Thursday, 26 December 2013

Lazy, Hazy, Days in Singapore

Lianhe Zaobao readers were asked to sum up 2013 in a Chinese character.  According to reports, "Haze" was the winner; no surprises there!

So in honour of this revelation, here's a new T-Shirt design.

Get yours here

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Monday, 23 December 2013


It's many, many years since I have stayed in this regional city in Northland.  Back then it was just an overnight stay as I considered whether to take up a museum job or not.

These past two days we have been spending in the city to escape the Xmas bustle of Auckland.

A visit to Whangarei Falls today was a highlight.  Here are some images of the city and the Falls

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Saturday, 21 December 2013

The Other Singapore - A Tale of Shipbuilding and Baby Food

Those of you who thought there was only one place in the world called 'Singapore' may be surprised to learn that there are in fact two.

More precisely, there were two, one of which is now buried in sand dunes. The other Singapore was established in the mid-1800's by timber interests and situated on the Kalamazoo River, downstream from Saugatuck, near the shore of Lake Michigan. Its first house was built in 1837.  The area had been originally inhabited by Ottawa Indians.

Unlike its South East Asian cousin, the US version didn't produce nutmeg but was renowned for its sawmills, planing mills, ship builidng, barrel factories and other wood products. When Chicago was devastated by the Great Fire of 1871, much of the replacement timber came from Singapore and its neighboring  timber (lumber) communities.

Once the white pine trees were all clear-felled and no longer available, and its protective windbreaks lost, the American Singapore was abandoned and gradually buried by drifting sand dunes.  It now only exists in legend as one of the state's 'lost cities'.

In an excellent April 2010 article, James Schmiechen describes the town thus:

"Singapore existed for about a half century, from about 1837 to the early 1880's. It began, as one pioneer descendant called it, as "an oasis in the woods" - a very early lumber/immigration port and shipbuilding town that tells of how an environmental disaster resulted from the clear cutting of nearby forests and the blowing sands that eventually buried the town. It was, in short, an early American 'disaster city'. Its first mill was constructed in 1835, being surrounded on the north and west by wooded virgin forest and on dunes rising to a height of about 50 feet. Like most of the area settlements, it started as a lumber milling camp and tried desperately to become a town but in reality its handy proximity to Lake Michigan turned out to be a disadvantage".

He also sheds  light on the immigrants who arrived by boat and made up the population of Singapore:

"Singapore was a sort of Michigan "Ellis Island" port of entry for immigrants from all over America, Canada, and Europe. Dozens of Saugatuck area families trace their Michigan origins to Singapore - many of them tradesmen (e.g. bricklayers, carpenters, sailors, engineers) who stayed on in the settlement for a time before moving on to opportunities (particularly land acquisition) in other settlements. Around 1850 the boarding house held families from Ireland, Holland, Norway, Germany, and Canada. Daniel Gerber, the founder of the Michigan family that invented processed baby food arrived in Michigan by way of Singapore in 1863. Early Dutch settlers of the nearby settlement that became Holland, Michigan came to Michigan by way of Singapore".

Singapore also had its own bank and these were often known as "wildcat banks" because of the localised worth of the currency they printed (see examples below) and volatile nature of their businesses.

The moral of the story, if there is one, is that prosperity can be a fleeting thing if you abuse your natural resources and don't plan for a sustainable future.  

The Singapore of Michigan didn't heed this advice and is now lost in the sands of time.  The prosperous Asian Singapore that we know today has a solid focus on renewable and human resources and continues to thrive.

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Friday, 20 December 2013

Sunday, 8 December 2013

Mr Flakey Crust & The Six Kilometres Of Fame

It's a fairly well-know fact that if you eat a lot of pastry your days as an aspiring athlete are numbered.  Too much stodge does not a sprinter make!

So it comes as no great surprise to learn that the recent local entry winner of the Singapore marathon, a pastry chef called Tam Chua Puh, cheated.  

When he turned up at the tape several minutes ahead of Singapore's finest athletes it took the race organisers completely by surprise.  It transpires that Mr tam is somewhat of a dab hand at such deception having pulled the same ruse in the previous two marathons.

The reason; he simply wanted a medal and T-shirt for finishing the race.  So he ran 6 kilometres and then took a short cut to the finishing line, choosing to avoid running the additional 36 k's required for a legitimate result.

Of course he is but one in a long line of marathon cheats.  Take the case of Cuban born Rosie Ruiz who in 1980 was crowned the female winner of the 84th Boston Marathon.  She traveled by subway through the majority of  the course only to burst through spectators a half mile from the finish and claim victory at the finishing line.

Then there is a Michigan dentist who magically seems to appear on the winners podium despite being photographed near the back of the pack for the majority of the race.  Or the ex-Army mechanic who took a free ride on a spectator bus only to rejoin the Kielder Marathon and claim a medal.  The latter was subsequently disqualified as several people had noticed him hiding behind a tree near the finishing line before he slotted in behind the leading two runners near the finish.

I blame Tam Chua Puh's lethargy on his trade.  The best pastry, as any cook will tell you, is made with lard as its molecular structure gives a flaky crust.  And lard is a product of pork which, in combination with sugar and salt, is enough to slow anybody down.

Whatever his reasons or motivation, the marathon days of Mr Tam are well and truly over and he will have to content himself with jogging around McRitchie reservoir in the future.
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Monday, 2 December 2013

It's Summer!

Summer Montage
Roger Smith 2-13 - available here