Singapore for Small Boys

April 4, 2008

shipping-290-3.jpgshipping290-1.jpgThere is a view of Singapore that gets my attention every single time. Sometimes you see it in all its glory as you fly into Changi from the south. Sometimes you catch a glimpse of it through the trees as you ride to the city in the cab. And if you indulge some of that most excellent regional dish at East Coast restaurants – pepper crab – it is all laid out in front of you. Hundreds of ships at anchor. Of all sorts, shapes and sizes. Strange thing is, very rarely do you see any of them moving.

Singapore Breakfast

April 4, 2008

maxwellhawkercentre290.jpgI do know better, I really do. I rationalised the $25.00 hotel breakfast yesterday as being necessary since I had a busy day coming up. But it was an “American” breakfast of indifferent tomato’s, cardboard bacon, and rubber eggs. All leaving me with the impression they were cooked up the previous night and run under a grill when I appeared in the dining room. Outside and around the corner for $1.90 was Read more

Singapore Rain

April 1, 2008

wetstreet.jpgThe evening started perfectly. I had turned the air-conditioner off, opened the windows and pushed aside the slats. Warm moist air flooded the room to the accompaniment of bird chatter and the background hum of air-conditioners hanging off walls in the lane I look onto. A few minutes after doing that, as if by invitation a crack and rattle of thunder banged over the top of us. Read more

Singapore at 6 am

March 30, 2008

singaporemorning.jpgGetting around a city in the early hours always opens up a new vista on a place.  This week I am staying down on the outskirts of Chinatown (Duxton Hill to be precise) and am therefore well away from the tourist and shopping end of town. A travel “snobbery” I am happy to admit and continue to indulge. Read more

Singapore Sign of Our Times

November 27, 2007

Notice anything odd about this sticker? It is the reverse (inside) view of a Singapore car registration sticker. Taken as we drove up the freeway when its message caught my eye. It is pretty nondescript actually and I paid it no attention for most of the trip. Read more

Insufferable Changi

May 14, 2007

The Airport I mean. Nothing to complain about really when the “other Changi” is contemplated – that is, the Japanese POW camp that used to be here. Perhaps been through here fifty times and it never gets any better but I should not complain – a passenger is a statistic to be processed after all. It boasts a not unreasonable infrastructure and the facility is clean and well managed. But we get spoiled at home by people who have some comprehension of what service is about. Something the staff at this airport have never gotten their heads around. Officious, petty, hustling, full of their self importance and propped up by their uniforms and badges. Processing you though their security like the number you are. I think sometimes when I am here that I prefer the heat of a Tel Aviv grilling. At least there they looked you in the eye – and you were being handled by security people who knew what they were doing, rather than by a bunch of people who have not been able to make it anywhere else in this society. (Next time you are through here do the sociological exercise of noting how many Chinese staff are actually doing these so called menial tasks). At least at this time of the night (midnight) the place is fairly empty. Enough grumping – back onto the plane and off to London.

Singapore -Same But Different

March 2, 2007

There are always little hints about a place that tell you there are more differences between cultures than necessarily meet the eye. I am constantly intrigued by these, especially where we try and put our fingers on the subtleties of difference between ourselves and New Zealanders, Americans, Brits and Canadians. The obvious comparisons I guess. But some of the cultural differences with our neighbours have an air of similarity but at first glance mask major differences.

This sticker struck me as a good example of those. At first glance the instructions here to a Singapore driver seem straight forward. But I was then bemused by the explicitness of the requirement to take 6 photos. Not 2. not 10. But 6. Not “at least” 6. I strongly suspect that such an instruction would not carry any weight to most Australian drivers. Take some photos sure. But an instruction like this is just as likely to invite 2 photos or 20 photos as an interpretation of compliance. Singapore citizens will take precisely 6 – you can be sure of that.

And of course it is reasonable to assume everyone in Singapore has a camera on them? Actually it probably is, at least via their cell phones. I am not so sure you could guarantee a camera will be around in an Australian car accident.

