Saturday, April 30, 2011

Saturday, April 30, 2011 (Singapore)

THIS GROUP'S CHANCES FOR A GRAMMY JUST TOOK A HIT; THIS PHOTO MIGHT COME BACK TO HAUNT THEM: We went to Singapore's fabled Long Bar at Raffles at 9:30 p.m. to meet Andy Lim and his daughter Rebekah. Both are part of Tembusu Partners.
They had invited us to listen to the hardworking band Moodique, which has been playing nightly (mostly songs from the '70s and '80s) on the second floor of the bar for about 15 years.
Sam was a good sport. He had the signature Singapore Sling--his first one (right, with Rebekah in the background). He had only one Sling. It's quite sweet, as the recipe shows. He quickly sought refuge with the more refreshing beer for the second round. Every bar, of course, wishes they had a Singapore Sling-type drink in its repertoire. We heard that the drink accounts for about $5 MILLION of the hotel's annual revenue. (They cost $25 apiece.)
We were joined briefly by a moth (right), which perched on one of the ledges of the half-yard of beer that was on the table. Still not sure what the attraction was. Nobody was wearing wool.
The photo above, taken by a bar patron, shows the five of us (Andy, Rebekah, Sam, Sandy and me) mixed in among the wonderful players on stage. The brief "fantasy camp" was available because Andy worked closely with the band (and the other musicians at Raffles) for a few years. I can't believe the saxophonist let me hold his instrument all by myself.

ISLAND HOPPING: Despite the threatening rain, we forged ahead with a scheduled outing on a speedboat.
The boat, called Passion, had two 250 horsepower motors, enough to easily power us out among the ferries and container ships crisscrossing the waters to the south of Singapore. On board were Cambridge employees Alvin Tay, his wife, Stella, and son Joshua; Laura Rieber; Mark Dalton and Fei Tan; nephew Sam Truesdell; Sandy and me. (The photo above shows, from left, Alvin, Sandy, Mark and Laura.) In command was a cheery and knowledgeable Captain Elvis (left).
We headed to some of the Southern Islands (see map at right). We stopped for a stroll on Kusu Island--waiting to see if the rain would come or go.
We saw the Marble Tortoises and the Da Bogong Temple. And we tossed some coins into the wishing well and watched tortoises lumber around a sanctuary. The wishing well apparently worked because the rain held off. So, we then wove our way around to the west end of Sentosa Island and came back to Lazarus Island, where we anchored for a lunch, which included the improbable--but tasty--shepherd's pie. That's also where some of us swam--and found out why some beaches remain sparsely attended in these parts at these times.

WAS IT SEA LICE? WAS IT JELLYFISH LARVAE? SINGAPORE STING REPLACES SINGAPORE SLING This is speculation. But as soon as we jumped in the water in a cove on the southeast shore of Lazarus Island, we started feeling repeated light stinging sensations in our skin.
I felt it. Sandy felt it. Mark felt it. Fei felt it. Alvin (the last in and first out) felt it. It was a good idea to get out. The amazing thing is that it took some of us (meaning ME) about 20 minutes to decide to get out of the water. After all, the water was wonderfully refreshing. The buoyancy gave an extra bounce to my backstroke. The setting was calming. Well, if you could ignore the stinging. As we treaded water, conversations went something like this:
"Do you feel anything, like little needles?"
"Yeah. It doesn't really hurt, but it feels odd."
"What do you think it is?"
"I dunno. Maybe it's a reaction to the salt."
"Maybe it's something chemical from all the shipping around here."
"I don't see too many other people swimming."
"Maybe it will go away. I didn't feel it when I first jumped in."
"Did the Red Sox beat the Mariners this morning?"
"Is something biting us?"
"Maybe something is actually eating us."
"Not sure. Maybe we'll get used to it."
"What if we swim closer to the shore? Maybe there will be less stinging."
"They seem to be following us."
"How long before they have had enough of us?"
Through all the discussion, I heard nobody really mention actually GETTING OUT OF THE WATER.
The real trigger for fleeing the sea was that Sandy got stung on the leg by something of a gelatinous nature that seemed to wrap itself across her knee. That has jellyfish written all over it. The stinging could have come from "sea lice" or jellyfish larvae (shown here). It could have been. Too much Googling over this began to lead to symptoms that I really don't want. I stopped Googling. The symptoms disappeared.

