Friday, May 6, 2011

Friday, May 6, 2011 (Wellington, N.Z.)

BETWEEN A RUCK AND A HARD PLACE: We entered the world of rucks, locks and grubbers tonight when we saw our first 15-man rugby game at Wellington's Westpac Stadium, joining an agonized crowd who watched the hometown Hurricanes lose a close one to the first-place Auckland Blues, 17-11. (That's the Canes in yellow, above.)
The game was complete with lightly-clad cheerleaders, who danced in the 14-degree (C) dampness (right) before a stadium that was much less than half full.
While nursing a shocking 11-9 lead in the second half, one of the Canes was sent off the field for spearing, leaving the home team one man short. (According to a news report, this allowed the Blues to start "purposely focusing on the fringe of the ruck"--huh???). That also led to a 3-point penalty kick and a subsequent 5-point try. Too bad for the home team, which came tantalizingly close to pulling even.
One Cane lost the ball when he dove for a try in minute 51; another was denied at the goal line by the "TMO" in the final seconds. (Here's a play-by-play account.)
One of the key items that helped us navigate our way through the match was the "cheat sheet" provided by Cambridge Associates' Eugene Snyman, who oversees the Sydney office. In this he lists all the positions for a 15-player team. Some of it is legible. Nowhere did he explain "TMO." It is the Television Match Official, similar to the NFL's video reviews that confirm or overturn an official's call.

SUSHI DREAMS ARE MADE OF THESE: A visit to the Museum of New Zealand (Te Papa Tongarewa) brought us face to face with a former denizen of the deep.
The beast (above) is the centerpiece of the Colossal Squid Exhibition. It brings to mind an expression that's roughly equivalent to "all bark, no bite." This image shows that this situation is the opposite of the expression, "All ink, no squid." Not sure how many this could serve at a sushi bar.
One exhibit dealt with earthquakes and volcanoes (a hard-to-miss topic of interest here). There's lots of information on the earth's plates, crust and core. Visitors are challenged to lift an iron rock. Here, the iron is cast to look like a meteorite. Iron is one of the heaviest types of rock on Earth. The weight surprised Sandy (right). The museum is free. Children seemed to be enjoying it immensely. It's considered a must-see in Wellington. I concur.

REMEMBERING: I wandered over to the National War Memorial here. The tower (right)--complete with a full-throated carillon--was dedicated in 1932--with World War One in mind, with a nod to the South African war, too, I suspect. Little did they know how much more memorializing would be needed. Inside, a gentleman described some World War Two experiences to some seemingly rapt students (above). Outside sits the tomb of New Zealand's Unknown Warrior. Very understated and very dignified.

CRANES CAN BE WATCHED ANYWHERE, ANYTIME: I'm unable to maintain the Singapore Crane Index Limited Economic Indicator, but I can provide a Wellington Crane Index Limited Economic Indicator. This morning, two cranes visible from the top floor of the hotel were DOWN, loading/unloading a large NYK ship. (The photo at right shows the cranes in the inactive UP position on late Thursday afternoon. Note the weather change.) It can be stormy here.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Thursday, May 5, 2011 (Wellington, Auckland, N.Z.)

BLACK IS BEAUTIFUL: When we got off the Air New Zealand plane in Wellington, Sandy pointed out the message on fuselage of the A320, most of which is visible (and circled) in the photo above. The entire phrase is "Crazy About Rugby". I think Air New Zealand got the first one delivered in late January or early February, with a paint job that supports the nations "All Blacks" rugby team--and promoting the 2011 Rugby World Cup, which will be in New Zealand this fall. I remain merely "Hazy About Rugby." I can learn some of the basics from the Web. Now I know that there are eight forwards on a typical 15-person team. Two props, two locks, two flankers, a hooker and a Number 8. It's a start. I'm further along with rugby than with cricket.
The "Crazy About Rugby" theme is incorporated into one of Air New Zealand's pre-flight safety instruction videos, shown below:

We didn't see that one. We saw a safety video featuring, of all people, Richard Simmons.

ON THE CRICKET TRAIL: Rugby, I might have a chance at understanding. Cricket? Probably nil. While at the Auckland Museum, I gazed over the playing fields of the Auckland Domain and spotted about 10 cricket pitches in one area. At least I think this has something to do with cricket. But why would there be so many cricket tracks so close together? I have no idea. I don't know anything about the sport, except that each one of these rectangular patches looks like a cricket pitch. I have added arrows to help. There has been NO PHOTOSHOPPING here. And this has nothing to do with the recent killing of Osama bin Laden.

IT'S HARD TO AVOID CRICKET: The New Zealand Herald had an article in today's paper written by Daily Telegraph columnist Peter Oborne, who filed a report from the suddenly-famous (or, infamous) Pakistani city of Abbottabad (right). Cricket comes up in his descriptions of the privacy of the compound and the attitudes of at least one student living nearby:
When children playing cricket knocked balls into their compound they were never allowed in to find them. Instead the Khans would pay them 100 rupees--approximately $1.50--as compensation.

