Friday, 30 July 2010

Today's Print

Bucklands Beach                                                                            Roger Smith 2010

Click on image and then click again to see larger version

Wednesday, 28 July 2010

Tuesday, 27 July 2010

New Car Smells

I could never understand why people bought aerosol cans of pseudo "new car smell".  The smell of rubber, solvents evaporating, plastics out-gassing and carpet are a combination that is far from edifying.

This is noted with some feeling as we have just brought our new car home from the showroom.  The Volkswagen Polo is the 2010 car of the year in its class and while driving it is a pleasure, the smell is something else; although this will subside.

What particularly impressed me was the customer service of the Continental Car Services team and in particular our salesman Patrick, who arranged a free courtesy car for use for a fortnight while we awaited the ship carrying our vehicle. 

He consummated the sale with a lovely bouquet of flowers which he presented to  my wife.  These appeared with a flourish when we went into the yard to collect the car -  a nice touch and good service at its best.

More sobering is the news that the suicide rate amongst young people in Singapore is on the rise.  Last year more than 400 Singaporeans took their own lives.  This rate rises and falls in direct correlation with the effects of a recession or similar financial crisis.

The suicide rate in New Zealand has fallen in recent years but as with Singapore, the rate is highest in people aged 15–24.

The youth of Singapore are under tremendous pressure to succeed within the education system and places in the best universities are much sought after. In New Zealand the pace of life and education is more subdued.
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Monday, 26 July 2010

Fauvist Fervour - Lucky Plaza

A tropical deluge, a 2 megapixel phone camera and a taxi queue outside Orchard Road's Lucky Plaza were the starting point for this image. The "wild beasts" of the shopping belt in action!
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Saturday, 24 July 2010

Car Pumping Power

Auckland University of Technology
New Zealand technology is about to be deployed in Singapore and by all accounts it is a nifty device they are testing.

The university I worked for, before heading to Singapore, (AUT University) has developed a PowerTread system, in which "tubes that are compressed by vehicles and pump hydraulic fluid to turn a turbine and generate electricity".

Powertread has already been successfully trialled on the Causeway providing lighting for one of the border booths for a couple of days.

The Singapore government is getting behind the product's further development and commercialization and one of the country's malls is going to be the next test bed..

They might have been best to put a unit on the road leading to the Integrated Resorts as the volume of gamblers making their way to Marina Bay Sands and Sentosa would give Powertread a real work out.
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Half A Mo

There are a few moments in one's mortal journey when a life altering is decision takes place.  I had one such epiphany two days ago.

Staring at the mirror on a cold winter's morning I decided to shave off my moustache.  This carefully cultivated zone of self indulgence first sprouted on my upper lip some thirty five years ago.

It has also survived and flourished in its various manifestations over 26 years of marriage despite suggestions to the contrary.

I blame this sudden and rash decision on my change of diet after leaving Singapore.  Soup and porridge have now become staples and a moustache is not the best item of  body adornment in such circumstances.

The rationale for my earlier decision to wear a moustache are now lost in the mists of time. No doubt the influence of Hollywood's leading men such as Clark Gable had something to do with it, but more likely it was the 1970's rock scene where long hair and a droopy moustache were de rigeur. 

I may have been no Rhett Butler I but I did have a passing resemblance to Ringo Starr on the Sgt Pepper Album's cover art.

Historical evidence suggests that the mosutache has been worn for thousands of years.  Eighth Century Latin refers to the "mustacium" and Hellenistic Greek to "mustax".  The Pazyrik horseman pictured (circa 300 BCE) sports a pencil thin moustache.

My morning decision had no such historical context. The sobering reality has been that no one actually noticed I had shaved off the offending appendage! 

Even the pair of eyes that can observe a sock out of place in the tallboy at forty paces failed to notice the physical change as she passed me by.

