Saturday, 29 December 2012

Today's Print - A Taranaki Summer

A Taranaki Summer
Roger Smith - December 2012
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Saturday, 22 December 2012

The Mokau Mine

The Mokau Mine

Let me tell you the story of a mine.  Not a gold or coal mine but the Mokau mine a fiendish explosive device laid by the Germans in 1942 and washed ashore when it broke it moorings.

I remember it well as the good townspeople of Mokau, a small town in northern Taranaki, erected the device on a concrete plinth in the centre of town.  It sat adjacent to the Mokau General Store and sits there still although the store is now a mere peeling shadow of its former self.

In 1960 when I was a pupil at Waitara Intermediate my best friend was Rodney Warman whose parents owned and operated the Mokau General Store. He invited me back for a holiday at his parents place.

There are things that stick in my mind; one was the smell of dog as Rodney’s parents had a house full. The second was whitebait for which is Mokau’s main claim to fame. The small delicacy makes it way up the rivers at certain times of the year in large shoals.

 In the times that I write about these shoals were huge – enough to fill a large kerosene tin with one scoop of a net. Whitebaiting was a main source of income for many and Rodney’s father took us up river to spend a morning chasing the ‘bait.  We travelled across by boat to the place where he had a set net, just in time to catch the incoming tide.

I have never eaten so many whitebait, before or since.  We got literally buckets full of them and a sizeable sample was put aside for our domestic use, to be turned into the Kiwi classic – whitebait fritters.

The final memory of have of Mokau was go to the ‘pictures’ ion the town’s hall.  In those days it was still obligatory to stand for the Queen - when here national anthem was played.  Those who dared to buck this tradition got a short, sharp jab in the ribs from the patrons behind, forcing them to stand to attention.  The movie ambiance where no the sort I was used to at Waitara’s Theatre Royal, run by a Mr Pizzey.  His theatre had a plush curtain, lighting effects and muted sounds that played before the curtain silently opened and the lights were dimmed.

In Mokau the make-shift theatre could best be described as Spartan with hard forms for seats and a cracked slide of the Queen when the anthem was played.  For all that we enjoyed the outing tremendously.

So it was a pleasure today to see that the Mokau mine was still in situ.  The cafes are still selling whitebait but I very much suspect the days of the ‘big runs’ are long gone.

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Friday, 21 December 2012

Death By Pizza

My goodness what are they trying to do?  Kill the population? A pizza within a pizza has go to be the most insane and calorie-laden piece of food around.  No wonder the Singapore fertility rate is dropping!  The body must be far to busy trying to deal with the fat intake from a meal like this.

They should be calling it "Double By-pass" not "Double Sensation".
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Wednesday, 19 December 2012

Love Those Love Vouchers

If you have demolished the last of your mints and failed to achieve a 'mint moment' you may have to turn to the latest initiative from the  Social Development Network, the agency that is doing its very best to push up the marriage and birth rate in Singapore.

Apparently one can now buy a 'love voucher' to give a 'love gift' to a partner of choice and there is even a web site set up to do so.

These are not the kind of 'love gifts' that would have enough value to buy a Dior handbag but ten bucks goes a long way nowadays.

To be more precise these are 'Love Gift Dating Vouchers' and you can only redeem them with an accredited dating agency. So if you have a sweet tooth and a box of chocolates was on your mind, forget it.  Its professional services and activities only; dancing and adventure tours included.

And you need to be somewhat of a speed-dater and make up your mind, as the vouchers run out in 4 months and are non refundable.

You have to give the SDN an 'A' for effort -  at least they are trying to boost Singapore's low fertility rate and have been doing so since 1984.  And the Love Vouchers are being followed later this month by the Dating Fest where singles will qualify for a 50% subsidy to "offset the cost of activities and events organised by SDN Trust-accredited agencies".

At end of the event, they hope to gather 500 singles and break the local record for the most number of singles participating in a speed-dating activity.

Think I'll stick to the mints -  it all sounds  bit too frenetic to me.
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Monday, 10 December 2012

Never Get Lost Again - Singapore MRT iPhone Case

Case for the iPhone 4 or iPhone 5

Never lose your way again with this iPhone 5 Case.

