Thursday, 24 February 2011

Thank you Singapore

Assistance for the Christchurch Earthquake Disaster - source NZ Herald
At times like these it's good to have friends; thank you Singapore and all other countries who are assisting our rescue effort.

Sumner - the suburb where we once lived

Wednesday, 23 February 2011


The Press Building (1909) now completely destroyed
It is just 24 hours since a second and more devastating earthquake struck Christchurch.  The most horrific revelation in its aftermath has been the loss of life; 75 and climbing.

People are still being pulled alive from collapsed buildings and our small nation is in shock that this could happen not once, but twice, to the Garden City.

As I watch the 24 hour coverage from the safety of my lounge in Auckland I realise also that the city of my childhood and later memories will never exist again as I knew it.

My father came from the suburb of Cashmere in Christchurch, and lived just down from the Sign of the Takahe at 118 Dyers Pass Road.

He attended Christchurch Boy's High School and was passionate about the city and its environment even though he lived most of his adult life elsewhere.

Fond memories of walking hand in hand with my grandfather past the Press Building and the Cathedral in the Square are all that remain today, as both buildings have been irreparably damaged and will never be rebuilt.

The heritage heart of the city is gone - the old Provincial Chambers are partially demolished and aerial views of other sites shows a state of total collapse.

Cathedral Square in 1960 - the spire (circled) came down during the 23 February 'quake
Where trams once rattled through in the late 1950's and newspaper men called from street corners, there is now only dust and vehicles flattened by falling masonry.

Cathedral Square in 1957 - buses not trams, which I used to take to my grandparents house in Cashmere Hills
In the early 1980's when I returned from Papua New Guinea I went to live in Christchurch in the small suburb of Sumner.

This is the same suburb that now features in mobile phone video of falling boulders from the surrounding cliff faces.  Goodness only knows the state of properties on Scarborough Hill where we had a house and which overlooks Sumner Beach?

But of course property can be replaced and lives cannot.  It will be many years before the city recovers but recover it will, as Cantabrians are a stoic bunch and the rest of the country is behind them helping wherever we can.
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Tuesday, 22 February 2011

What is a politician worth?

This chart from CNN makes an interesting comparisson between the leaders' salaries in the Asia Pacific region. (Click on the chart to see the larger version).

According to unsubstantiated reports Singapore politicians hold the top thirty places on the world's pay scale for politicians:

1. Elected President SR Nathan – S$3.9 million.
2. Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong – S$3.8 million.
3. Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew – S$3.5 million.
4. Senior Minister Goh Chok Thong – S$3.5 million.
5. Senior Minister Prof Jayakumar – S$3.2 million.
6. DPM & Home Affairs Minister Wong Kan Seng – S$2.9 million.
7. DPM & Defence Minister Teo Chee Hean – $2.9 million
8. Foreign Affairs Minister George Yeo – S$2.8 million.
9. National Development Minister Mah Bow Tan – S$2.7 million.
10. PMO Miniser Lim Boon Heng – S$2.7 million.
11. Trade and Industry Minister Lim Hng Kiang – S$2.7 million.
12. PMO Minister Lim Swee Say – S$2.6 million.
13. Environment Minister & Muslim Affairs Minister Dr Yaccob Ibrahim – S$2.6 million.
14. Health Minister Khaw Boon Wan – S$2.6 million.
15. Finance Minister S Tharman – S$2.6 million.
16. Education Minister & 2nd Minister for Defence Dr Ng Eng Hen – S$2.6 million.
17. Community Development Youth and Sports Minister – Dr Vivian Balakrishnan – S$2.5 million.
18. Transport Minister & 2nd Minister for Foreign Affairs Raymond Lim Siang Kiat – S$2.5 million.
19. Law Minister & 2nd Minister for Home Affairs K Shanmugam – S$2.4 million.
20. Manpower Minister Gan Kim Yong – S$2.2 million.
21. PMO Minister Lim Hwee Hwa – S$2.2 million
22. Acting ICA Minister – Lui Tuck Yew – S$2.0 million.
23 to 30 = Senior Ministers of State and Ministers of State – each getting between S$1.8 million to S$1.5 million.

