Monday, 15 November 2010

To Everything There Is A Season

One of my best friends rang me a couple of days ago with news that he has to have a heart bypass operation.

This news came out of the blue and was hard to equate with a very fit individual, who is at least a decade younger than I.

Not that I am induly worried, as such operations these days are realtively common and I have every confidence that he will pull through just fine.

However it does make one pause and reflect on the transcient nature of life.  As the song says:

"To Everything
There is a season
And a time to every purpose, under Heaven"

It would seem that this phrase, adapted from the book of Ecclesiastes,  also applies to some of the natural heritage landmarks of Singapore.

The Mandai gardens are a botanical site of some historic interest if only for the fact that they were established by one John Laycock in 1951.  It is Singapores' oldest commercial orchid garden and is about to close as its lease will soon expire.

My Laycock's other claim to fame is that he gave Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew his first job, and an early taste of politics when he acted as an election agent for Mr Laycock and his pro-British Singapore Progressive Party (SPP).


Panorama of Mandai Orchid Gardens supplied by Panoramic Earth


While no doubt there is degree of sadness that these gardens will close, the hard reality is that they are a commercial operation in a country where land is at a premium.  The Mandai operation has clearly seen better times, and patronage is down on what it was during the garden's hey day.

Any heritage value needs to be measured against the Botanic Gardens which are with doubt a national treasure of international significance.  Can the same be said for Mandai Gardens, whatever the tenuous linkages the orchid garden has with M.M.?  I suspect not.

Saturday, 13 November 2010

Pudding Discrimination

"Run, run, as fast as you can.
You can't catch me!
I'm the Gingerbread Man!" 

But catch up with him they did; the absurdity of human beings at times being simply mind boggling!

A politically correct Lancashire council have stripped Gingerbread biscuits stripped of their gender and renamed them gingerbread 'persons' on menus for 400 primary schools, leaving parents astonished about the change.

According to a report in Indian media the wording went out on the new autumn-winter weekly menu provided by the Lancashire School Meals Service.

Little wonder that spoofs of political correctness have been popular on the Net.  One of my favourites is the Politically Correct Little Red Riding Hood which commences:

" There once was a young person named Little Red Riding Hood who lived on the edge of a large forest full of endangered owls and rare plants that would probably provide a cure for cancer if only someone took the time to study them.

Red Riding Hood lived with a nurture giver whom she sometimes referred to as "mother", although she didn't mean to imply by this term that she would have thought less of the person if a close biological link did not in fact exist.

Nor did she intend to denigrate the equal value of nontraditional households, although she was sorry if this was the impression conveyed.


Reading the full story is worth the effort.

And many of our more cherished festivals do not escape a ribbing either.  With Chrismas almost upon us I reproduce the Politically Correct Santa.

'Twas the night before Christmas and Santa's a wreck...
How to live in a world that's politically correct?

His workers no longer would answer to "Elves,"
"Vertically Challenged" they were calling themselves.

And labour conditions at the North Pole
Were alleged by the union to stifle the soul.

Four reindeer had vanished, without much propriety,
Released to the wilds by the Humane Society.

And equal employment had made it quite clear
That Santa had better not use just reindeer.

So Dancer and Donner, Comet and Cupid,
Were replaced with 4 pigs, and you know that looked stupid!

The runners had been removed from his sleigh;
The ruts were termed dangerous by the E.P.A.

And people had started to call for the cops
When they heard sled noises on their roof-tops.

Second-hand smoke from his pipe had his workers quite frightened.
His fur-trimmed red suit was called "Unenlightened."

And to show you the strangeness of life's ebbs and flows,
Rudolf was suing over unauthorized use of his nose .

And had gone on Geraldo, in front of the nation,
Demanding millions in over-due compensation.

So, half of the reindeer were gone; and his wife,
Who suddenly said she'd enough of this life,

Joined a self-help group, packed, and left in a whiz,
Demanding from now on her title was Ms.

And as for the gifts, why, he'd ne'er had a notion
That making a choice could cause so much commotion.

Nothing of leather, nothing of fur,
Which meant nothing for him. And nothing for her.

Nothing that might be construed to pollute.
Nothing to aim. Nothing to shoot.

Nothing that clamoured or made lots of noise.
Nothing for just girls. Or just for the boys.

Nothing that claimed to be gender specific.
Nothing that's war-like or non-pacific.

No candy or sweets...they were bad for the tooth.
Nothing that seemed to embellish a truth.