A 50-50 DAY: Things have evened out at Tanjong Pagar Container Terminal here in Singapore. The Singapore Crane Index Limited Economic Indicator, shows an equal number of up-and-down cranes. This is on the doorstep of Singapore's national labor holiday. Here's the latest look-out-the-window tally:

Date: May 1
Time: 10:30 a.m. (Singapore time)
Cranes Up (inactive): 13
Cranes Down (active): 13
CRANES MISSING (puzzling): 2

Friday, April 29, 2011

Friday, April 29, 2011 (Singapore)

THIS TAKEOUT CONTAINER WAS IMPRESSIVE: Tonight, while waiting for Sandy and Sam Truesdell to get here from Shanghai, I drifted over to the Singapore Takeout event, which was nearby and featured a kitchen-in-a-container. It's all part of a Singapore Takeout campaign that will bring this container (one of the 17 million such intermodal containers in the world) to various cities around the world to help show off some of Singapore's top chefs and top food products. The photos above show the container as things were being set up in the afternoon (top), as people were lining up for food (middle) and as cooks were toiling away inside (bottom).
Tonight's kickoff event featured Janice Wong and her 2am:dessertbar. Well I had some I had her laksa dumplings and a "chocolate foie gras xiao long bao" (right). According to some printed material, this paired pork xiao long bao nestled on a grated dark chocolate "sand" with a chocolate-coated foie gras ice cream alongside. I don't think you're going to get that at Dairy Queen.
Janice Wong will also be on hand when the container drops in on London on June 9-11. Here are the other cities on the tour, which appears to be supported by Singapore-based food manufacturers:
London: June 9-11, 2011
Paris: June 30-July 2, 2011
Moscow: July 15-17
New York: Sept. 16-18
Hong Kong: Nov. 10-12
Shanghai: Dec. 1-3
Delhi: Jan. 13-15, 2012
Dubai: Feb. 18-20
Sydney: March 30-April 2

ALMOST LIKE STICKING YOUR HEAD IN THE (MER)LION'S MOUTH: I took a quick tour of the Merlion Hotel room, which sits on Marina Bay and is an installation-art exhibit in the Singapore Art Museum's Biennale exhibit. (See the March 1 entry.) Usually, the city's iconic, 8.6 meter tall Merlion statue sits by itself on the shore spewing water out of its mouth into the bay. Now it's encased in a nicely appointed $150-a-night hotel room.
The view(s) from the bathroom are nice (left and right). And this is a good way to boost attendance for the overall exhibit. An usher told me the room attracts as many as 1,000 people a day. I believe it. They let in groups of 12-15. You leave shoes at the door. Ushers reminded us NOT to use the toilet. It never occurred to me. I hope it never occurred to anyone. After all, someone is staying there tonight.

HMMM. WHERE TO GO TO COLLEGE? While waiting in line for the Merlion Hotel tour, a young woman came up to me and asked where I was from (it's nice to stand out in a crowd). When I said, "Massachusetts, in the United States," she beamed. Zhang Xintiang (right) also acknowledged she had a tough time pronouncing the state's name. She wanted to talk briefly about colleges. She is on the wait list at Hampshire College in Amherst. (Yes, I told her my brother was in the groundbreaking first class there.) And she has gotten into St. John's (Santa Fe). Clearly, she is attracted by an arts-and-sciences track. (She was, after all, helping out at a Singapore Art Museum exhibit. Her parents would like her to go to the highly regarded National University of Singapore, where she has been accepted, because its much higher ranked and it's "home". But the tug of anthropology might pull her to another hemisphere. Singapore's relationship with kiasu surfaced again. (It has come up in entries for March 4, April 18 and April 21.) She acknowledged that heading to the U.S. is "a bit risky." Probably one of those situations in which there is no wrong decision.