Driving away, I stopped to watch a group of local students playing cricket. Iasked Faizan, the opening batsman, what he made of the sensational event that had made his town so notorious. Telling me off, he said: "This is not our problem. We should be worrying about our studies."
On the Telegraph's site, the article is here, in full.
[NOTE: The Wikipedia entry for Abbottabad has been morphing beautifully this week; it now has a detailed "death of Osama bin Laden" entry. The city's namesake, Major James Abbott (shown here), wrote a poem titled "Abbottabad," which was panned this week by Stephen Moss in the Guardian. Might it be one of the worst poems ever written?
Maybe. After all the last three letters are BAD.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Wednesday, May 4, 2011 (Auckland, N.Z.)

OVER THE TOP, TO ANOTHER WAR MEMORIAL: First thing I visited in Auckland was the Auckland Museum, which also is known as the Auckland War Memorial Museum. The heading over the massive entrance (above) looking out over a distant harbor says it all. World War One holds a special place here, but the war-related displays are not limited to that war. There's no lack of other wars that New Zealanders fought in--despite the incredible distances they had to cover on behalf of the British Empire. Under the Roman numerals for the dates 1914-1918 appear these words--all in capital letters, without visible punctuation:
The whole earth is the sepulchre of famous men / they are commemorated not only by columns and inscriptions in their own country / but in foreign lands also by memorials graven not on stone / but on the hearts of men.

One could spend hours there. I spent about two, lingering mostly over the World War One stuff.
I was happy to come across a German hand grenade (right). I had just been reading one blind soldier's account of how he lost his eyesight during the war. He described the event four months after his injury in a narrative that was printed in the New York Times. One of the last things he recalled ever seeing was a German soldier--holding “something that looks strangely like a small soup can with a stick attached to it.” That's about what those grenades indeed looked like.
A delightful surprise elsewhere was "Hillary's Axe" (shown at right, inelegantly photographed). No, this is not an artifact discovered after the Clintons left the White House. (She uses two "L's" in her name, too.) Rather, this was the pick Sir Edmund Hillary used on his way to the peak of Everest. Very cool. To me, anyway. The axe was made by Claudius Simond from Chamonix, France, and has a European ash wood handle and forged steel head and spike. He used it to cut a stairway to his own heaven, at the top of the world.
The most crowded exhibit I saw, by far, was the one on VOLCANOES.
It featured a small house, with the sign at right prominently displayed on an exterior wall.
The red letters of the sign say:
"Come inside and see what could happen if a new volcano erupted in Auckland's harbour tomorrow."
The house features a living room at 7A Puia St, in the Auckland suburb of St Heliers, with a couple of couches and other furniture, a large television set and a large picture window that presents a spectacular "view" of Auckland's harbor area. During a session of about 12 minutes, museum goers watch a news report that deals with an imminent volcanic explosion, which is building a little offshore. At one point the house shakes. Then the newscast is cut off and the volcano does, in fact, erupt before your eyes--as seen through the picture window. Auckland, which is on a dozen or so inactive volcanoes is doomed. This builds volcano awareness, which might already be high anyway in the wake of the recent earthquake in Christchurch on the South Island. I'm not too worried because we're off to Wellington tomorrow.

A THING OF BEAUTY: After eating two tacos near the Auckland Ferry Terminal, I wandered beyond Princess Wharf. That's where I came across the wonderfully restored gaff cutter named Waitangi. The craft, which is nearly 12 meters long at the waterline, was launched in 1894, designed by Robert Logan. It was restored in the 1990s. To see it under sail, go here. The boat is named after a treaty that was pivotal in New Zealand's history.

PIZZA SHOP ADDS DISTINCTIVE TOPPING TO COVERAGE OF THE DEATH OF OBL: While on the plane here from Singapore, we read the New Zealand Herald of Tuesday May 3. It included lots of news stories and opinion pieces dealing with the killing of Osama Bin Laden. It also had a seven-column advertisement stretching across the first page of the World section of the paper that also dealt with this momentous event. The words (see photo) say simply: "Come in, Osama, we've been expecting you." The word "Hell" is prominent, as is the black ink. The ad includes a web address:
That takes you here. Evidently, Hell Pizza has lots of locations around New Zealand. It claims the pizza and other foods are "hellthy".
From idea to the ad-buy, it all happened very quickly.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Monday/Tuesday, May 2 and 3, 2011 (Singapore)

THE BIG NEWS HERE, TOO: The killing of Osama bin Laden was certainly big news here. The major paper, the Straits Times, devoted seven full pages to the killing. And it was, of course, a big front page story on Lianhe Zaobao, Singapore's largest Chinese-language newspaper (circulation 176,000) shown ar right. The paper, owned by Singapore Press Holdings, included an image purported to be of bin Laden's dead face, taken from a television broadcast. Not sure how many U.S. papers put that one on the front page. As most people know, this photo has turned out to be a hoax. Not surprisingly, people are talking about this. A cab driver who picked me up after a doctor's appointment said excitedly , when he knew I was American, "Good news!" Mr. Lim added that "Singapore was so worried," implying that this marks the end of worry. Of course, it doesn't.

