipe had his workers quite frightened.
His fur-trimmed red suit was called "Unenlightened."

And to show you the strangeness of life's ebbs and flows,
Rudolf was suing over unauthorized use of his nose .

And had gone on Geraldo, in front of the nation,
Demanding millions in over-due compensation.

So, half of the reindeer were gone; and his wife,
Who suddenly said she'd enough of this life,

Joined a self-help group, packed, and left in a whiz,
Demanding from now on her title was Ms.

And as for the gifts, why, he'd ne'er had a notion
That making a choice could cause so much commotion.

Nothing of leather, nothing of fur,
Which meant nothing for him. And nothing for her.

Nothing that might be construed to pollute.
Nothing to aim. Nothing to shoot.

Nothing that clamoured or made lots of noise.
Nothing for just girls. Or just for the boys.

Nothing that claimed to be gender specific.
Nothing that's war-like or non-pacific.

No candy or sweets...they were bad for the tooth.
Nothing that seemed to embellish a truth.

And fairy tales, while not yet forbidden,
Were like Ken and Barbie, better off hidden.

For they raised the hackles of those psychological
Who claimed the only good gift was one ecological.

No baseball, no football...someone could get hurt;
Besides, playing sports exposed kids to dirt.

Dolls were said to be sexist, and should be passé;
And Nintendo would rot your entire brain away.

So Santa just stood there, dishevelled, perplexed;
He just could not figure out what to do next.

He tried to be merry, tried to be gay,
But you've got to be careful with that word today.

His sack was quite empty, limp to the ground;
Nothing fully acceptable was to be found.

Something special was needed, a gift that he might
Give to all without angering the left or the right.

A gift that would satisfy, with no indecision,
Each group of people, every religion;

Every ethnicity, every hue,
Everyone, everywhere...even you.

So here is that gift, its price beyond worth...
"May you and your loved ones enjoy peace on earth
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Tuesday, 9 November 2010

The Running Bug

Cool ironman
Iron Man
A couple of my Singaporean friends have caught the running bug; an infestation of the mind that quickly consumes all other waking passions.

It usually starts innocuously enough. A glance in a  slimming magazine. a cycle down one of the new scenic walkways or an early evening jog, when the air has been freshened after the tropical rains.

Regrettably though this habit soon escalates to 10 kilometre races, full marathons and eventually ironman events.  To achieve these more lofty goals these hardy souls take to running around McRitchie Reservoir.

A blame this malady firmly at the feet of Expats who have brought this habit to Singapore with them.   They have been known to congregate in groups with names such as Hash House Harriers.

Don't be put off by the florid red faces of such individuals as once the endorphins have kicked in all sanity goes out the window. You may think that all of this activity is healthy; not so.

Singapore's National Servicemen in training were dropping like flies due to the heat and motor exertion, much to the consternation of their parents.  If there basic training was like mine from early days then they would have been running from dawn till dusk.

The government has heeded parental concern and acknowledged the rise of the couch potato by recently announcing that they would be tweaking the Individual Physical Proficiency Test (IPPT).  The voluntary five week fitness programme has been expanded to nine months.

Bugs of a different kind have been occupying the minds of US hoteliers as they face an increasing number of lawsuits.  The bug in question is the bed bug, which has even taken up residence in New York's Waldorf Astoria.

Singapore and Malaysia can lay claim to a more edifying honour.  They have the largest bug in the world.  In terms of length the South East Asian female Walking Stick bug with the largest recorded being a staggering 21.8".

And speaking of staggering, its time to contemplate the possibility of an evening run.
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Sunday, 7 November 2010

Mind The Coconuts

Security is taken seriously in Asia.  Witness the elaborate details surrounding the US President's current visit to India.

According to a media report several days before President Obama's visit  "U.S. and Indian security officials visited the small two-story building and ordered the looping off of ripe coconuts from the trees to prevent any accidental bonking".

Clearly the report is US-centric as the term "bonking" has an entirely different connotation in Europe.

Having witnessed at first hand the elaborate security measures that surrounded the visit of then President Clinton to a museum I worked for, this lopping coconuts comes as no surprise.

Menawhile in New delhi an enterprising Indian designer has taken to converting Michelle Obama printed shopping bags into sets of conversation pillows. 