And fairy tales, while not yet forbidden,
Were like Ken and Barbie, better off hidden.

For they raised the hackles of those psychological
Who claimed the only good gift was one ecological.

No baseball, no football...someone could get hurt;
Besides, playing sports exposed kids to dirt.

Dolls were said to be sexist, and should be passé;
And Nintendo would rot your entire brain away.

So Santa just stood there, dishevelled, perplexed;
He just could not figure out what to do next.

He tried to be merry, tried to be gay,
But you've got to be careful with that word today.

His sack was quite empty, limp to the ground;
Nothing fully acceptable was to be found.

Something special was needed, a gift that he might
Give to all without angering the left or the right.

A gift that would satisfy, with no indecision,
Each group of people, every religion;

Every ethnicity, every hue,
Everyone, everywhere...even you.

So here is that gift, its price beyond worth...
"May you and your loved ones enjoy peace on earth
."
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Tuesday, 9 November 2010

The Running Bug

Cool ironman
Iron Man
A couple of my Singaporean friends have caught the running bug; an infestation of the mind that quickly consumes all other waking passions.

It usually starts innocuously enough. A glance in a  slimming magazine. a cycle down one of the new scenic walkways or an early evening jog, when the air has been freshened after the tropical rains.

Regrettably though this habit soon escalates to 10 kilometre races, full marathons and eventually ironman events.  To achieve these more lofty goals these hardy souls take to running around McRitchie Reservoir.

A blame this malady firmly at the feet of Expats who have brought this habit to Singapore with them.   They have been known to congregate in groups with names such as Hash House Harriers.

Don't be put off by the florid red faces of such individuals as once the endorphins have kicked in all sanity goes out the window. You may think that all of this activity is healthy; not so.

Singapore's National Servicemen in training were dropping like flies due to the heat and motor exertion, much to the consternation of their parents.  If there basic training was like mine from early days then they would have been running from dawn till dusk.

The government has heeded parental concern and acknowledged the rise of the couch potato by recently announcing that they would be tweaking the Individual Physical Proficiency Test (IPPT).  The voluntary five week fitness programme has been expanded to nine months.

Bugs of a different kind have been occupying the minds of US hoteliers as they face an increasing number of lawsuits.  The bug in question is the bed bug, which has even taken up residence in New York's Waldorf Astoria.

Singapore and Malaysia can lay claim to a more edifying honour.  They have the largest bug in the world.  In terms of length the South East Asian female Walking Stick bug with the largest recorded being a staggering 21.8".

And speaking of staggering, its time to contemplate the possibility of an evening run.
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Sunday, 7 November 2010

Mind The Coconuts

Security is taken seriously in Asia.  Witness the elaborate details surrounding the US President's current visit to India.

According to a media report several days before President Obama's visit  "U.S. and Indian security officials visited the small two-story building and ordered the looping off of ripe coconuts from the trees to prevent any accidental bonking".

Clearly the report is US-centric as the term "bonking" has an entirely different connotation in Europe.

Having witnessed at first hand the elaborate security measures that surrounded the visit of then President Clinton to a museum I worked for, this lopping coconuts comes as no surprise.

Menawhile in New delhi an enterprising Indian designer has taken to converting Michelle Obama printed shopping bags into sets of conversation pillows. 

She claims she has made the pillows because she considers the first lady an "inspirational icon," but her ulterior motive is to lure her into the store to present her with a set.  No doubt this will generate a lot of free publicity for her design studio.

The Indian twittershpere has been sharing their humorous insights of the tour. 

One wit has noted that the twitter term "Air Force One" has been ranking higher than the President's name, causing him to comment "Air Force One is in trending while Obama is not, so his carrier overtakes his career".

Much has also been made of Obama's anticipated visit to the Golden Temple in Amritsar. One twitter user is sure the US president will never visit Bangalore.

"Those buggers will make him outsource his presidency, that too at $10/Man Hour," he tweeted.

Thursday, 4 November 2010

Greasies

The staple of the 'Great British Stodge', fish and chips has just celebrated its 150th birthday.  Even Charles Dickens referred to a "fried fish warehouse" in 1838, in Oliver Twist.

The history of fish and chips makes interesting reading in Wikipedia.  Apparently a 13-year-old, Joseph Malin, is credited with dreaming up the idea of selling chips and battered fish to the poor of the West End.

Digestion of this fatty food is not limited to the UK however.  Here in New Zealand we munch our way through seven million servings of chips a week (yes that's a week!).