Either I have become as superfluous as the furniture, or the colour of said moustache has now changed to such a degree that it matches the skin colour of my upper lip - I suspect the latter.
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Friday, 23 July 2010

Hype Over Substance

Behold the iPad in All Its Glory
There is something almost biblical about the tablet - not the Moses variety, the one that Steve Jobs has been touting.

The Straits Times has a report about the launch of the iPad tablet in Wellington today and the frustration experienced by those in the grip of "iPad mania"

Why people bother queuing overnight for a piece of technology that will be superseded within the year by a later version, is beyond me?

Evidently Apple have gone to the extreme with the latest launch of not wanting to reveal in advance where  people can buy an iPad.  Surely a basic tenant of marketing is that a sale can only take place when one can discover the product?

The launch seems a classic case of hype over substance and I for one will not be beating a path to my local retailer to purchase an iPad.

Singaporeans are  into the latest techno-fads as this video demonstrates.

Not that I am opposed to technology, far from it. Since returning from Singapore a couple of weeks ago we have been busy buying a house lot of electronic wizardy.

One such purchase has been a Samsung full HD television.  I was surprised to discover that thanks to the recession, the prices for the latest sets here in New Zealand compare very favourably with those in Singapore.

Within three years New Zealand is moving completely to high definition and away from analgue television so it makes sense to get full HD now.  Coupled with a simple UHF aerial, this new set will allow me to pick up all of the free to air channels.  We made sure we did not purchase an "HD Ready" model which is not full HD and needs a decoder box.

When we left in 2006 there were fewer options but now the channels seem to have spawned several more.  The content is a lot better than what was on offer on the Mediacorp free channels and of course the global news broadcasts are far more comprehensive and less controlled.

There is even a dedicated Chinese Channel which is Auckland based so Cantonese dramas and variety shows will be on the menu.

Prime Television is my personal pick and is Australian controlled.  It has good sports coverage (albeit often delayed) and old favourites such as the Antiques Roadshow.

One free channels I will be giving a miss is the parliamentary channel which is about as exciting as watching paint dry.  Watching the PAP MPs answering prepared questions on Singapore's Channel Five of an evening was enough to put me off for life and our parliamentarians are no better.
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Thursday, 22 July 2010

Up The Creek Without A Paddle

Yaacob Ibrahim (born 3 October 1955), a Singap...
It is not uncommon to see young Singaporeans getting on the bus or MRT clutching a paddle.

I was of the belief that this item was to do with dragon boat racing or some other water sport, but given the recent spate of flooding in Singapore perhaps mine was an incorrect assumption?

Maybe they are simply preparing for the Great Flood?

In the above video MM once again makes an astute observation; it is simply not possible for Singapore to become flood free.

One only has to look at the enormous volume of water that roars through the canals during a heavy tropical rainstorm to realise that it is impossible to engineer for every eventuality.

Environment Minister Yaacob Ibrahim (pictured above) is getting a lot of stick in the blogosphere regarding his previous statement that Orchard Road flooding was a "once in 50 year" event.

If you think things are bad in Singapore spare a thought for China where more than 6 million people have been displaced by recent flooding.

No doubt the authorities are keeping their fingers crossed that the next deluge does not coincide with the soon to be staged Youth Olympics. The highways are already being prepared for the YOG and motorists will be expected to be especially observant of blinking lights and YOG number plates.

There is evidently a Plan B according to the chairman of bus operations at the Singapore Youth Olympic Games Organising Committee (Syogoc). Here's hoping they won't need to use it.

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Monday, 19 July 2010

For the Love Of Durian

Stanley Ho
News today that Stanley Ho (whose joint venture failed to get a casino license to begin operations in Singapore) has flown his private jet from Macau to Singapore to pickup 88 durian and fly them back north.

The Mao Shan King variety of the fruit is the one that tickles his fancy.  The cost of the purchase was just over $Sing 2,000 but if you add in the jet fuel and pilot's wages the costs becomes prohibitive for mere mortals.