Seems a good idea to be able to quickly reference the MRT map without going online.  Loan the case to your visitors while they stay with you; just make sure you get it back!

Protect your iPhone 5 with a customizable iPhone 5 case. Made of lightweight hard shell plastic, this case protects the back and sides of your iPhone 5 without adding bulk.

Available online here.

Want to see other iPhone case designs? Have a look in this online store.

Sunday, 9 December 2012

Urban Links

I am delighted to see that the urban planners of Singapore are going to the trouble of linking together the heritage sites, museums and walkways, as explained in the video above.

As one who regularly enjoyed these places I remember only too well trying to hug whatever shade was available when strolling in the tropical sun.

For the most part the signage to these buildings and heritage sites is very good. However there are some parts that are not shown so well on the map and unless you are a 'local' are difficult to navigate - the shortest route between two points of interest in such a climate is usually the best.

Imagine how unpleasant it must have been to work on the Singapore River in times gone by. This photo from the reign of George VI shows how congested it used to be. No urban walkways and very few green spaces.

The Singapore River - in the reign of George VI (1937-1952)
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Tuesday, 4 December 2012

The Singapore Memory Project

I was delighted to receive an invitation to participate in the Singapore Memory Project and to pledge this Blog to the cause.

Harnessing the collective memory is an excellent initiative and the National Library deserves full credit for getting it under way. I am only too aware that those who can contribute the most to are often the ones that feel the less motivated to do so.

The Singapore Memory Project
According to their site the project is a national initiative started in 2011 to collect, preserve and provide access to Singapore’s collective knowledge base. In other words telling the Singapore Story through the eyes of its citizens and those fortunate enough to live and work there.

"It aims to build a national collection of content in diverse formats (including print, audio and video), to preserve them in digital form, and make them available for discovery and research.

The SMP aims to collect 5 million personal memories as well as a substantial number of published materials on Singapore by 2015."

I hope that all Singaporeans will support this project. Once memories pass with the generations they are gone for good; they need to be captured before this happens.
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Sunday, 2 December 2012

All Aboard!

This video has gone viral - the Singlish Minister addressing China Bus Drivers' Strike in Singapore.  The 'lead man' a great little actor.

 The thought of striking bus workers is enough to send shivers down the spines of older Singaporeans, many of whom have memories of the Hock Lee bus riots of May 12, 1955.

The Communists had organised a series of regular strikes and disputes and on that occasion four people were killed and 31 injured in a bloody riot.

Little wonder then that the government has come down hard on Chinese bus workers who have recently staged an illegal strike. They have just announced that they will deport 29 of the mainland Chinese bus drivers and prosecute five who were apparently the instigators.

Chinese bus drivers get their one-way ticket back to China
Singapore's last strike occurred in a shipyard in 1986 and the powers that be have no desire to see it repeated, even though there is some popular sympathy for the conditions in which the Chinese drivers lived and worked. But the country did not appreciate the way they went about sharing their grievances. Nor will they  tolerate any further disruptions to public transport on which so many of them rely.

44% of bus drivers in Singapore are from either Malaysia or China; about 22% from each country. So 275 of mainland Chinese drivers did not strike while 175 chose to.

The Ministry of Home Affairs issued this statement and concluded:
"The actions of these SMRT bus drivers disrupted an essential service and Singapore's industrial harmony. While the SMRT bus drivers may have had grievances, these should have been raised through the legal and proper means available. 5 persons will face charges in court for the offences committed, and will be dealt with in accordance with the law. 29 persons who were blatant and persistent in their unlawful acts have had their Work Permits revoked and will be repatriated. Those who returned to work upon realising that this action was illegal will be issued warnings by the Police."

So the industrial harmony on which so much of Singapore's prosperity depends has been restored and the economic bus can resume its forward momentum.

In the words of the immortal duo Flanders and Swan in their Transport of Delight song "Hold very tight please, ting ting".Enhanced by Zemanta

Monday, 26 November 2012

Flying the Way it Used to Be

From Brisbane to Singapore 1937
Refueling at Daly Waters in the Northern Territory
In this day of A380's and Changi's terminals it is easy to forget how far travelling by air has advanced in a very short space of time.