IT'S GETTING A LITTLE BUSIER: The crane activity has risen today as evidenced by the DOWN cranes at the Tanjong Pagar Container Terminal here in Singapore. The Singapore Crane Index [Extremely] Limited Economic Indicator, shows a lot more activity at the dock. Products are moving. Here's the latest look-out-the-window tally:

Date: April 30
Time: 8 a.m. (Singapore time)
Cranes Up (inactive): 11
Cranes Down (active): 16
CRANES MISSING (puzzling): 1

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Thursday, April 28, 2011 (Singapore)

I CAN HARDLY CONTAIN MYSELF: After spending months gazing at the vast ocean of shipping containers off the starboard bow of our apartment (right), I will finally get a chance to peek inside one (sort of).
The occasion is something called the Singapore TakeOut. The event, from 7 to 10 p.m. Friday, features a shipping container that has been souped-up quite a bit and turned into a pop-up kitchen (above). This kitchen will travel to nine cities around the world during the coming year and will promote the work of ten of Singapore's chefs. The kitchen-container will be set up at Clifford Square, which is on Marina Bay. It's nearby. I will try and get over there. Who am I kidding. I will get over there.
The first stop for the container will be in London in June. It will feature the food of Chef Janice Wong (2am:Dessertbar). Then it heads to Paris, Moscow, New York, Hong Kong, Shanghai, Delhi, Dubai and Sydney.
Keeping with the food theme, it would be great if it made the trek on the container ship that was recently parked outside our window-- the Frankfurt Express of Hamburg.

THESE TRUFFLES HAVE RIDGES: I'm afraid I'm beginning to write more and more about food now. My winter fat must be wearing off, and I'm getting hungry. On Thursday evening I scuttled downstairs to the always-good din tai fung restaurant, where the chopsticks are balanced, the servers are helpful, and the dumplings are tasty. I was surprised by a special they offered: Truffle Xiao Long Bao. That's a steamed pork dumpling with truffles. They cost $3.20 apiece. I splurged and bought one. Wish I'd have gone overboard and bought two. Normally a steamer basket of six of the regular dumplings costs $6.50, which is a little more than a dollar apiece. The sample was delicious. Someone told me the chefs try and make the dumplings there with 18 folds in each one. It's hard to do.

A SLOWDOWN: Maybe the operation is slowing down because of Friday's Kitchen-container extravaganza (above). Maybe not. It's unclear why the crane activity has taken a real dip today at the Tanjong Pagar Container Terminal here in Singapore. The Singapore Crane Index [Extremely] Limited Economic Indicator, has therefore taken a mighty swing toward the inactive side. Here's the latest look-out-the-window tally:

Date: April 29
Time: 7:45 a.m. (Singapore time)
Cranes Up (inactive): 14
Cranes Down (active): 13
CRANES MISSING (puzzling): 1

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Wednesday, April 27, 2011 (Singapore)

BATTLE LINES ARE SET ON NOMINATION DAY: It looks like the May 7 General Election will be the most keenly contested election since independence in the 1960s. Until 2006, the ruling party (People's Action Party) knew it was returning to run the government as soon as Nomination Day. Now there's only one "walkover" (uncontested race). The rest are contested.
Someday, there will likely be a significant change. I came across a piece written in January called "Singapore Will Not Collapse if the Opposition Wins the Next General Election".
This runs counter to things said recently by Minister Mentor Lee Kwan Yew (above, from a television screen), the man who ushered Singapore right from the beginning (independence in 1965) and ushered it into a top-rung position in the world. He told Singaporeans on Monday, in a pre-election message:
"Do not rock this foundation. Remember where Singapore came from, and how difficult it was that we have got to where we are. There is always a risk when one generation passes on the baton, the next team may unthinkingly toss out what they have inherited."
Of course if he wants to really see a rocked foundation, he should look at Egypt, Libya, Tunisia, Syria etc.
The MM is running again. He's 87. He is part of a slate in the Tanjong Pagar constituency. Residents of that neighborhood have not faced a contested ballot for the past FIVE ELECTIONS, since 1991. On Wednesday, a potential slate of opponents in the district missed the filing deadline by 35 seconds. The MM told voters today, "I can assure you I'll look after you for the next five years." Very paternalistic sounding.