Stanley Ho is an interesting man.  He ranks 84th on Forbes rich list with a personal worth of $6.5 billion and rising. He is married and has 17 children.

His purported links to Chinese organised crime has meant that his daughter Pansy failed to get a casino license to operate in New Jersey.

No doubt Singapore authorities have inside knowledge about Mr Ho and his associations that they share with the US regulators, and this information is unlikely to be made public any time soon.
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Sunday, 18 July 2010

The Answer's A Lemon

It is not widely known that 'citrus limon', or the humble lemon to give it its common name, is an Asian tree.  It wasn't until the 15th century that it was cultivated in Europe and later still that Christopher Columbus took some seeds to the Americas.

Whatever the pedigree, lemons were synonymous with the New Zealand gardens of my childhood.  Even today most large gardens will have the obligatory lemon tree providing juice that provides a welcome respite in the heat of summer.

They are also very high in Vitamin C (citric acid) so are a winter stalwart to ward off the onset of colds and 'flu..  Kiwifruit are also very high in Vitamin C and in Singapore they were $1 each.  Here in NZ we are currently eating the golden variety for 95 cents a kilo.

The old fashioned lemon meringue pie remains one of my favourite desserts.

So it was no surprise that I discovered a fully laden lemon tree on one of my strolls to Bucklands Beach. I used this for the image below (click to see larger image)

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Saturday, 17 July 2010

Downpours and Dengue

We are experiencing winter rains for the second day running. 

These are not the torrential cloudbursts we got in Singapore.  They were usually preceded by a loud thunderclap or two.

The Auckland version is a cold grey drizzle which comes in  recurring flurries.  By comparison, Singapore has been hit once again by flash floods which has submerged cars much to the chagrin of the condo oweners and insurance companies - see Jeremy Chan's photo in the Straits Times (right).

While I prefer warm rain to cold the latter can be a plus.  The climate in New Zealand is not so conducive to tropical diseases, such as dengue.

The Straits Times reports that there has been a sharp spike in the number of dengue cases over the past few months.
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Thursday, 15 July 2010

Today's Print

    Towards Rangitoto                                                                                               Roger Smith

Bottle Blonds and Kim Chi

Nong Shim Big bowl Kimchi instant
The nearest I've got to Asia this past fortnight is through the copious consumption of instant noodles; a poor substitute I would readily agree.

We have been buying these pots at various locations and each brings back a memory.  Today's lunch will have kim chi noodles as a base with some added vegetables and fresh ham.  They remind me of the brief but very pleasant trip I made to Seoul a few months ago.

The weather there was brisk as it is now in Auckland at time of writing.

I found the streets of Seoul  to be clean and the city a bustling hub of earnest Koreans going about their business.

Our local supermarket is also bustling and pinched-faced retirees spend their pension money on the tantalising specials.

"Die Frau" served us again today.  She is a checkout operator who stands out from the crowd with her ample proportions overflowing the seat beside the till.

I confess that I have not yet got used to the bovine action of her jaw as she nonchalantly chews a large wad of gum, pausing briefly to to dab her finder into the sponge finger bowl as she counts out the change.

The Germanic appearance is largely due to bottle blond locks that are platted of either side of her parting. A brown centre streak breaks the peroxide monotony.

The visible body piercings and tattoos suggests that, as with icebergs, there is more below the waterline than visible above it. A collection of white plastic and faux silver jewellery dangles from her ears and neck but it is her movements that fascinates the most.

She displays the motive delicacy of a bull elephant in musk, casting produce from the counter into the shopping trolley with reckless abandon.

Not that she is unfriendly, far from it. 

After we have completed our payment the parting greeting of "You's have a great doy" rings in our ears as we head for the car.
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Tuesday, 13 July 2010

In Praise Of Porridge

A typical rice porridge complete with dried mi...Image via Wikipedia
It is 7:30 am and I have just finished a bowl of porridge for breakfast; the oatmeal variety with a dollop of honey stirred in.