The Singapore government would argue that to get if you pay peanuts you get monkeys.

Looking at some of the 'monkeys' we have had in NZ under the MMP system and the money we have paid in salaries and benefits, the Singaporeans may have a point. 

That said, the above list would seem rather excessive in remuneration in these recessionary times, if proven to be accurate?

All of this has been put into sharper focus with the release of the 2011 budget which the Singapore government hopes will bridge the wealth gap.
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Friday, 18 February 2011

My Soul Is In Fort Canning

my soul is in Fort Canning
long before the march of progress
incendiary sounds and shouted orders

there are some places you never leave
still others where memories live
amongst the quiet and verdant green

you can feel me in the dank surrounds of battlements
the stillness before the tropical rains
a rhythm of droplets on spreading fronds

in truth I have never left you
the forbidden hill of legend
where empires lost were never reclaimed
and royalty wept at your feet

my soul is in Fort Canning
a quiet meditation still
of universal peace.

Roger Smith. 2011

Tuesday, 15 February 2011

Dr M

History has a sense of repeating itself as does Dr Mahathir Mohamad.  Lee Kuan Yew writes something and Dr M attacks it.

A couple of recent items in the Malaysia online journals confirmed that there has been yet another "episode of the antiquated drama in the battle of the octogenarians”.

The good doctor has apparently accused MM of being an  iron-clad ruler.  A bit rich I would have thought from someone with a man who himself has been accused of being a despot and using national security as a veil to jail dissidents, under the law which provides for detention without trial.

As I have stated in the past one can only judge both men on what they have achieved.  When Singapore and Malaysia split the value of their currency was at par.  Now it takes 2.4 Malaysian Ringgit to  purchase 1 Singapore dollar so it is easy to see which economy is stronger; despite the fact that Singapore has none of the natural resources that are so abundant in Malaysia.

The Mamak of Kerala (as Dr Mahathir Mohamad is known in some circles) nearly brought Bolehland to its knees in the late 1990's when large sums of investment failed to bring tangible results.

The term 'Bolehland' is one used by Malays to describe this period. Boleh means “able” or “can do” in Malay. The “Malaysia Boleh” campaign was launched to bolster national self-esteem.

Minister Mentor
It  has its parallels in the government run campaigns that Singapore such as the "National Courtesy Campaign", but the Malaysian versions have thus far failed to spark the same results.  This is a great pity as I am fond of Malaysia and Malaysians but I am no fan of Malaysian-style politics.

Dr. M also refutes any suggestion that Singapore has anything to fear from Malaysia: "Lee Kuan Yew’s fear of Singapore being invaded by Malaysia is completely unfounded”.

That may be the case now but the Little Red Dot's envious neighbours has harboured such thoughts in the past.

Singapore spends five to six per cent of GDP (gross domestic product) on defence each year and to my eyes this seems like a very prudent investment.

Meanwhile some in the US are questioning the close education alliances between their universities and Singapore.  The tertiary tie-up between Duke and NUS is well known and has brought tangible benefits to both.

Critics within another ivy league university, Yale, are orchestrating a campaign to keep it out of Singapore.

Citing a  lack of human rights "the best American traditions of free speech", they claim that the name of Yale will be sullied by an association with a country that does not have the same degree of press freedom and open debate.

I don't believe that Duke has suffered from its Singaporean venture and I cannot see how Yale will.  As to the article's direct assertion that Singapore has a "jailhouse torture" perhaps they should look at punishment metered out in US prisons?

There is a death penalty in Singapore and it curbs the spread of drugs most effectively.  While homosexuality is officially banned, there would appear to be more tolerance that the Yale article tries to make out.  I suspect that the writer has never lived in Singapore?

