Sunday, 28 February 2010

The Panda's Daughter

For several months I have enjoyed the Sunday Times articles of Lee Wei Ling. She coincidentally happens to be the daughter of LKY - Lee Kuan Yew to the unitiated.

She is clearly a person who knows her own mind and has inherited a large chunk of the intelligence and directness for which her father is well known. LKY is reported as saying to her "You have all my traits-but to such an exaggerated degree that they become such a disadvantage to you.”

No doubt this sets up some interesting debates around the family dinner table. It is clear that she is not afraid to state her own point of view even though this might put her at odds to the government's stated position or action, which is under the stewardship of her brother, Hsien Loong.

Preferring to remain single, Profesor Lee has chosen to dedicate herself to medicine. Her maritial status has been a point of paternal concern for her father apparently and he referred to this in a speech last year. She, in typical fashion, chose to respond with an essay "Why I chose to remain single"

Her frankness has earned the respect of her fellow Singaporeans and in a recent public survey she was ranked fifth out of the ten most trusted people in Singapore.

Based on what I have read so far (including today's article "The Panda's Daughter" where she talks aboout how people link her with her father), I would have to say that their trust is well placed.

Saturday, 27 February 2010

Should that be Curry Oh's?

I am mourning the death of a Singapore icon, or to be more precise a Singapore brand icon.

The pudgy, convoluted profile of an Old Chang Kee curry puff was a sight to behold. The Curry'O, to give it its correct title, was a hand crafted cholesterol-rich, masterpiece.

Each offering took on a distinctly unique look but all could be guaranteed to be copiously filled with a curry potato mash and a quarter of egg.

They were the benchmark for commercial curry puff production in this country and had a long history. While maybe not the crème de la crème of curry puffs but they weren't far off it. Even the illegal puff sellers at the MRT couldn't better Old Chang Kee.

You will note that I have been using the past tense as yesterday our purchase of Curry'Os was a major let-down!

Gone was the distinctive bulges of a well filled morsel and the hand crimped edges with their irregularities.

In its place there is now a machine produced object with a thin hard crust and about half the filling of the original. Try as I might, I could not find any reference to egg in the mixture.

No doubt the company has won a Singapore innovation award and multiplied its profits but they have (in my humble opinion) committed the cardinal marketing sin; tinkering with their anchor product.

Even the larger Cola companies have learnt to their cost that this does not pay. Mind you, I doubt that we will ever see a Curry'O Lite.

Sunday, 21 February 2010

Out With The Old

I have a fondness for Asian ceramics, particularly Chinese ceramics. Up until today I had a small collection that I had put together over the past 20 years (see above).

Not all were all 'quality items' in the eyes of a connoisseur but there were some gems, such as the small Ge Ware bowl (#2) and the blue Ming plate (#3).

However as with all collecting there comes a time when one needs to make a decision about retaining or selling. So yesterday I decided to contact Toh Foong Antiques at 5 Temple street from whom I had bought the best pieces all those years ago.

I can still recall old Mr Tan going to the rear of his shop and bringing back a box with the Ming plate inside.

The old man has since retired and it was his two sons who came this morning to assess my modest holdings and make me an offer I could not refuse.

So now the Ikea glass cabinet is looking somewhat bare, but I am pleased with the financial result and comfortable with the idea that some other lucky person will have many years of enjoyment from these antiques.

Such are the joys of the collector.

Sunday, 14 February 2010

Submerged Gambles

One has to feel a bit sorry for the Malaysians.

Last month they discovered to their horror that a couple of their airforce's jet engines had been illegally hocked off to Argentina and this past week comes news of a more recent purchase; a submarine that is unable to submerge.

Not that they are alone in buying dodgy subs from European sources.

A few years ago the Australians purchased some Collins Class submarines. The noise from their operational 'drive shafts' ensured that any enemy would not have to deploy sonar or acoustic monitoring to detect their movement many fathoms distant.