This hearty fare sticks to your ribs and is a great starter on a cold winter's morning.  As a child we often had this for breakfast but in those days before the advent of dietary heath consciousness a sprinkle of brown sugar and fresh cream would accompany the meal.

I had a friend who lived on a dairy farm a few  miles away in the country and whenever I stayed with him we used to get pale gold cream fresh from the dairy which was an even better topping.

Oat porridge is an ancient food and has been found in the stomachs of 5,000 year old Neolithic bog bodies

My first experience with porridge in Singapore occurred in 1982 when I was returning from a week's holiday in Penang and was homeward bound for New Zealand on a 'red eye flight', with a day's stop over in Singapore.

Quite by chance the seat next to me was occupied by a very friendly Brunei business man who, on discovering that I was an art museum director with an interest in Asian art, invited me to join him at an exhibition of contemporary Chinese masters which as staged at the Chinese Chamber of Commerce.

First though would I  like to join him for breakfast in town?  The answer was of course in the affirmative and so off we went by taxi to the Mandarin Hotel.

Would I like a bowl of porridge for breakfast?  Yes of course.

The Book of Jook: Chinese Medicinal Porridges--A Healthy Alternative to the Typical Western BreakfastImagine then my surprise when instead of oatmeal, a bowl of rice gruel was placed before me.  The accompaniments of small dried fish, salty duck egg and pickled vegetable we at that time equally foreign but  enjoyed the experience nevertheless.

Over the years I have grown to love porridge or to give it its Singapore name, congee or jok.  There are various styles but my preference is for the Taiwanese variety. One can have it with braised duck, fish, century egg or shreds of chicken meat.

For the officianado there is even frog porridge which tastes sweeter and is a more delicate meat than chicken. Frogs take three years to grow to a size that is acceptable for the pot whereas chicken takes just three months.  It is therefore usually a more expensive variety of porridge.  Reportedly a pot with two frogs costs about $Sing 14.

There are online forums dedicated to the relative merits of Teochew porridge stalls which many people prefer to the Taiwanese variety.

According to the experts Teochew Porridge must have the "Mountain and the Sea", in other words the right proportion of water and rice.

"The Teochew Muay connoiseur can tell you immediately if a particular Teochew Muay stall is worth eating at by just eyeing the bowl of porridge. Firstly, what we want to see is the "Swa ga Hai" (Mountain and Sea) which basically means that the porridge is watery but not overly watered down. Secondly, the rice must remain whole and unbroken. The best Teochew Muay places throw away the pot of porridge when the rice breaks."

My favorite condiment is a fermented bean curd known as 'Chinese cheese' (fuyu) which is pungent and gives the rice a bite.  It is not to most westerner's taste but that has never stopped me.

Porridge of both western and Chinese varieties are very good for those in their dotage so it will no doubt remain a staple in the years to come!
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Monday, 12 July 2010

Famous Last Words

"Don't drain the pool......"

There is no way that the above could be confused for yours truly plunging into the wintry briny at Bucklands Beach in Auckland where I am now domiciled.

For a starter the water temperature in the rooftop pool at Marina Bay Sands in Singapore was probably in excess of thirty degrees when this swimmer ventured forth.

Secondly, I do not have a head for heights and the thought of a ride on the Singapore Flier or walking around the top of Marina Bay Sands holds no appeal whatsoever.

Sunday, 11 July 2010

Winter - Bucklands Beach

Click on the flip book and then click again to see the larger images

This afternoon saw the temperature rise from an overnight 2 degrees to a 'balmy' 11 degrees in the sun!  

I took a stroll down the hill to Buckland's Beach which is a mere block away from the house we are renting in Auckland at the moment.

It was peaceful with the wading birds active in the shallows, searching for pip and other shellfish.  The old volcanic cones of Auckland were visible on the skyline.

