Saturday, February 26, 2011

Saturday, Feb. 26, 2011

IF IT'S NOT A HULA HOOP, MAYBE IT'S "HULA BALLS"? After having a great lunch on Saturday with friends at the Marmalade Pantry in ION Orchard, Sandy and I walked down Orchard Road to go see (finally) The King's Speech. (It was excellent, except for the man snoring loudly in the row behind us. He did awaken and laugh during the king's swear-word rants.) Anyway, back to Orchard Road. Along the way, we encountered numerous street performers. The most remarkable was Oh Ow Kee (right), a widely-known swinger of wooden balls, which he calls Woodball Woola Chains. He pitches this as a exercise regimen. The balls come in three lengths: 1.5 meters, with 50 balls for beginners to 3.7 meters, with 108 balls. That last one weighs 5 kilograms. These certainly might work. He looks quite fit. He is older than 60. (According to a Bangkok Post article, he's 67.) One downside: You definitely don't want to exercise next to someone whipping these things around.

HOW MUCH STIMULATION DO YOU REALLY NEED? While waiting for the movie to begin at the Cathay Cineplex Cineleisure complex at 8 Grange Road, I ducked into the men's room. There I encountered a new thing. These might be in place in many places around the USA and the globe. I haven't seen one. It's an electronic hand dryer. That's nothing special. The amazing thing is that the hand dryer included a screen that played MOVIE PREVIEWS on it. Me, I used a urinal. I didn't dare check what might be playing in the bathroom stalls.

YA GOTTA LOVE 'EM: My source of information in this matter is limited (not surprising), but I have come to the conclusion that the shells of the eggs I've been using in the kitchen are MUCH THICKER than the eggs I was using in Massachusetts. They're stronger. They break in a more crispy manner. They can handle a mechanical ink stamping. Simply put, I love the egg shells here in Singapore. (Sandy does, too, I will say.) I have done some hands-on research on egg shells here. Preliminary "tests" indicate that the strength of the shell is NOT sufficient to allow them to bounce off a tile floor in a kitchen. I'm not saying they taste better. I'm just saying they are easier to handle with confidence. I like that. The eggs in the picture (above) are Seng Choon brand eggs. For now, I am calling this piece Still Life of Singapore Eggs Their Original Plastic Housing No. 5.
The high quality of the egg shells raises one question: Is it easier to WALK ON EGG SHELLS in Singapore than elsewhere? (It's a phrase that is used in these parts.)

TODAY'S CRANE REPORT: Here's the readings of the Singapore Crane Index Limited Economic Indicator. The numbers must be taken with some reservations. It's a late reading because Sandy and I took a walk around Marina Bay when the tally should have been taken. No staff member stepped up. So, the reading is about 90 minutes late. (It did allow time for a massive ship to move into the dock and for the cranes to come down, skewing the numbrs in a positive direction.)
Date: Feb. 27
Time: 9:50 a.m. (Singapore time)
Cranes Up (bad): 10
Cranes Down (good): 15
CRANES MISSING (unknown degree of goodness/badness): 3

Friday, February 25, 2011

Friday, Feb. 25, 2011

A DINING ROOM WITH A VIEW: Tonight we had dinner with Katie and Terry at one of the restaurants on the top of the Marina Bay Sands Casino--57 floors up. Katie and Terry go back to New York today. This was a good time to use a Christmas gift certificate for Sky on 57. From the balcony, the place had a great view of Marina Bay, including our apartment building (which features two arcing vertical strips of lighting). The meal was excellent. I had some suckling pig. Tried not to think of a certain Warner Bros. cartoon character. An excellent meal for all of us.

CAN YOU WRITE THAT IN ENGLISH, PLEASE? Reading the Straits Times (which, by the way has PLENTY of advertising--classifieds, even) isn't as easy as you might think. Consider two articles in today's Sports pages about yesterday's S-League soccer games here in Singapore. These terms may be very familiar to some of you. They tripped me up, but I would have deserved a linguistic yellow card.

Does It Have Anything To Do With Spoonerisms?
They were derided by some as certainties to be S-League wooden spoonists after being thumped 0-5 in their opening match against Albirex Niigata last week.
Turns out that this is a common term for many in the UK and its Commonwealthians. It basically means the "last place finishers." The origin appears to be academic, but it's used in politics, sports and Realty TV shows, too. A simple definition for the term appears here. A more elaborate discussion is in this academic paper: The Wooden Spoon: Rank (dis)order in Cambridge 1753-1909. The illustration (at right) of surviving elaborately decorated wooden spoons from Cambridge University comes from that paper. Try this out sometime during Spring Training: "Do you think the Washington Nationals will be wooden spoonists of the National League East this year?"

What The Beep Are You Talkin' About?
Four days ago, Qiu Li passed the mandatory Beep test. It was his fifth attempt at the fitness assessment and came one week after the new S-League season kicked off.
The context helps with this one, of course. Still, I had to look that one up. There are variations, what with the Bleep Test or Beep Test. Either way, the test is clearly bleepin' difficult. Oh well. I suppose not many people around here know what a Wonderlic test is--or care for that matter.

