Friday, December 29, 2006

The rain cometh

I had been expecting sun, sand and surf in the year end break in tropical Southeast Asia this December, but nature had other plans. I was virtually cooped up in my Hotel Room in Batam, Indonesia, all day for 2 days. The view of the hills from my room often indicated if the day was going to be wet or very wet. In this picture, a dense mist has descended on the hills, covering the entire outline of its peaks.

This next picture, taken from the same angle on another day, shows the outline of the same hills, but just only.

It was that bad.

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Old bicycle habits in a new town

Sengkang town is relatively new in Singapore. It is situated in the Northeast corner of Singapore, just next to the coastal town of Punggol. A distinctive feature in Sengkang is its Integrated Development in the town centre, which has a Residential Condominium, a Shopping Centre, a Bus Terminal, an MRT and an LRT station together with its Operations Centre, all rolled into the same location. But alas, such new-ness and sophistication are spoilt by Sengkang residents who practice the park-and-ride philosophy but do so indiscriminately. This series of photos are self-explanatory.

Singapore is not that orderly and law-abiding after all, is it? This is not a posed picture. The bicyles in the picture are chained to the signpost and this happens everyday, without fail. It seems that the Land Transport Authority (LTA) (or is it the Pasir-Ris Punggol Town Council - PRPTC), isn't doing enough enforcing their own rules after spending taxpayers' money putting up this refurbished signboard. Yes, this same signboard was peeling not too long ago, and I wonder why the people who restored the signboard (must be LTA or PRPTC, right?) to its prestine condition never noticed the bicylces. Amazing feat of blindness or ignorance (or bo chap, as some Singaporeans will say). I wonder if the people at LTA or PRPTC see any meaning to life in the job they (are supposed) to do for which they draw a salary funded out of taxpayers' money. Or are they biding time till 62 to be released from the drudgery of life in Singapore? This situation has persisted for well over a year now. How Sengkang residents can take the LTA or PRPTC seriously is beyond me. In fact, it looks like the residents are playing I-dare with the powers that be by blatantly disregarding the order right under their noses. For a prominent and high traffic area (both of the human and vehicular types) in Sengkang's Town Centre, I wonder why this blatant violation of the law wasn't highlighted earlier? Must be bo chap again.

I suppose the LTA or PRPTC was waiting to be caught with its pants down. Well, it got what it waited for. I am ashamed to be looking at their err....signboard, I mean.

Saturday, March 25, 2006

Star Wars - The Last Days

I went to the Singapore Science Centre yesterday to view "The Art of Star Wars" exhibition. It has been on since November 2005 and will end in 9 days' time, on 3 April 2006. So if you haven't been down there, you'd want to take note of the closing date.

Was it a good exhibition? Yes, because for the first time, I saw actual life size models of Star Wars characters, as well as the detailed models of the sceneries and ships that were used in the filming of the Star Wars movies. I have always wondered how George Lucas could create a whole universe and film it in such convincing detail. I knew that models were used, but you have got to see the models themselves up close to fully appreciate the possibilities. Flash photography is not allowed, but you can take non-flash photographs with your digital cameras. The effect can be quite movie-like. This is one of the pictures I took with my sub-compact. Framed drawings and sketches line the walls from Episodes I to VI, all brightly lit on its own. Someone was going from picture to picture, recording each on his digital camera - without flash!

The exhibit also explains, with many examples, the various filming techniques that Lucas' ILM uses in movie making. And a lot of the related Science fiction and fact were explained and discussed at these exhibits, such as the science of cloning (remember the Clone Wars?).

If you haven't seen it, consider going. I think you will like it. For an $18 adult ticket, you not only gain entry to the exhibits, you also get a limited edition (only 20,000) nickel medallion coin with Darth Vader on one side and the Year of the Dog 2006 on the other side. This coin is minted by the Singapore Mint. Its a collector's item.

P.S. The exhibition has been on for some time so I am not surprised that some of the activity-based exhibits are not working any more! But this is a minor blemish on an otherwise interesting exhibition.

Saturday, February 04, 2006

Zoo evolution

When Zoos were first conceived and designed, they allowed human visitors to roam the grounds freely to view the animals that are safely locked up in their cages. Over time, this was seen as a form of cruelty to animals. It was also thought that if animals could roam freely so that they could be viewed in settings that were more natural, more could be learnt about them in their natural habitat.