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Passively Freezing

New Zealand national rugby union teamImage via Wikipedia
It has warmed up to 3 degrees centigrade as I write.  This is a degree warmer than it was just before dawn.  Even the brass monkeys have wisely stayed indoors with the heater turned up to maximum.

Talking of which, one of our first purchases upon our return from Singapore has been an upright column oil heater.

We had one of these before we left to go to Singapore in 2006 so we knew exactly what we needed to buy upon our return. It has been a life saver.

Our new home, which we move into in September, has double glazing, full insulation and underfloor heating in the en-suite bathroom which will mean no more icy cold feet when exiting the shower.

In the winter the home captures and retains any passive solar energy and in summer (which  I hope will come sooner rather than later) the house remains cooler.

Mind you, one can go overboard trying to be 'green' with solar heating.  I am reminded of the the man who has proudly constructed a soda can solar heater.  To do so he needed 100 soda cans which he then proceeded to paint black.  I suspect that he has now contracted diabetes as a result of the over consumption of soda.  At least he will be a few degree warmer in his garage as he contemplates his future health.

Last night I watched my first rugby match for four years on local television.  The All Blacks thrashed the South African Springboks.  I seem to be reverting to type very quickly.
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Friday, 9 July 2010

Fresh Bread, Cheese and Breeze

View from Macleans Road, Bucklands Beach.
Ah the warm tropical breezes of Singapore which are regrettably a rapidly fading memory as I wander the streets of Manukau city disguised as a clothing blimp.

As of today we are living in Bucklands Beach Road which as its title suggests, is near the beach in Auckland.

We have been making up for time dining on crunchy New Zealand apples, fresh camembert, soy and linseed bread and bags of chippies (the bad stuff!) all at ridiculously cheap prices.

Tonight I intend opening a bottle of Australian Cabernet Merlot to celebrate our fifth day back - any excuse for a sip or two! Somehow drinking red wine in the heat of the tropics was not quite the same.

'Economy rice withdrawal' is an affliction that I am fast developing.  NZ produce is all well and good but I am missing my Malay curries already.

I loved Singapore and made a number of good friends amongst the locals and they will remain friends forever.

But I have also been lucky with close friends from my AUT days who have made us feel most welcome upon our return.

There also some interesting job opportunities on the horizon so we shall wait and see what transpires.
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Wednesday, 7 July 2010

A New Purchase orTwo

'Money going out' is a familiar expression in Singapore and so it has proven to be here in Auckland.

Today we purchased a new Volkswagen Polo 6 which arrives at the end of the month and capped it off with an option to purchase our new home; with a settlement date of September 6th.

We are very happy with both but somewhat poorer as a result.
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Tuesday, 6 July 2010

Today's Print

NZ Mall in Winter

Day Three

Day three back in NZ and feeling rather jaded but satisfied with progress to date.  We have found rental accommodation at a reasonable weekly rate and we shift into the units on Friday.

It is in Bucklands Beach which as the name suggests is a beach suburb in South Auckland.  Not that we are likely to staying there for long as fortuitously we have also found some brand new two bedroom properties in a mews development which look most attractive and are in our price range.

We will decide on the morrow whether we wish to make the purchase or not.

At time of writing we are still existing in a small motel unit in Botany Downs trying to dry clothes with the heavy, wintry rains blowing outside.

Our next major purchase is a car and today we test drove a Peugot 207 but were not completely convinced. Tomorrow we hope to try out a Volkswagen Polo 6 if one is available.

Sunday, 4 July 2010

Umbrellas and Fleece

Credit cards
An umbrella, some warm fleece trousers and a 2,400 watt heater were the first three items we purchased upon touch down in New Zealand today.

The temperature in Auckland as I type is a wet and blustery 11 degrees with promise that the mercury will drop still further.  Oh for the warmth of my 'adopted city' Singapore.