This image shows a refueling stop in  Australia's Northern Territory.  In 1937 when this photograph was taken aircraft has to stop several times on long flights to refuel.  It was only two years earlier, on 7 April that Qantas operated its first overseas passenger flight from Brisbane to Singapore.  It was a  four-day trip in those days and the aircraft (partially pictured at right) was a four-engine DH86.

Demand for the service was such that two years after this journey was captured on film the DH86 was replaced by Short C Class Empire flying boats, which also operated out of Sydney.

1937 was clearly a watershed year in Singapore aviation as the Wearne Brothers launched the first commercial air service between Singapore and Malaya that year using a de Havilland Dragon Rapide aircraft called (quite appropriately) the Governor Raffles. It flew from Singapore to Kuala Lumpur and Penang.

It was also the year that Amelia Earhart departed from Lae in Papua New Guinea en-route to Howland Island. She never made it.

No Frequent Flyer points in those days and only the well-to-do could afford air travel. Qantas has also become an airline consigned to Singapore's history as it recently stopped flying there, preferring instead to go through Dubai.
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Friday, 23 November 2012

A Passionless People?

I am somewhat gobsmacked by a report that claims that 64% of Singaporeans don't feel positive or negative emotions on a daily basis.

"Singapore is the most emotionless society in the world, according to a new Gallup poll, beating the traditionally po-faced Georgia, Lithuania and Russia in a survey of more than 150 nations" states the article.

Clearly the writer has not had a recent conversation with the locals about "foreigners" who fail to observe local customs and courtesies, nor the relative merits of chicken rice at recommended eateries.  Such topics tend to raise the temperature both literally and figuratively.

The counter balance in Asia is the Philippines which apparently is the world's most emotional society.  Having seen the excesses of the Marcos shoe collection I can well believe it!  Not that the collection is much of a national treasure these days as it has molded away due to neglect.

Mind you, just look at the questions: Did you feel well rested yesterday?
My answer would probably have been: Yesterday has come and gone - I deal with today.  Well rested; well I was on a packed MRT coming into work after two bus trips to get the station, what do you think?

But does this response make me less emotional than my fellow passengers - I don't think so.
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Monday, 19 November 2012

Yale Vitriol and the Middle East Crisis

One has to wonder at the vitriolic commentary being directed at Singapore by associates of Yale University in recent times.  While it is common knowledge there is an academic faction that believes a campus of their ivy league institution should never have been established in Singapore, more moderate and balanced individuals can see the benefits to both parties.

The latest attack is an attempt to try and shift the blame of the latest Arab-Israeli war on Singapore!  The aptly named Jim Sleeper attempts to link recent survey results that found that Israel was world's most and Singapore the second-most, with the current spat between the two Middle East neighbours.

And for good measure he also insinuates that as both Israel and Singapore are 'non-Muslim' countries there is some form of joint agenda or perspective.  Clearly he has never lived in Singapore nor appreciated the efforts that the country makes to assimilate its cultures and give all races and ethnicities a fair chance at succeeding in life.

To label, as the writer does, Chinese Singaporeans as the "Jews of South East Asia" and fire a cheap shot labeling Lee Kuan Yew as a "virtual dictator"aptly demonstrates the personal bias of the article but it is not until we get to the later paragraphs do we fully appreciate that this is indeed another sniping at Yale's association with Singapore. "Can any liberal democracy ever hope to flourish while pacing a gilded but iron cage?"

What is so wonderful about the "liberal democracy" that this Yale academic is so hell bent on defending?

Why is it I wonder that I saw US Vets and mental release patients scavenging in rubbish bins on the streets of San Francisco and I never experienced the same in Singapore?  Why is the USA is the economic doggy-doos and Singapore remains economically buoyant?

Perhaps the much vaunted 'liberal democracy' is not all that it is cracked up to be by political scientists such as Sleeper.

And yes, Singapore did seek the advice of the Israeli military when it set up its own forces after the British departed, but this is hardly a crime.  Faced with very real threats from Indonesia and communist insurgencies there was an urgency to depend the fledgling nation and who could blame them for that.