She claims she has made the pillows because she considers the first lady an "inspirational icon," but her ulterior motive is to lure her into the store to present her with a set.  No doubt this will generate a lot of free publicity for her design studio.

The Indian twittershpere has been sharing their humorous insights of the tour. 

One wit has noted that the twitter term "Air Force One" has been ranking higher than the President's name, causing him to comment "Air Force One is in trending while Obama is not, so his carrier overtakes his career".

Much has also been made of Obama's anticipated visit to the Golden Temple in Amritsar. One twitter user is sure the US president will never visit Bangalore.

"Those buggers will make him outsource his presidency, that too at $10/Man Hour," he tweeted.

Thursday, 4 November 2010


The staple of the 'Great British Stodge', fish and chips has just celebrated its 150th birthday.  Even Charles Dickens referred to a "fried fish warehouse" in 1838, in Oliver Twist.

The history of fish and chips makes interesting reading in Wikipedia.  Apparently a 13-year-old, Joseph Malin, is credited with dreaming up the idea of selling chips and battered fish to the poor of the West End.

Digestion of this fatty food is not limited to the UK however.  Here in New Zealand we munch our way through seven million servings of chips a week (yes that's a week!).

In the Kiwi venacular the food is known as "greasies" which, given the high fat content, will surprise no one.

Swallows At Dusk

As I sit at our dining table I can watch the antics of a pair of swallows as they flit back and forth from their nest, under the eaves of the neighbouring two storey house.

They are industrious birds, diving to catch an evening meal at dusk when the security light blinks on attracting insects.

It is a quiet contemplative time of day when anglers perch hidden on the side of riverbanks waiting for the evening rise of nymphs and mayflies. The air stills and all is silent.

The swallows were also active around our Queens condo in Singapore and on the eighth floor we were on a similar level to their flight path.

There the evening was far from quiet with the steady hum of traffic down Commonwealth Avenue. Not that I found this disturbing as one quickly adjusts to the level of ambient sound, at least that is the perception.

Coming back to New Zealand though is also returning to the realisation of what true quiet really is.

Early morning is the same in its solitude, with the dawn chorus of assorted native birds, blackbirds and thrushes in fine voice.

In Singapore it was the call of night birds that were the most memorable but even they receded into acoustic familiarity as time went by.

As I watch, the Botany Downs swallows continue their restless trajectory. Once the artificial light dims they too will return to roost.

The Indian grandmother, whose family own the shop house above the nesting birds, pulls in the last washing of the day and the sound of a strengthening night wind can be heard as the quiet time passes.

Tuesday, 2 November 2010

Flowering Rata

Rata, Howick  ............................................................................   Roger Smith
The other day I came across a pair of Tui singing high up in the branches of a flowering rata tree.  The tree in question is at the rear of the Howick Library and I was determined to return and photograph it.

Not a tui in sight when I did so.  However I managed to use it as the inspiration for this art print.

Monday, 1 November 2010

Auckland's New Chinatown

Most large cosmopolitan populations in the Asia Pacific region have significant Chinese populations and Auckland is no exceception.

In the Howick / Botany area of South Auckland we have scattered clusters of Chinese, Korean and other Asian businesses and eateries.  These though could never have been deemed to be a "Chinatown" in the true sense of the word.

However this has now changed and a large warehosue building that used to house Bunnings hardware store in Ti Takau Road has been converted into our first officially designated Chinatown.

On the day we we visited only half of the stalls were occupied and the vendors were selling cheap tat or fashion garments.

There was a pervading feeling that many of the stall holders will be lucky to survive the next six months but I sincerely hope that I am proved wrong as the city needs cultural centres such as this.

Singapore's Chinatown remains one of the best I have experienced. Sydney's is so-so and San Francisco's a big disappointment.
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Cockle Bay and Howick Beach

Pohutukawa Cockle Bay
Yesterday we went for a drive to look at the beaches closest to our house.  These are on the other side of Howick, namely Howick Beach, Mellons Bay and Cockle Bay.

With the temperatures heating up a small number of braver souls were enjoying their water sports. The quiet pursuits of canoeing and fishing had their solitude rudely awakened by the odd jetski.