We had an inauspicious start at the Avis counter at Auckland airport when a rather bombastic Indian manager refused to release our pre-booked vehicle to us as we did not have a credit card.

The fact that Avis had accepted our booking and reconfirmed it with out needing credit card numbers cut no ice with him.  Our plan was to pay cash for the rental in advance, as other companies are quite willing to accept this transaction process.

The reason we do not have credit cards at the moment is that we cleared our accounts and cut up our Singapore cards before we left and it will not be until tomorrow when we visit our local bank that we can arrange for an NZ Visa card.

Finally in desperation we rang a friend and got them to provide their credit card details to Avis; only then could we take the car and make our way tot eh Botany Motor Inn in Dannemora, South Auckland where we are no domiciled.

Another friend paid a us lightening visit to welcome us and left us two packets of nuts to much upon.  A good choice of vittles!

Tonight's supper will be a fresh NZ Camembert cheese, pumpkin soup and soy and linseed toast.  I shall be resplendent in my Chinese fleece pajamas that I bought in Singapore's Chinatown.  This is the first time that in nearly forty years that I have worn trousers with fly buttons and my manual dexterity is not what it once was!

The remaining challenges include finding a place to live, buying a car and coming to grips with the difference in time zones.
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Saturday, 3 July 2010

Last Meals

Singapore Changi Airport, Control Tower, Dec 05
Changi airport  is humming with the replays of the World Cup as I write. Various males are reclining in a variety of postures and a mock grandstand has been set up to add to the ambience.

I am feeling somewhat like a condemned man after having eaten a last meal of chicken rice at the Killeney Kopitiam on the third floor of Terminal Three.

My wife complained of a chilly right foot and we belatedly discovered that the sole of one of her sand shoes had detached from the upper.  Such are the unplanned joys of travel.

Our flight departs at 9:10 pm and ten hours later we will reach Auckland.

I shall miss Changi which has become almost a home away from home this past year as I travel back and forth throughout Asia.  It is undoubtedly the finest airport in the world.

We are feeling quite pleased with ourselves as the combined weight of our luggage did not exceed the prescribed limit of 50 kilos.
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Friday, 2 July 2010

Makeshift Showers And Rain For Hours

The Ngee Ann City Shopping Mall, located along...
It is perhaps fitting that our last ramble along Orchard Road should culminate with a food fair; not an unusual occurrence in Singapore.

We navigated our way under the eaves of available buildings as the rain was both long and heavy. With one small umbrella between us we had to wait on the porch of Lucky Plaza until the rain eased.

Watching the lengthy taxi queue snake its way along Orchard road was entertainment in itself.

The weather has been quite unseasonal. June and July are usually hot months but this year they have been very wet and the trend continues.

This rain must be playing havoc with the showering arrangements of foreign workers in Mandai who, according to the Electric New Paper, have been living in shipping containers and using "makeshift showers created out of water tanks and pipes which snaked along the length of the canal"

Our mission late morning took us to Takashimaya's centre court where row after row of earnest sales staff cajoled us to try abalone macadamia, D24 durian ice-cream and other challenging delights.  For the record the ice-cream was delicious.
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Thursday, 1 July 2010

Signs We Like To See

Let's hear it for a local council in Harwich, England, with a sense of humour.

Eye In The Sky

ERP Gantry at North Bridge Road, next to PARCO...Image via Wikipedia
News today that the ERP gantries will soon be made obsolete by the introduction of satellite technology. 

This may or may not be good news to the many Singaporean motorists who indulge in the national sport of finding side roads to skirt the gantries, thereby saving on the road usage tax that these structures trigger.

The proposed system uses GPS to accurately locate a vehicle and the charges can commence when the ignition key is switched on and/or the vehicle moves into a controlled space.

In Germany trucks can be accurately levied  based on the distance they travel so perhaps the Singapore government are considering something similar?  Their principal concern remains traffic congestion which is only going to get worse in the future.
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