TODAY'S CRANE REPORT: Our local crane activity has returned. At our doorstep is the Kota Lambang of Singapore. (Can you believe how many people have taken pictures of this ship on This might signal a rebound for the Singapore Crane Index Limited Economic Indicator. Good news for investors worldwide. Relax, enjoy the weekend....

Date: Feb. 26
Time: 8:15 a.m. (Singapore time)
Cranes Up (bad): 9
Cranes Down (good): 15
CRANES MISSING (unknown degree of goodness/badness): 4
NOTE: It looks like two cranes are about to rise. The 15 Cranes Down number is SOFT.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Thursday, February 24, 2011

NEW ZEALAND ON THE MIND: Singapore is one of a handful of nations that has sent rescue/recovery personnel to New Zealand to help deal with the earthquake in Christchurch. Some of Singapore's armed forces were already in New Zealand for joint exercises. So, there's some measure of local pride in that assistance. Speaking of quakes, Singapore historically seems to have been out of harm's way, when it comes to major disturbances. According to this blogger, there have been tremors, but no real earthquake in Singapore. However, there has to be some interest and concern. There's a page devoted to warnings on the NEA (National Environment Agency) web site. It focuses on the region bounded by 20 North--10 South, 90-East; and 130 East. (NO, VIRGINIA, THOSE ARE NOT INTERSTATE HIGHWAYS. THINK GLOBALLY.)

BREAKING BUSINESS NEWS ALERT! STUNNING DROP IN CRANE SIGHTINGS: In keeping with recent drops in many markets, there's some interesting news based on the daily Singapore Crane Index Limited Economic Indicator. At last count an amazing 18 cranes are UP. (The photo above shows some of them.) One ship is slowly sidling up to a wharf, but I don't think it's going to happen quickly enough for any of the cranes to come down by 8:30 a.m., our typical reporting time. It's going to be close. Should we go live on network TV?....
There's a further complication. It looks like some cranes are MISSING. I should have noticed that they were on WHEELS. I will do all I can to make sure this does not affect the Singapore Crane Index Limited Economic Indicator. The worst that can happen is that it makes the ECONOMIC INDICATOR more LIMITED. That's OK. Relax, this might just be a CRANE CORRECTION.

Date: Feb. 25
Time: 8:15 a.m. (Singapore time)
Cranes Up (bad): 18
Cranes Down (good): 5
CRANES MISSING (unknown degree of goodness/badness): 5

Date: Feb. 25

Time: 8:30 a.m. (Singapore time)
Cranes Up (bad): 16
Cranes Down (good): 7
CRANES MISSING (unknown degree of goodness/badness): 5

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

A REAL TREE-HUGGER: I mentioned the other day that we got up close and personal with a mangrove bat viper in a mangrove forest in Langkawi. To show how close, here's a photo taken by our guide, Madi, on Katie Thorpe's digital camera. You can see the markings clearly as it hugs a branch, about four feet above the water level. The average length of these rascals is 0.7 to 0.9 meters. It has "heat-sensing pits" on its lips for detecting prey--often lizards and frogs. It is considered endangered in Singapore. We saw this one hundreds of miles north in Langkawi, Malaysia. It was enjoying a digestion-related sleep. It did not need to post a "Do Not Disturb" sign to keep us at bay.

A ROOM WITH A VIEW: I've shown views from the apartment (featuring those busy cranes and ships). Here's a view from Sandy's office on the 13th floor of Six Battery Road. The building sits on the side of the river that wends through town.
This view looks down on Boat Quay, upriver toward the Elgin Bridge, named for James Bruce (left), the 8th Earl of Elgin (hard G) and son of the Elgin who found his marbles. The sweeping shore on the left is filled with bars and restaurants. Close to the end of the bars nearest to Sandy's building is one of the 30 or so Harry's bars that have been established throughout the city. This one is particularly noteworthy. For one thing, I understand it's a good place to hear jazz. For another thing, it was the watering-hole-of-choice for rogue trader Nick Leeson, who brought 233-year-old Barings Bank to its knees. Harry's Quayside Bar doesn't hide the fact, featuring a signature cocktail called the Bank Breaker.

CRANE WATCHING: Here's the latest information related to the Singapore Crane Index Limited Economic Indicator. Today's indicator continues recent strong trends. (For those who want to put this in perspective, I've ordered a CHART from the media department of the International Association of Crane Counter(s). They're a bit overworked because they just came back from the annual meeting and ran into some overflowing in-boxes, but I hope to have something by tomorrow. "Sandy, do you know how to work this Excel thing......?"):

Date: Feb. 24
Time: 8:31 a.m. (Singapore time)
Cranes Up (bad): 7
Cranes Down (good): 21

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

IN CASE YOU CAN'T GET TO MALAYSIA TO SEE ONE OF THOSE APRIL SUNSETS: Yesterday, I included a photograph of an island off Langkawi that resembled a dragon's mouth. It's a particularly popular spot in April when--if the viewer is positioned well--the sun appears to set right down the throat of the hungry dragon. I am re-doing the photo (at right) with a red circle representing the setting sun. (Yes, it has a hole in it; I can't figure out how to fill in the circle. Call it a sun spot.) This can't replace the real thing, of course. Feel free to make the trip to Langkawi anyway. It's a beautiful place. I included a parting shot (top) from Langkawi, showing some petals floating on an infinity pool. This is what February looks like in Langkawi.