Many zoos have made this change in their design with varying degrees of open-ness. The Singapore Zoological Gardens is one of these. Animals can roam in larger habitats outside of cages. In the Animal World in AFamosa Resort, which is situated in Malacca, it would seem that human visitors have switched places with the animals, as this photo shows. Visitors are locked up in a moving cage on a lorry, which drives them around the natural habitat of the animals in the zoo. If we interpolate the story of the Planet of the Apes, this scene would look very familiar to the apes! This photo was taken while I was similarly 'locked up' in a caged lorry.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Bird's Nest Flattery

I spotted this shop in Chinatown selling Bird's Nest, a very popular Chinese delicacy which is at once expensive and supposedly good for health. Well, this wasn't what made me take a snap shot of this shop. Rather, its the name of the shop, which sounded very similar to a very popular Korean soap opera named Dae Jang Geum or Jewel in the Palace. This soap (or serial as its more commonly called nowadays) is very popular not only in its native Korea, but also in Hong Kong as well as Singapore. I am sure that it is just as popular wherever there are Koreans, Chinese or perhaps even Japanese. I was glued to this serial when it was broadcast in Singapore. The thing is - I am not normally a 'serial' fan.

Well, apparently this shop decided to make capital out of this wildly successful serial by naming the shop after the show, even right down to the fonts for the Chinese title of the show, shown here on the shop's signboard. The only difference is the last Chinese character. Here, the character means 'Gold'. In the serial, that last character stands for "today". But phonetically, the two words are the same. So the resemblance is unmistakable. Long after the serial is forgotten, this shop (if it is still around then, that is), can become a conversation piece about 2003's most popular Korean serial.

For more on "Dae Jang Geum", see:

Jewel in the Palace
Dae Jang Geum Theme Park
Han Cinema - Dae Jang Geum

Friday, January 13, 2006

Sweet smell of wealth

Well, gold and silver are not the only things Chinese hanker for during these festivities. There are others, such as peanuts, melon seeds, sweets and sweetened pickle fruits, amongst others. This shop sold a variety of melon seeds and peanuts, which are displayed by the sacks. People just helped themselves to them, sampling them, but I suspect, not intendng to buy any. Out of curiosity myself, I sampled the (Red) Soiled Baked Peanut (bottom left), which is going for S$5.00 per 500 grammes. It was really tough, and I decided that it wasn't a nut I wanted on the table when I served guests for the New Year. Its a good opportunity to sample some of the other unusual peanuts, as well as Melon Seeds, like the Hong Kong Roasted Red Melon Seeds (bottom right) going for $3.00 per 500 grammes and the Dragon (Eyed) Melon Seeds at S$8.00 per 500 grammes(?) (bottom right). They look georgeous, don't they? Nothing like garish red to bring out the atmosphere of celebration and fortune during the Lunar New Year.

Monday, January 09, 2006

Fool's gold, sellers' tea

The Lunar New Year is always full of colour, gaiety and shopping for that new dress, bag or other brightly colour clothes, as well as sweet goodies. Retailers often fall over themselves to meet this seasonal demand, and where better to come to sell or buy them than Chinatown? I remember that my parents used to make their annual 'pilgrimage' to Chinatown this time of the year to pick up some things for the Lunar New Year. Oriental Emporium was still around then. We lived in the far north of the island in the British Naval Base in the 1960s and 70s (and Chinatown is in the deep south). There weren't any subway train at all then. The bus journey easily took at hour one way, if not more, and these buses weren't air-conditioned either. I rarely, if ever travelled with them 'down town' for these shopping trips, not even after we moved to middle-of-the-island Ang Mo Kio, which cut the travelling time and provided greater comfort through air-con buses and trains.

The price of gold has gone up recently, but there's plenty here, silver even. All fake of course, but symbolically essential nevertheless. Money begets more money, and that's what the Chinese look forward to in the New Year. So if you decorate your homes with these money, or 'eat' them, then you will indeed have a good beginning to the New Year (if you believe in these omens, that is). These 'money' are typically chocolate shaped in the form of ancient China's money and today's coins wrapped in faux gold and silver foil. Actually, the people who make the real money are the people who sell these 'money'!

Sunday, January 08, 2006

Ushering Spring to Singapore

Well, there is no Winter in Singapore, nor Spring, since its situated in the Tropics not too far away from the Equator, but the country still celebrates Christmas, which has just passed (too quickly for many, I am sure) but Spring is upon us, i.e. the Lunar New Year, which falls on 29 January this year (2006) - the first day of the Lunar New Year (sometimes also called the Chinese New Year). Celebrations are already beginning. Yesterday evening, in Chinatown, there was a fireworks display graced by non other than SM Lee Kuan Yew and his wife. That's also where you can perhaps see and hear real firecrackers going off 'live'. Firecrackers were banned in Singapore a long time ago, making the New Year much quieter. Anyway, this photo shows a quiet Chinatown street just hours before the 'party' which commenced at 7pm. The road has already been closed to traffic. I was there with my wife doing some shopping. While she shopped, I went around the place smelling the atmosphere and snapping some pictures. We decided not to stay for the evening because there was a hungry boy waiting at home for dinner.