Today is Chinese New Year, our fourth in Singapore since arriving here in 2006. We have a ticket in the $10 million Hong Bao lottery which will be drawn tomorrow, as has the rest of the population. The odds of winning a prize are therefore not great.

With the odds firmly in mind it should also be noted that today signals another milestone in Singapore's gambing history. The first casino at Sentosa opened for business (or 'integrated resort' to mask its real purpose).

Having to front up with $2,000 for an anuual fee to enter it quarantees that we will not be visiting. Compared to Las Vegas where one can enter any number of casinos free and dress down in the process, why would a punter want to pay for the privilege of entering the Singapore version?

If this entry tax was designed to stop the compulsive gamblers amongst the locals and PR's I really cannot see it working. They will simply resort to taking the ferry from Tanah Merah to one of the gambling boats in international waters off Batam (which the 'Aunties' do on a regular basis according to a taxi driver I travelled with recently). The vessel in question is called the Leisure World.

One final comment about Chinese New Year; it is very difficult to find any food places open as most of the hawker stalls are closed.

Even our local Indian stall is closed as the coffee shop proprietor he rents from is Chinese. We had to resort to an Ikea meal of baked chicken after a quarter of hour walk in the mid day heat.

Tuesday, 9 February 2010

The View From My Window - Kuala Lumpur

Petronas Twin Towers - Kuala Lumpur

A wonderful metallic structure bathed in the evening light. Until 2004 this was the tallest building in the world but was later eclipsed by Taipei101 in Taiwan. It remains however the tallest twin tower building.

It is built on what was the site of the Kuala Lumpur race track; an interesting case of getting rid of gambling for the sake of mammon.

Despite the exterior metallic glint the towers actually use very steel in their reinforcement. This was a cost saving measure due to the price and availability of steel at the time. The towers were constructed on a cheaper radical design of super high-strength reinforced concrete according to the entry in Wikipedia.

My Maya

I am currently staying at the Hotel Maya in Kuala Lumpur and have to say that I am favourably impressed.

It is literally three minutes walk from the office in KL and very convenient. The hotel is contemporary Japanese in design and has a shower with a wooden 'duckboard' floor; something I have not experienced since my boarding school days.

As is my habit, I tried out their room service for dinner this evening and chose one of their 'signature' dishes.

Regrettably the Australian Yellowtail Kingfish fillet did not live up to its culinary promise and was quite dry in texture.

Saturday, 6 February 2010

Here's Lukan At You

Boxes of Lukan mandarins from China have appeared in Singapore as the country gets ready for next week's Chinese New Year.

Taiwanese Lion Dance Troupe - Centrepoint

Throwing the Cultural Baby Out with the Bath Water

The is a report today about an ancient tribal language that has become extinct; its last speaker has just died. What a sad indictment that a 65,000-year link to one of the world's oldest cultures has been broken.

It does however remind one just how important language is to a culture; once it becomes extinct so does the culture itself.

The modern generation of Singaporean's have largely lost the ability to speak in their dialects and for a couple of generations the focus promoted by the government has been on both Mandarin and latterly, the up-skilling of English.

I can't help but think that something of the richness and diversity of Singapore culture of old Singapore has been lost as a result?

To try and revive aspects of a culture once much of the old traditions have been lost is extremely difficult.

For example, the retirement of of the old hawkers often means that the original recipes are not handed down. The modern imitations of classic South East asian cusines found in the food court chains somehow never live up to the original.

In neighbouring Malaysia the Orang Asli (original peoples) are suffering as a result of the all pervasive oil palm industry. Maha Meri art is recognised as part of the world's heritage and can fetch thousands of US dollars but the tribe's access to the rare woods they need for carving has been increasingly cut off.

There is more to these ancestral spirit carving than making money. Through them the culture of the tribe survives.

I saw similar trade and spirit cultures in the Sepik region of Papua New Guina when I lived there in the early 1980's.

In our rush for modernity let us not lose the cultural traditions and practices that made us what we are today. If you don't know where you have come from you will not know where you are going.