I was reminded just how beautiful some of the native plant and coastal reserves are in New Zealand and how well they are maintained.

Environmental concerns have been high on the Kiwi agenda for many years and countries such Singapore have followed suit.  The preservation of the mangrove wetlands figure prominently in both countries.

In the case of the Howick beaches though, these are largely white sand with imposing bluffs breaking the skyline.
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Wednesday, 27 October 2010


Mount Merapi in Central Java.News that the Singapore stockmarket wishes to merge with their Australian counterparts has been perceived by the more hysterical elements of the media and left-leaning politicians as a take over with sovereignty implications.

The Australian labour party, clinging to power with a majority of one, have already been told by their Green and independent partners in the coalition that they will not support such a move.

Greens leader, Bob Brown, is quoted as saying that  he could see ''no advantage for this nation having the stock exchange controlled from Singapore''.  He then reverted to type by stating that the government should take human rights concerns into account, citing Singapore's ''appalling repression of freedom of speech and proper democratic norms''.

To be frank, this is the sort of statement one expects from Aussie politicians, short on substance and long on rhetoric.  One even tried to link the ASX merger with the 2005 execution of an Australian Nguyen Tuong Van, for drug trafficking.

More balanced and pragmatic observers have seen huge advantages in having both exchanges combined.  The AusX is a small player in the global market but combined with Singapore the stakes are raised considerably, creating the world's fifth largest exchange.

New Zealand's response  to the possible merger has been generally positive and a further amalgamation of the NZX with the new exchange conglomerate could also be on the cards at some stage in the future.

The other eruption that has occurred in the past 24 hours is volcanic rather than political. 

Mount Merapi in Indonesia has erupted again and it will be interesting to see if the ash cloud debris reaches Singapore?

The earthquakes and tidal waves continue in the region and while Singapore is supposedly outside the danger zone for these phenomena it would be wise to consider the fate of Christchurch which taught New Zealand a salutary lesson; earthquakes can strike in places far removed from known fault lines.

The Great Sumatra fault earthquake when it finally comes will be felt in Singapore.  The only question is to what degree?
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Monday, 25 October 2010

2011 Art Calendar To Share

For the past four years I have produced an annual calendar of my images.  Please feel free to click on the image above and download a copy of the 2011 version.

It is in A3 pdf format so you can print it off on an office or personal colour printer

Saturday, 23 October 2010

Systemic Failures

We have been experiencing very strong winds these past few days, or to put it more precisely, equinoxal gales.

As a result of these events our newly installed clothesline has developed the unpleasant habit of lifting like a jet foil, disengaging its support arm and lowering itself against the fence.  Ours is not called the Supafold for nothing!

While this is technically not supposed to be able to happen it has done so nevertheless, the last time coming down on my wife's shoulder and leaving quite a graze.

The Hills clothesline has been the dominant brand in New Zealand for many years but in recent times the solid steel has been replaced by a much lighter weight of metal and there has also been a significant increase in the amount of plastic used.  This means that the frames are no longer rigid and flex alarmingly.

It doesn't help that these lines are no longer manufactured in Australia as, with most products nowadays, they bear a stamp "made in China".

Today the clothesline installer paid us a visit, the obligatory half an hour late as all New Zealand tradesmen seem to be.  

He was clearly skeptical that the wind would actually blow a clothesline down but after we had introduced to our neighbour whose wife had been cracked on the head in a similar rig malfunction, he got the message.

We shall be replacing our retractable support arms with the fixed variety.

During the course of our conversation it transpired that the installer had lived in Bali for several years before returning to New Zealand.  The topic of Indonesia inevitably led to comments on the rife corruption in that country.

I was also reminded how Singapore is experiencing yet another serious cloud of haze pollution from Sumatra, as bad as that which we endured in 2006.

Despite all of the previous promises by the Indonesian government, expensive dinners and friendly ASEAN handshakes the reality is that Indonesia goes its own sweet way, burning off land whenever it feels like it.

Neignbourly considerations do not enter into the Indonesian equation and money given by Singapore in the past to monitor haze and educate farmers has made little or no difference.  I would suggest that the majority of farmers probably never even saw a dollar of the aid money.
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