CRANE WATCHING: Those of you with trigger fingers on your investment devices will be glad to know that I am back in a position to continue the Singapore Crane Index Limited Economic Indicator. Here's how things have looked since this began on Feb. 16:

Feb. 16
Time: 8:30 a.m.
Cranes Up (Bad): 11
Cranes Down (Good): 17

Date: Feb. 17.
Time: 8:30 a.m.
Cranes Up (bad): 5.
Cranes Down (good): 23

Date: Feb. 18
Time: 8:28 a.m.
Cranes Up (bad): 12
Cranes Down (good): 16

Date: Feb. 19-22
(No crane-counting figures available. Annual Meeting of International Association of Crane Counter(s) in Langkawi, Malaysia.)

Date: Feb. 23
Time: 8:25 a.m. (Singapore time)
Cranes Up (bad): 6
Cranes Down (good): 22

BEACH READING: On the way to Langkawi last Friday night, I was shocked to see that the bookstore in the Changi Airport here in Singapore had copies of Hard Truths to Keep Singapore Going, which is based on extensive interviews with Lee Kuan Yew, the first prime minister, longtime statesman, and current Minister Mentor of Singapore. I had looked for a copy at a large (make that "huge") bookstore on Orchard Road but was told it was sold out and they were waiting for additional copies. I bought it at the airport. I have read about 100 pages of the tome and have found it quite thought-provoking. This is a man, of course, whom many Westerners tend to dismiss because of the controls he put in place in Singapore. He, too, dismisses many Westerners and their arguments on behalf of "liberal democracy" (not easy to define or implement). Anyway, I am enjoying both the content and the form in which the book is presented. More later as I get further into it. I wanted to read it to get a better handle on this distinctive place. There is a strong pragmatic overtone. It flows with Thomas Friedman's "Serious About Singapore" column in the Jan. 29 issue of The New York Times.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Monday, February 21, 2011

GETTING TO THE ROOT OF THE ISSUE: A highlight of the day was a Mangrove kayak trip, with our guide, Madi (above). We motored from the beach into a river. We climbed out at a mudbank (this was almost the lowest tide of 2011, thanks to a hard-pulling full moon. We were able to get up close to some remarkable mudskippers, eagles, fiddler crabs and a lounging mangrove pitviper. You might know that last one as Trimeresurus purpureomaculatus. A day or two earlier, Madi had spotted the snake resting on a branch. He brought us to it, and we nosed our kayaks up close. Madi assured us that the snake was busy digesting and really couldn't have cared less about us.
At one point we paddled through a tunnel. There, we saw what I think are round leaf bats clutching the ceiling (right) of the cave.
The stars of the tour were the mangrove trees. Madi, who was kayaking during that horrible tsunami, described the role mangrove forests along shorelines can play in mitigating the damage from tsunamis. Fascinating. Langkawi suffered minimal damage, with one death. Other areas in bordering Thailand and nearby Indonesia, of course, suffered more. The interlocking roots allow the trees to absorb lots of the energy of those waves.

DOWN THE HATCH: The island shown here (at right) was quite intriguing. We passed it heading to and from the river. Using a tiny bit of imagination, you can see that it resembles the open mouth of a creature emerging from the sea. During a few sunsets in April the sun sets right down the throat of the beast, when viewed from the windows of some of the rooms at the Tanjung Rhu Resort on Tanjung Rhu Beach. Not surprisingly, that's when those rooms fetch the highest rates of the year.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

SUPER SNORKELING: I think I'm quite over the jet lag. The time-zone lag is another thing entirely. The US-centric news cycle has been derailed. I'm still not used to catching the results of a Syracuse or Cornell basketball or lacrosse game early in the morning. (Today, it was Syracuse-Rutgers.) After checking that, we headed out in the morning for some snorkeling at an island to the south of Langkawi. We took a van to Kuah (above) and then boarded a boat that took us to Palau Payar (right). We swung to the south side, disembarked and spent a couple of hours in the water, treated to a wonderful array of fish and coral (boulder, antler and brain). Some nimble 2-foot sharks (right) got lots of attention. I took the photo from the safety of a walkway. We were told not to worry. We didn't. Fortunately no wise guy began playing the theme song from "Jaws". The swimming was wonderful. The available snorkel area was certainly large enough. The fish of this corner of the Andaman Sea were beautiful. Never noticed the crowd. Too many people, however, were feeding the fish. That can't be good. Especially the Pringles. Especially sour cream and onion- flavored Pringles.