POLITICAL IMPACT OF THE KILLING: Whether or not this turns into a key re-election issue for President Obama remains to be seen. It HAS become a political issue here, during the last days before Saturday's General Election. Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong--a leading figure in the ruling People's Action Party (which is behind the flags at right)--is quoted in today's paper this way:
"It's a backdrop to our election. It's a reminder to us that, while we engage in all this introspection and political battles here, it's a world where there are threats which are bigger than us and which we must not take our eyes off."
Perhaps this is why we heard fighter jets zipping around overhead a little after 11 a.m. today.

A PICK-UP MATCH OF CRICKET: After yesterday's brush with more formal (all-white clothing) cricket, Sam glanced out our window and spotted a group of players getting together for what looks like a pick-up game of cricket on a small field near Marina Bay. The pitch is not too crisp. There's no neat boundary line circling the outfield (it should be about 140-150 meters across,),
I love the makeshift nature of the field. Normally the pitch area (where the batters stand and run) should be 22 yards between the stumps. Not sure if this is totally regulation. But it sure is cricket.

DID THE CRANES HAVE A BiN LaDeN BOUNCE? For a second, let's commit a post hoc ergo propter hoc fallacy....
Shortly after the killing of Osama bin Laden, the activity at the Tanjong Pagar Container Terminal here in Singapore has increased, with a continued high number of DOWN cranes. The Singapore Crane Index Limited Economic Indicator, reveals there were only six inactive cranes on the morning of May 2. Cause-and-effect is, of course, tempered by the fact that thee reading is the same as May 1 (before news of bin Laden's death hit). Here's the latest look-out-the-window tally:

Date: May 3
Time: 7:45 a.m. (Singapore time)
Cranes Up (inactive): 6
Cranes Down (active): 20
CRANES MISSING (puzzling): 2

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Sunday, May 1, 2011 (Singapore)

UP, UP AND AWAY: It was raining again this morning, but we went to the Singapore Flyer, which gives a great view of the city and offshore shipping. The ride took a good half hour. Our pod (similar to the one above, which was rolling along ahead of us--blocking our view for some of the time) held about 20 people. Very worthwhile doing. After we treated ourselves to some STING RAY at a hawker center that recently opened at the base of the massive wheel.

BOWLED OVER: On our walk from the Singapore Flyer to the National Museum, we came across a cricket match/practice on the expansive lawn at the Singapore Cricket Club. Someone threw the ball. Someone tried to hit it. (A small arrow in the photo points to the ball.) Beyond that, we really had no clue. Still, we gazed at the action for a good 15 minutes. Nothing really took root. The most amazing point revealed during the session was that Sandy pointed to the esteemed club building and acknowledged that she had recently had LUNCH inside that BASTION of cricketdom. Very jealous, even though that's not really cricket of me.

BLASTS FROM THE PAST: We trudged over to the landmark National Museum of Singapore (right) this afternoon. We spent most of our time strolling through a riveting audio-device-enhanced trip through the history of Singapore. The exhibit is formally called The Singapore History Gallery. The YouTube video below gives a bit of an idea about the exhibit. We really liked it.

AS LONG AS YOU'RE IN SHANGHAI, WHY NOT ZIP OVER TO SINGAPORE FOR A BRIEF VISIT? It's great having Sam here. He heads back to Shanghai and onward to Maine on Tuesday. To put his visit in perspective.....
He was in Shanghai and lives in Orono, Maine. That's about 7,500 miles as a crow flies.
The distance from Shanghai to Singapore is about 2,400 miles, for the same (albeit exhausted) crow. When we heard he was going to be in Shanghai, we invited him to come down to Singapore.
I've been trying to put this side-trip into perspective. Let's say that someone is in BOSTON and is about to fly to MUMBAI (7,600 miles as that crow flies). Then, as a side trip, this person heads to PHOENIX, ARIZONA (2,300 miles). That's the side-trip we're talking about.

IN THE SPIRIT OF LABOR DAY: Technically, today's a national holiday here, honoring labor. Most everyone has the day off. But they're busy as usual at the Tanjong Pagar Container Terminal here in Singapore. The Singapore Crane Index Limited Economic Indicator, reveals there were only six inactive cranes on the morning of May 2. Here's the latest look-out-the-window tally:

Date: May 2
Time: 7:45 a.m. (Singapore time)
Cranes Up (inactive): 6
Cranes Down (active): 20
CRANES MISSING (puzzling): 2