IF YOU WANT A MAN-IN-THE-STREET COMMENT, HAIL A TAXI: Minister Mentor Lee's statement, above, echoes what a taxi driver told me earlier in the week. Two sentences stuck out:
"Government is like the mother and father."
"Government treats you like a small child."
He said this has gone on for too long. He implied that Singaporeans have gotten too soft. Others in Asia are more hardened because of the troubles they face. He said, "Singaporeans have not suffered like others in Asia." Does that mean the taxi driver wants political conflicts, natural disasters and economic challenges? Maybe to some degree, but please leave out the natural disasters.

ROVERS WIN, ROVERS WIN! I headed to Jalan Besar Stadium last night to see the Tampines Rovers (representing Singapore) defeat the Hanoi T&T Football Club, 3-1. I enjoyed it; the ticket-buying could have been crisper. The man did not have change for a $10 bill for the $6 ticket.
I'm not too good with action pictures, but the one above shows the jostling for position during a corner kick. The Rovers are in yellow; the ball sits between the arrow points; many players are showing great discipline by not simply following the arc of the ball.
Ahmad Latiff Khamaruddin (right), considered somewhat of a "bad boy" in Singaporean soccer circles, scored two goals. His second was was the prettiest and turned out to be the game winner. He was about 20-25 yards, er "18-22 meters", er "metres", from the goal. I was at the other end of the field, er "pitch". But I had a straight-line view, watching his laser-like shot for a goal, er "Gooooooooaaaaalllllll". No dip. No wobble. No bend. One writer said the shot should be a contender for "goal of the season." He wrote:
"Pouncing on a loose ball from outside the box, Latiff let fly on the half volley into the far top corner leaving [goalie Duong] Hong Son grasping at thin air."
The Straits Times description put it this way:
"But there was nothing the visitors' defence could do about Latif's second goal 11 minutes later, an exquisite half-volley from 25 metres out that left Son a mere spectator as it flew into the top corner."
The win puts the Singapore team in a good position to qualify for the octofinals (in NCAA basketball parlance, that's the "sweet sixteen") for the AFC Cup. For results and schedules, go here).
Here's the overall bracket. The final is in late October.

I GOT THE MESSAGE: "GET BACK TO THE TRENCHES, YOU SLACKER!": I headed over to Jalan Besar Stadium INSTEAD of continuing my reseaerch into the blinded soldiers of World War One. I sensed that there was some mystical disapproval of this when I noticed the Kitchener Complex (a building--not an affliction or inclination--named after the man who was the model for the famous British recruiting poster at right). My destination, Jalan Besar Stadium, is, in fact, bounded on four sides by roadways that whisper "World War One": Tyrwhitt Road, Horne Road, King George's Avenue; and Kitchener Avenue. I looked closer at the map, and here are the nearby roads, with links to what I presume are the relevant WWI-era honorees:
Hamilton Road: Sir Ian Hamilton.
Tyrwhitt Road: Sir Reginald Tyrwhitt;
Cavan Road: Frederick Rudolf Lambart, 10th Earl of Cavan;
Kitchener Avenue: Horatio Herbert Kitchener;
Horne Road: Sir Henry Sinclair Horne;
Jellicoe Road: Admiral John Rushworth Jellicoe;
French Road: John Denton Pinkstone French.
Those are the closest ones. To add to the impact, Foch Road, Beatty Road and Petain Road are just a block or two away. Not surprisingly, all are within a quick gallop of Victoria Street, honoring the queen who laid lots of the groundwork--at least genetically--for World War One.
I gave up. I left the stadium with about 20 minutes of playing time left. I did so to the sounds of bagpipes and drums wafting through the air. At first I thought someone was playing music in the stadium. I asked an usher. He said nobody was playing music in the stadium. He listened closely, noted the instruments, then, with a big smile said, "Scots!"
As I left the stadium, I noticed the bagpipe sounds were coming from the neighboring grounds of a contiguous community center. Students were practicing. It was about 9 p.m. Sounded like they were playing "Scotland the Brave" and were ready to make a frontal assault on "Amazing Grace." Kitchener and the others would have been pleased.