In the Kiwi venacular the food is known as "greasies" which, given the high fat content, will surprise no one.

Swallows At Dusk

As I sit at our dining table I can watch the antics of a pair of swallows as they flit back and forth from their nest, under the eaves of the neighbouring two storey house.

They are industrious birds, diving to catch an evening meal at dusk when the security light blinks on attracting insects.

It is a quiet contemplative time of day when anglers perch hidden on the side of riverbanks waiting for the evening rise of nymphs and mayflies. The air stills and all is silent.

The swallows were also active around our Queens condo in Singapore and on the eighth floor we were on a similar level to their flight path.

There the evening was far from quiet with the steady hum of traffic down Commonwealth Avenue. Not that I found this disturbing as one quickly adjusts to the level of ambient sound, at least that is the perception.

Coming back to New Zealand though is also returning to the realisation of what true quiet really is.

Early morning is the same in its solitude, with the dawn chorus of assorted native birds, blackbirds and thrushes in fine voice.

In Singapore it was the call of night birds that were the most memorable but even they receded into acoustic familiarity as time went by.

As I watch, the Botany Downs swallows continue their restless trajectory. Once the artificial light dims they too will return to roost.

The Indian grandmother, whose family own the shop house above the nesting birds, pulls in the last washing of the day and the sound of a strengthening night wind can be heard as the quiet time passes.

Tuesday, 2 November 2010

Flowering Rata

Rata, Howick  ............................................................................   Roger Smith
The other day I came across a pair of Tui singing high up in the branches of a flowering rata tree.  The tree in question is at the rear of the Howick Library and I was determined to return and photograph it.

Not a tui in sight when I did so.  However I managed to use it as the inspiration for this art print.

Monday, 1 November 2010

Auckland's New Chinatown


Most large cosmopolitan populations in the Asia Pacific region have significant Chinese populations and Auckland is no exceception.

In the Howick / Botany area of South Auckland we have scattered clusters of Chinese, Korean and other Asian businesses and eateries.  These though could never have been deemed to be a "Chinatown" in the true sense of the word.

However this has now changed and a large warehosue building that used to house Bunnings hardware store in Ti Takau Road has been converted into our first officially designated Chinatown.



On the day we we visited only half of the stalls were occupied and the vendors were selling cheap tat or fashion garments.

There was a pervading feeling that many of the stall holders will be lucky to survive the next six months but I sincerely hope that I am proved wrong as the city needs cultural centres such as this.

Singapore's Chinatown remains one of the best I have experienced. Sydney's is so-so and San Francisco's a big disappointment.
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Cockle Bay and Howick Beach

Pohutukawa Cockle Bay
Yesterday we went for a drive to look at the beaches closest to our house.  These are on the other side of Howick, namely Howick Beach, Mellons Bay and Cockle Bay.

With the temperatures heating up a small number of braver souls were enjoying their water sports. The quiet pursuits of canoeing and fishing had their solitude rudely awakened by the odd jetski.

I was reminded just how beautiful some of the native plant and coastal reserves are in New Zealand and how well they are maintained.


Environmental concerns have been high on the Kiwi agenda for many years and countries such Singapore have followed suit.  The preservation of the mangrove wetlands figure prominently in both countries.

In the case of the Howick beaches though, these are largely white sand with imposing bluffs breaking the skyline.
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Wednesday, 27 October 2010

Eruptions

Mount Merapi in Central Java.News that the Singapore stockmarket wishes to merge with their Australian counterparts has been perceived by the more hysterical elements of the media and left-leaning politicians as a take over with sovereignty implications.

The Australian labour party, clinging to power with a majority of one, have already been told by their Green and independent partners in the coalition that they will not support such a move.

Greens leader, Bob Brown, is quoted as saying that  he could see ''no advantage for this nation having the stock exchange controlled from Singapore''.  He then reverted to type by stating that the government should take human rights concerns into account, citing Singapore's ''appalling repression of freedom of speech and proper democratic norms''.

To be frank, this is the sort of statement one expects from Aussie politicians, short on substance and long on rhetoric.  One even tried to link the ASX merger with the 2005 execution of an Australian Nguyen Tuong Van, for drug trafficking.

More balanced and pragmatic observers have seen huge advantages in having both exchanges combined.  The AusX is a small player in the global market but combined with Singapore the stakes are raised considerably, creating the world's fifth largest exchange.