As a former Yale Alumnus and Singaporean wrote in response: "Singapore and Singaporeans emphasize different values, and that this whole Yale-NUS proposal has shown up the gulf that exists between our conceptions of the good".

This is the crux of the argument.  How can you judge a country if you have never visited it or better still, lived in it?

I have visited the States several time and lived in Singapore.  For my money Singapore has a definite edge, both in terms of affluence and a more integrated society.  It may not be perfect but what place is? 

At least in Singapore I did not come across war veterans eating out of rubbish bins as I did in the streets of San Francisco.
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Saturday, 12 February 2011

Today's Portfolio - Chinese New Year In Howick

A Lesson To Despots Everywhere

Hello.... Hello.. is that my people?
I awoke this morning to the news that the despotic regime in Egypt had finally been toppled.
What has been truly remarkable is that the youth who achieved this, managed to restrain from any violent action to overthrow Mubarak and his cronies.
Each day on the BBC I have been listening to young, educated and articulate Egyptians expound their hope for the future; a future free from  the dictates of a central family surrounded by enforcers and sycophants.
Today they achieved there first objective with the President's removal by peaceful means.  Now the challenge is even more difficult, establishing a government that is truly representative of the people's wishes.
The other thing that has been very apparent in recent weeks is the part played by the internet in sharing information and marshalling resistance. Social networking platforms have become platforms for action in the 21st century.
All of this is important far beyond the shores of the Suez.  Any regime that has suppressed personal expression and/or and subjected their peoples must be looking over their shoulders at this time, wondering when they will be next.
In the age of twitter and facebook the dispossessed will always find a way to communicate, resist and mobilise.
It is of course what happens next to Egypt that really counts.  Replacing one despot with another is not an option and the road to true freedom and opportunity will be a long and difficult one.  

There is a very real danger that extremists will attempt to step in, to take advantage of the power vacuum. This is but one of the many serious challenges the people of Egypt will face in the months ahead but given their determination thus far, they should be able to overcome them.

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Friday, 11 February 2011

Today's Prints

Fan  ...................................................  Roger Smith, 2011

Fabric  ...................................................  Roger Smith, 2011
I remembered my macro lens was stored in the cupboard and spent part of the afternoon using some close-ups of common objects, as a starting point for these digital compositions.

In both, line and rhythm are important.  Click on the 'Fabric' image to see more detail.
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Thursday, 10 February 2011

When Food Meets Science

Cup noodle bought from supermarket.I hope I am not misunderstood when I say that most highly processed food leaves me unimpressed.

The inventor of the instant noodle has a lot to answer for, albeit that these dried pieces of 'string' and spice sachets have become the staple diet of impoverished students around the world.

Now the Japanese have taken this obsession for plastic food on plastic trays a step further.

They have blended science with sustenance and produced what appears at face value to be totally unpalatable sushi.

I can confidently predict on the basis of this video that the future of in-flight meals in economy class has been revealed.

There of course those who find the prospect of eating this stuff exciting.  Maybe on a long trip to some galactic colony, but give me a ripe camembert and a slice of wholemeal bread any day!
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Sunday, 6 February 2011

Chinese New Year In Chinatown

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National Day - What National Day?

Today is Waitangi Day, a day that means very little to many New Zealanders, despite it being touted for the last few decades as our 'national day'.

Last night on television a local commentator bewailed the fact that there were very few if any Kiwis of European stock (labeled 'Pakehas' in politically correct circles) showing up at the celebrations on a Northland marae.

National Days -  The Good (left), The Bad and the Ugly (right)
I use the term 'celebration' advisedly as most of the media focus is on noisy protesters and mud slinging, both verbal and literal. In reality Waitangi Day means very little to many Kiwis and certainly doesn't feel like a National Day.

Compare this to the orchestrated celebration in Singapore where we had impressive displays of aerobatics for the country's jets, live concerts and huge firework displays.

New Zealand of course could never stage such displays, even if it wanted to, as a previous Labour Government kneecapped the fighting wing of our air force. We have no fighting jets.