CRANES CONTINUE TO POINT IN THE RIGHT DIRECTION: Things continue to look rosy at the Tanjong Pagar Container Terminal here in Singapore. The Singapore Crane Index Limited Economic Indicator, in all of its limitedness, points to continued business at the terminal. Here's the latest look-out-the-window tally:

Date: April 28
Time: 9 a.m. (Singapore time)
Cranes Up (inactive): 5
Cranes Down (active): 22
CRANES MISSING (puzzling): 1

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Tuesday, April 26, 2011 (Singapore)

IT'S POST TIME: I went to a branch of Singapore Post and actually MAILED A LETTER. (Sandy wrote a thank-you note to the family who had us over for dinner on Sunday evening.) I used the stamp from the country's "Know 10 Trees" program. Mine was the Rain Tree (upper right, above). They were first issued on May 26, 2010.
They do a lot at the post office here. Knowing this country's abhorrence of GUM, I did a double take when I saw a display of Wrigley's Extra for sale. I assumed it was gum; of course, they were packages of MINTS. I bought some of the Forest Berries flavor.

AWAITING OUR FINAL VISITOR: Sandy's in Beijing today. She will be in Shanghai on Thursday and Friday. From there, she flies here with nephew Sam Truesdell. He will meet her in Shanghai after having participated in the 18th International Pectinid Workshop, in Qingdao, China. Sam, whose a doctoral student at the University of Maine, went to present a paper on his research on harvesting in federal scallop fishery. The funding for his trip comes from the Maine Sea Grant (Marine Science for Maine People). Those pectinid experts do migrate for these bi-annual meetings. In 2003, the 14th workshop was in St. Petersburg, Florida, and in 2008, the 17th was in Santiago de Compostela, Galicia (Spain). The workshop began on April 20 and ended today. Qingdao was the site of the Olympic sailing competition in 2008. (FYI Qingdao has also been known as Jiao'ao, Qindao, Tsingtau and Tsingtao.) It's home to China's largest brewery, the Tsingtao Brewery. Could that be the real reason those bivalve-lovers scheduled the conference there? Nah.

A FOOD-LOVER'S DREAMBOAT: My ship finally came in. Imagine what might be in those containers on the Frankfurt Express out of Hamburg, Germany. I'm no shipping expert (duh!) but my hunch is that the red crates have ketchup, the green crates have relish and the yellow/orange crates have some flavorful natural mustard.
According to, the Hapag Lloyd vessel is 335 meters long and 42 meters wide. Clearly there's an all-you-can-eat dining cruise in its future.