I personally wish Yale in Singapore every success as it will be mutually beneficial to both, just as it has been for other universities who have forged strong bonds with the country.
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Wednesday, 14 November 2012

Thoughts On A Cloud

Straits Times Photo: Kevin Lim
At first glance this photo seems to suggest that some of the large, fluffy clouds that congregate in tropical skies each afternoon, have fallen to earth. Or maybe a neighbour in one of the higher-level HDB's had put too much soap powder into their washing machine, with dire consequences for those who live below.

The truth of the Choa Chu Kang foam is not that far removed from the fiction.  It would seem that 70 barrels of detergent-based concentrate were stored in a warehouse that caught fire.  Three quarters of these barrels were damaged and when the fireman quenched the flames, and water from the hoses was added, instant foam was the result.

The soapy mix also contaminated a stretch of the nearby Pang Sua Canal from which water is taken for recycling and is treated for human consumption.

The event reminds me just how precious a commodity  water is and how Singapore is a world leader in water conservation and recycling; NEWater being a case in point. The country has four operational NEWater factories, at Bedok, Kranji, Ulu Pandan and Changi producing potable water that is treated from sewage waste water and made fit to drink.

Singapore is now taking the eco-process one step further by having the water treatment plants powered by solar energy - a clever marriage of green technologies.

And if you ever doubted the importance of water and its conservation consider this article (and the infographic below) from FastCompany that highlights how important water security is to business.

"If there is one truly arresting sign that our relationship to water is about to shift in fundamental ways, it comes not from the world of science or climatology, not from United Nations officials or aid workers desperately trying to get water to people in developing countries. It comes from businesses like Michell Wool  and other corporations with water-intensive businesses, such as Coca-Cola  but also those whose water dependence is less obvious, like GE and IBM. They all have that same tickle of anxiety about water security. For business, water management is fast becoming a key strategic tool. Companies are starting to gather the kind of information that lets them measure not just their water use and their water costs but also their water efficiency, their water productivity, how much work they get from a gallon of water, how much revenue, how much profit."

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Friday, 9 November 2012

Cows and Whitebait - An East Coast Odyssey

Cow and Cop - Whakatane
To say Whakatane on New Zealand's East Coast is a one-horse town is a gross exaggeration   There is at least one cow as well, albeit a plastic one outside the local vet's practice.

We arrived after a four hour road trip from Auckland.  What a lovely climate the place has and of course the people are  very friendly as you often experience in the rural hinterland.  Locals took the time to tell us where the best places were to go for sightseeing and fish and chips.  The latter being some of the best in New Zealand as there is a fishing industry based in Whakatane and the seafood is literally the catch of the day.

The weather has been typical of late Spring with warmer temperatures but cooler nights. Thankfully there is no rain to spoil the holiday break.

Whitebaiter - Whakatane River
Although it is nearing the end of the whitebait season there are still some keen fishermen lining the banks of the river that reaches it mouth East of the city boundaries.  It seems that the old method of catching the small delicacy remains the same as it was when I was a boy in Waitara.  I used a painted whiteboard weighted down just below the water's surface so that you could see the whitebait as they hugged the banks on their run up river.

This fisherman is using exactly the same method with his scoop net at the ready. He caught less than a quarter of a cupful as we watched, before we moved on.

Lintel Carving on Waka (Canoe) shelter
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Saturday, 3 November 2012

Modern Miss - MRT Drawing

Modern Miss - MRT
Roger Smith, 2012

Get A Print of this

Today's Drawing - Strathmore Drive

Strathmore Drive
Roger Smith, 2012

Get A Print of this

Presidential Ambitions and A 40-Year Coincidence

Not that I am overly interested in either of the two personalities that are striving to sit in the Oval Office after next week, but I do find this ever-changing polling graph of interest.  The margin between the two candidates seems incredibly small if such polls are to be believed.

Although the chart is labelled 'Really Clear Politics' the reality is that politics are usually anything but clear. It is the nature of politics that there are winners and losers but which ever party gets in, America has a tough road ahead.

Of significantly more interest to me is the change in Chinese leadership that is taking place at the moment.  What a contrast in style it is from the hoopla experienced in the USA.  The Straits Times has an excellent section on the issues and the challenges that they face.

They are labelled the Lost Generation because of what they missed out on during Mao's Cultural Revolution.  As correspondent Peh Shing Huei puts it, they had no childhood, no education, no family and, in the eyes of many, never felt happiness.