A couple of retro-fitted and ancient Hercules aircraft lumbering past just wouldn't produce the same effect as the Singaporean strike force.

I know there may be some in Singapore who see their celebration as political posturing by the PAP but  it is not a view I subscribe to.  At least there is an attempt to pull all sections of the community together to celebrate the tangible benefits of nationhood.

If New Zealand truly wants a day that unites the population they need look no further than Anzac Day; a day when we remember those men and women who gave their lives during past wars.

At least the current New Zealand Prime Minister is trying to look forward and distancing himself from the 'grievance' industry that has grown up around land claims and Waitangi Day.  John Key has a successful working relationship with the Maori party thanks largely to the intelligence and foresight of that party's leader, Peter Sharples.

So on this our 'national day' few of us will feel motivated to turn on the television and watch the goings on at Waitangi. There is far more interest in New Zealand's sterling performance in last night's Rugby Sevens in Wellington and for many of us, on the Chinese New Year celebration.
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Saturday, 5 February 2011

Rabbiting On

We are in the throws of Chinese New Year in Auckland and even our local libraries are getting involved with special programmes of workshops, demonstrations, music, dance and stories.  Unfortunately my local Botany Library does not feature so we will need to go further afield to see what is on offer.

I have discovered that there is a Chinese Digital Community which contains historical  and contemporary information about New Zealand's Chinese community.

This is an great development when one considers how mono-cultural New Zealand, was even two decades ago.  Sure CNY doesn't have the 'punch' of a celebration in Asia but at least we are acknowledging the importance of other cultures in our society.

I feel a little sorry though for my Chinese fish and chip shop owner, Shirley, who has to remain open over the festival.  Ever pragmatic, the local Chinese and new immigrants alike have determined to keep their businesses open in the search for profit!

Closing for a week as some coffee shop businesses did in Singapore is not an option, especially in these days of recession where everyone is feeling the pinch.  Not everyone is happy with having to work through the holiday though and Chinese staff in the Auckland casino are reportedly very angry about having to do so.

Year of the Rabbit from Frater

There is concern expressed in some quarters about the rise of aged immigrants from mainland China who are coming to New Zealand.

According to the New Zealand Herald "New Zealand is becoming a popular destination for retiring Chinese, with more than 1200 over-50s relocating here in the past year and numbers rising fast".

This trend should come as no surprise, as most are joining their families who had already migrated here and it is the Chinese tradition to look after ageing parents.

The concern is that many of these senior citizens cannot speak English,  do not work and could end up straining already stretched social services in this country.

"China accounted for more than one-third of residence approvals in the parent and sibling/adult stream ... up 16 per cent from the previous year."

I would have hoped that NZ immigration would have thought this policy through many years ago when the drive was on (and still is) to attract Chinese immigrants.

In the categories the government had hoped for (wealthy, skilled workers and students) the results have been far from satisfactory.

Two wealthy Chinese have been granted conditional residencies after investing more than $10 million each in "approved investments" and 43 others - more than from any other country - are waiting to be granted approval, or have received approval in principle to transfer more than $1.5 million each according to an earlier article in the Herald.

From my observations since our return from Singapore, it would appear there are more aged British migrating here than Chinese.  One would have thought that they would place a similar strain on services?
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Friday, 4 February 2011

Gong Xi Fa Cai

Happy New Year Everyone!

Tuesday, 1 February 2011


We went for a drive to Maraetai yesterday, which is about half and hour away from where we live.

A week ago many of the beach front properties there had been flooded by the combination of a large spring tide and the remnants of a tropical cyclone.  There was little visible  evidence of this damage remaining.

The park and beach was full of Pacific Island families enjoying themselves with BBQ's and vigorous touch rugby games.

Maraetai is a typical beach side town made up of baches and older weatherboard house with the usual sprinkling of general stores and fish and chip shops.

The New Zealand summer has been punctuated by strange weather patterns so people are making the most of the sunny days in what is turning out to be, a wet and windy summer.

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