Taxi Story (mine) – Singapore

January 22, 2007

Where you go?
Furama Hotel.
Which hotel?
No Furama.
Actually there are a few of them.
Not in Singapore.
Oh, you mean Furama!
Yes please.
Which one?
Singapore is Chinatown
(thinking “don’t be cute with me buster…)
Downtown Chinatown.
Downtown or Chinatown?
The Furama in Chinatown.
You know address?
Eu Tong Sen Street
Eu (oh) Tong Sen…Chinatown
You show me…
OK (you bastard)
(long silent drive from airport, with attempt to get him talking again)
Nice taxi.
How old is it?
How old is that?
One week.
(looking around to see what make of car, I could see no branding)
What make of car is the taxi?
Who makes it?
(long silent pause)
Ah, I see from the steering wheel the car is a Volkswagen.
No, this is “Vee Double U”
I thought they are the same thing.
No, this is “Vee Double U”
Made in Germany (or Brazil) by the same company.
No, this is better “Vee Double U”. Make in Singapore.
Not a Volkswagen?
No such car.
(I spy the Furama on the horizon just before he is beaten to death with a nodding Buddha wrenched from off his dashboard)
There we go, the Furama.
I know.
You know?!
Yes, Chinatown Furama.
(said very slowly) I thought you said you did not know this Furama.
I live in Singapore fifty years. You think I know Furama?!!
(silence until we arrive)
That will be $14.65
(I hand him $15)
$15 please?
You said $14.65.
35 cents please.
Sorry, no tip. 35 cents please.
You safe to Furama
Sure, but you nearly not so safe! I’ll be having that 35 cents please – I have earned it and you sure have not.
But you not know Singapore like me for fifty years.
True, but I know most are not like you here. Bye. (With my 35 cents).

Storm Over Singapore

January 22, 2007

The humidity seeps into and out of everything. From out of the lowering sky. Out of the damp ground and dark foliage. The light gray sky of the morning has given over to an angry gray which is hanging like a curtain and being drawn across the jungle horizon. The sun has long vanished although its background effect is to add a silver sheen and gold mist to that curtain. Thunder crackles in the distance and the roof over the shelter creaks in anticipation of being hit. The temperate seems to rise and the roof complains some more. As if in placation a few large, warm and soft drops bounce of the roof and scatter to the ground.

The rim of gold suffused cloud rips apart and the mirror flat reservoir of water in front of us loses its steel grey stillness as the rain dances off its surface. The thunder clumps a bit closer and in the distance continues to crackle as the wall of water makes its steady way towards us. The one or two vanguard drops become a scattering of drops and anyone still in the open head to shelter. Behind us the monkeys leave their foraging and climb into the trees, pausing every now and then to look up and check the sky. Or to check a fellow is not in their sheltered spot.

Distracted by the churning reservoir, the noise of the rain approaching us is initially lost. But soon it is unmistakable as it hammers the jungle foliage off to our right. Drilling down hard the sound of rain becomes as noisy as that on a tin roof but still there is no deluge over us. But you can hear it coming and the rising crescendo creates an anticipation that everyone can feel. The monkeys are now well hidden under leaves and branches. I can see the tail of one hanging out from under some leaves. Suddenly the drumming rain is on us and we are caught up in the silence it demands. There is too much noise for sensible conversation and all you can do is be lost in the effect of it all. Thundering rain, sheeting across the reservoir, the lawn, the mud, bouncing off the canopy above us and creating a small storm of leaves, petals and twigs that are dislodged and float to the ground. A stream of rain runs off the roof of our little shelter in a steady curtain of water and runs away downhill.

In a few moments the wall is past us. The noise of approaching rain on leaves is now the noise of departing rain and it slowly subsides into the distance. The canopy continues to shower water and foliage, and monkeys are triggers for the same as a scattered family uses the respite to regroup. The thunder continues to rumble and the silver clouds and golden mist wash around us and the hills. But it is safe to get back to the car, wipe most of the mud from off our shoes and get on to our next appointment.

The Skinny Hamster and the Otter

January 19, 2007

A colleague in Singapore is known as “Mr Otter” – reflecting his penchant for fish. Especially pepper crab. And turning into a shopping mall this evening we were confronted by a sign that encouraged us to visit the health club on the third floor. A treadmill of a day comment morphed into the image of a skinny hamster on a treadmill. Indeed, the pair of us in the health club seemed like a clash of images, but was remotely hilarious when couched in animal terms. But it did seem like a nicely poetic title after the fashion of book and movie titles about Chinese themes that assailed us throughout the 1980s and 1990s – and I have to confess that I am bit of a sucker for them.

Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. The art of the title lies in the four word poem this title creates. Tiger and Dragon grab your attention and are linked in an obvious way. Lethal and beautiful. Elusive and powerful. Crouching and Hidden link up as well. Crouching can imply something that is hidden, perhaps in ambush. Waiting for prey. Or perhaps the Tiger and Dragon are pitted against each other, both in some sort of Mexican standoff. Both hidden from each other but aware of the presence of each, nonetheless.

“First Love the Litter of the Breeze”. “Fallen Plum Blossoms” “Scared Fire, Heroic Wind.” “Bloodshed on Mandarin Duck Mountain” (OK, a bit different). “Wolves Crying Under the Moon” “House of Flying Daggers” are titles that are evocative before you get to the story itself.

OK, most actually don’t cut it. Try “Father and Son are Both Great” “Special Anti-Gangsterdom Action” “Bomb Disposal Officer Baby Bomb”, “The Haunted Cop Shop II” “Hai Rui Swears At Emperor” or “Beyond Hypothermia” and see what sort of response you get from your local video store.

Or ask for “Skinny Hamster Outtreadled by Otter” and get a completely blank look. I guess you had to be there.

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