New Zealand's response  to the possible merger has been generally positive and a further amalgamation of the NZX with the new exchange conglomerate could also be on the cards at some stage in the future.

The other eruption that has occurred in the past 24 hours is volcanic rather than political. 

Mount Merapi in Indonesia has erupted again and it will be interesting to see if the ash cloud debris reaches Singapore?

The earthquakes and tidal waves continue in the region and while Singapore is supposedly outside the danger zone for these phenomena it would be wise to consider the fate of Christchurch which taught New Zealand a salutary lesson; earthquakes can strike in places far removed from known fault lines.

The Great Sumatra fault earthquake when it finally comes will be felt in Singapore.  The only question is to what degree?
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Monday, 25 October 2010

2011 Art Calendar To Share



For the past four years I have produced an annual calendar of my images.  Please feel free to click on the image above and download a copy of the 2011 version.

It is in A3 pdf format so you can print it off on an office or personal colour printer

Saturday, 23 October 2010

Systemic Failures

We have been experiencing very strong winds these past few days, or to put it more precisely, equinoxal gales.

As a result of these events our newly installed clothesline has developed the unpleasant habit of lifting like a jet foil, disengaging its support arm and lowering itself against the fence.  Ours is not called the Supafold for nothing!

While this is technically not supposed to be able to happen it has done so nevertheless, the last time coming down on my wife's shoulder and leaving quite a graze.

The Hills clothesline has been the dominant brand in New Zealand for many years but in recent times the solid steel has been replaced by a much lighter weight of metal and there has also been a significant increase in the amount of plastic used.  This means that the frames are no longer rigid and flex alarmingly.

It doesn't help that these lines are no longer manufactured in Australia as, with most products nowadays, they bear a stamp "made in China".

Today the clothesline installer paid us a visit, the obligatory half an hour late as all New Zealand tradesmen seem to be.  

He was clearly skeptical that the wind would actually blow a clothesline down but after we had introduced to our neighbour whose wife had been cracked on the head in a similar rig malfunction, he got the message.

We shall be replacing our retractable support arms with the fixed variety.

During the course of our conversation it transpired that the installer had lived in Bali for several years before returning to New Zealand.  The topic of Indonesia inevitably led to comments on the rife corruption in that country.

I was also reminded how Singapore is experiencing yet another serious cloud of haze pollution from Sumatra, as bad as that which we endured in 2006.

Despite all of the previous promises by the Indonesian government, expensive dinners and friendly ASEAN handshakes the reality is that Indonesia goes its own sweet way, burning off land whenever it feels like it.

Neignbourly considerations do not enter into the Indonesian equation and money given by Singapore in the past to monitor haze and educate farmers has made little or no difference.  I would suggest that the majority of farmers probably never even saw a dollar of the aid money.
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Thursday, 21 October 2010

Swan Lake - The Great Chinese State Circus


Chinese acrobats and contortionists are in a class of their own, unlike their Russian State counterparts who have resorted to live fish swallowing and regurgitation
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Monday, 18 October 2010

The Ravages Of Time

The Teochew community in Singapore will no doubt be delighted that one of their oldest temples is fully being restored.  It has a long and important history.

Yueh Hai Ching temple owners, the Ngee Ann Kongsi foundation have committed $5 million to restore it over two years, beginning in 2011.

Artisans from China will be employed on the project as I suspect the necessary skills are no longer available in Singapore.

According to National Library records, in 1826, a group of Teochew settlers from Guangzhou, China, established a wood-and-atap shrine dedicated to Tian Hou, the Goddess of the Sea.

This was on Philip Street which was a coastal area in the times before reclamation of the swampy areas where it stood.  The temple faced the sea and was a place where newly-arrived Chinese immigrants as well as sailors and traders travelling between Southern China and Singapore came to offer thanks to the goddess for their safe journey across the seas.

Its name Yueh Hai Ching means "temple of the calm sea built by the Guangzhou people".

Yueh Hai Ching Temple holds a special distinction in Singapore as the Chinese Emperor Guang Xu presented a plaque to the temple in 1907.  Only one other temple in Singapore, the Thian Hock Keng Temple received similar recognition from the Emperor.

It is to the credit of the clan associations and private philanthropists that they are prepared to save these heritage landmarks.  The climate of the tropics ravages such structures and many of the former architectural glories have also been lost to the bulldozer.

Temples have fared better than most and Singapore in recent decades has been very active in conserving heritage buildings.
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