How has this shaped their attitudes, their global vision and their capability to take on the challenges China faces. We shall have to wait and see.

The reins will be handed over on November 8th to Vice-President Xi Jinping, Vice-Premier Li Keqiang and other members of the fifty plus generation.  First they will need to navigate their way through the shoals of factional in-fighting and it will be 350 top cadres of the Chinese Communist Party who decide the final make up of the top table.

It is a once-in-40-year coincidence where both the China and US leadership changes at the same time.  It all makes for an interesting month or, if politics is not your thing, switch to the Shopping Channel.
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Wednesday, 24 October 2012

Cruising On

News that the Singapore's Marina Bay Cruise Centre has officially opened in good news.  As a person who has enjoyed several of the Star Cruises I well remember the problems the country faced a couple of years ago when they were unable to berth larger vessels.

Cruising is a multi-million dollar industry and having the capability with the new terminal to dock ships of up to 220,000 tons and measuring up to 360 meters in length, Singapore is well placed to build on its determination to be the cruising hub of South East Asia..

To me it is just another example of the nations 'can-do' attitude.  They don't spend years being bogged down by resource consents and bureaucratic red tape; they simply make a government determination to pursue a goal and get on with it!


$S500 million might seem like a huge sum of money but they will get a great return on this investment as as 'The Little Red Dot' cements itself as the home port for  several of the major cruise lines in this part of the world.
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Friday, 19 October 2012

Today's Print

Learning To Fly
Roger Smith, 2012

Sunday, 14 October 2012

Morning Rambles In Queenstown

It's not usual that I feature the photographic portfolios of other photographers on this blog but the exception is the work of Frank Starmer.

Frank lived in the same condo as I did,Queens, which is as its name suggests in Queenstown, Singapore.  I would often seem him trudge off in the morning with his camera gear and tripod as he went in search of insects and particularly spiders.  He is still doing so and generously puts his work online and allows non commercial sites to share it.

Bee Harvesting - Frank Starmer

Morning Butterfly - Frank Starmer

Hoverfly - Frank Starmer
I always find it interesting that two photographers in the same environment can respond to their surroundings in totally different ways.  Frank takes macro images using special lens to capture the structure and colour of nature while I chose to focus on the broader visual aspects of Queenstown.  Both in our own way recording the things that inspired us about Singapore life.

Wednesday, 10 October 2012

What Goes Online, Stays Online

There an old adage "What goes online, stays online" and once you have written something on Facebook or dispatched a 'rant' via email its is forever in the public arena.

This is a hard lesson that Amy Cheong, a swiftly sacked assistant director of NTUC membership, has just learned.  When she vented her spleen in a derogatory Facebook posting about Malay wedding on a void deck I doubt that she realised the full implications of what she had just done.

Singapore is very determined to maintain racial harmony and the lessons of past history have not been forgotten.  A racially cohesive society that welcomes diversity is a more productive, happier and more governable society.

The Police have subsequently issues an arrest warrant for Ms Cheong on the basis that here comments "promote ill-will and hostility between different races in Singapore".  To her credit she has at least apologised for her insensitive post.

So why was she motivated to make the comments in the first place?  Apparently she found the noise for the HDB void deck where the Malay wedding was being held, too much to bear.

Communal living in HDB blocks does mean you are in close proximity and affected by the actions of others. When these intrude on one's own peace and calm then it can be stressful.  Ms Cheong has belatedly admitted that this is no reasonable cause to be derogatory about another race.

Harmony has to be continuously worked at; it could well mean putting up with food smells, celebrations and customs that are alien to one's own culture.

But I would also like to think that there is a quality of mercy in any civilised society and that this serious indiscretion will not forever ruin a life of someone, who had presumably up until this point been a contributor to the greater good through employment with NTUC?

Channel News Asia report the Director of Singapore Internet Research Centre at NTU, Professor Ang Peng Hwa, as saying: "In this case because the community reacted, in a way she has been punished. Because people sort of know now, this lady probably wouldn't be hired for a front-line job."

He went on to say that such incidents will likely occur again and this is probably correct.

...and on a different tack entirely I came across this satirical cartoon which poked gentle fun at the need to build up Singapore's population.

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