CRANE UPDATE: Speaking of shipping, it's still pretty busy at the neighboring Tanjong Pagar Container Terminal here in Singapore. So, things are holding steady after the sharp uptick of UP cranes a couple of days ago in the Singapore Crane Index Limited Economic Indicator. Here's the latest look-out-the-window tally:

Date: April 26
Time: 9 a.m. (Singapore time)
Cranes Up (inactive): 8
Cranes Down (active): 17
CRANES MISSING (puzzling): 2

Monday, April 25, 2011

Monday, April 25, 2011 (Singapore)

SOMETHING MORE TO PACK FOR THE TRIP HOME: Evidently, I have come down with plantar fasciitis. Sandy was nice enough to get a massive boot on Saturday (above). Today, I went to see Dr. Yip at the Gleneagles Medical Centre. The doctor gave me some medication and cushioning cups for heels. No tennis for the near future, of course. Must wear the boot at night. Unlike the toaster we bought, we will likely bring this home with us. You can always use an aircast. I'm wondering I should turn for medical help to those foot-nibbling "Doctor Fish" (garra rufa) (right) that I mentioned in the March 20 entry.

AND NOW, WE TAKE YOU TO GHANA: I suppose one of the last things you would expect to find here is a clip from a television show in Ghana. I understand that. However, I'm putting it here, anyway. It's from an episode of Be Bold, a talk show. (The show's title is an acronym for "Bringing Education and Building Opportunities for Leadership and Development".) The interviewer is Christal Jeanne, who is in Accra. This is a business-news analysis presented weekly (I think) by ghana. This includes footage of some of the Yale School of Management students who went to Ghana a couple of weeks ago. Andrew Herron pops up at the 7:09 mark:

Speaking of long-distance communication, I had a fairly long gchat with Eddie, who’s making his way through the final classes at Cornell, with the diploma nearly within his grasp. He just sent a cover letter and resume for a job interview in New York City.

CRANE UPDATE: The cranes are maintaining an excellent pattern of down-time at the Tanjong Pagar Container Terminal here in Singapore. This means things are looking up according to the latest Singapore Crane Index Limited Economic Indicator. Here's the latest look-out-the-window tally:

Date: April 25
Time: 10 a.m. (Singapore time)
Cranes Up (inactive): 8
Cranes Down (active): 17
CRANES MISSING (puzzling): 2

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Sunday, April 24, 2011 (Singapore)

HOME COOKING! Tonight we were invited to the home of Fei Tan and her parents (Francis and Claire) in the Ghim Moh section of Singapore (near the Buona Vista MRT stop. It was a lot of fun. Joined by two friends of the Tans, the diners included (from left, above) Clare, Elsie, Francis, Sandy, Greg and Fei. We ate (among other things) curried chicken, pork on steamed buns, a Peranakan version of a spring roll, mango salad and garlic stems. Desert included longans, jackfruit, Chinese pears and watermelon.
In 2006, after the last General Election, the Economist said Singaporeans were "politics-shy". That did NOT seem to be the case last night. Lots of chatter and intriguing predictions about the upcoming election. Bread-and-butter issues are really taking root.

HAWKER-CENTER TOUR CONTINUES: For the third day in a row, we had lunch at one of Singapore's many hawker centers. This one was at Newton Food Center, which is generally considered the most popular, certainly among tourists. Because it's Easter, we caught it at a fairly quiet time. That's good because we wanted some elbow room for eating one of Singapore's favorite dishes: BBQ STING RAY. It was delicious.
The sambal stingray with an oyster omelet and some rice (above). We bought the ray at an A-rated stall--Sheng Da BBQ Seafood (right). So, we have made quite some headway in munching our way along the food chain. The animals we have consumed since coming here include:
Ikan Nila Goreng (aka the Sundanese "Dancing Fish")
That's what we can remember as of today. I suppose horse and dog could be added to the list. We're just not sure. One big question: Now that we have established that BBQ Stingray is our annual Easter lunch, where will we find it next year?

CRANE UPDATE: Upward swings continue at the Tanjong Pagar Container Terminal here in Singapore. The "down" cranes still outnumber the "up" cranes by quite a bit according to the latest Singapore Crane Index Limited Economic Indicator. Here's the latest look-out-the-window tally:

Date: April 25
Time: 10 a.m. (Singapore time)
Cranes Up (inactive): 8
Cranes Down (active): 17
CRANES MISSING (puzzling): 2