Friday, November 4, 2011

Friday, November 4, 2011 (Singapore)

ROLLING WITH THE SEVENS: Tonight marked the opening night of the Singapore Cricket Club's International Rugby Sevens tournament. It runs through the weekend. We headed over to the club's Pedang to catch the first night. The setting was great, with Singapore's grandeur hovering above the temporary stands and playing field (above).
Much of the day's competition involved high-school-age teams and women's matches (one of which featured the breakaway score at right).
The field in the seven-on-seven tournament included teams from Kenya, Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia, Australia, New Zealand, Japan, Sweden and France. Attendance will surely be better on Saturday and Sunday.
This was enjoyable, even so. Lots of hard hitting during the ultra-fast games (which have two 7-minute halves with a clock that essentially does not stop. We saw many of the men's teams in the evening, but left after too many one-sided shutouts.
We endured five of those in a row, including one 62-0 spanking. They scored 62 points in 14 minutes of running time. Results are posted here.
I got a kick out of the sideline advertisement shown at the right: It's not a protest, as I thought it might be. It's a business pitch. It has nothing to do with a Singapore version of the "Occupy" movements.

A HOSPITAL VISIT: I decided to get back on the case a bit on the death of my great aunt Dorothy Lincoln (right) of Worcester, Mass., who died here in Singapore on April 1, 1909.
She had just turned 19.
Typhoid was blamed.
I had visited the site of her first burial--and described that in the entry on April 19, 2011.
I didn't get a chance to go to the actual hospital where she died in the spring, so I MRT'd my way over to Singapore General Hospital this morning.
The hospital has a very tidy museum (entrance shown at right). The exhibits include a display of a postcard that showed what the hospital looked like in 1908 (above). Since then, numerous buildings went up (including a clutch in 1926), were damaged (during Japanese attack and occupation in the early 1940s) and replaced. Now, the hospital is located amid a large complex of health-related buildings and centers, including the National Eye Centre, National Cancer Centre and Health Sciences Authority. A worker at the SGH Museum said no records remained from as far back as 1909--as far as she knew.

A DISTINCTIVE SHADE TREE: While walking on an overpass from the Outram station to the Singapore General Hospital, I noticed a great lineup of Rain Trees lining the roadway. I find these really appealing. Evidently the leaves fold up in rainy weather. I have not noticed that. The leaves also fold up about sunset, according to Singapore's National Park Service. That's why they are called Pukul Lima in Malaysia. That means "5 o'clock" in Malay. Until the arrival of Standard Time in the early 1980s, sunset in Malaysia and Singapore was pegged to 5 p.m.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Thursday, November 3, 2011 (Singapore)

QUICK, FOLLOW THAT CAB! I apologize for the blurriness of the photo. The cab drove away as I fumbled through my photo app on the iPhone. But the back bumper had an advertisement that I thought was worth capturing. The ad promotes the following web site: WWW.CATCHCHEATINGSPOUSE.SG. The Web address is plastered on the taxi's sides as well. Nothing more needs to be said. The site is self-explanatory. No euphemism needed, I guess.

QUICK, FOLLOW THAT GOLFER! I hate to say it, but it's a too-easy transition from that cab advertising to the fact that golfing great Tiger Woods is making his first visit to Singapore this week.
The photo (at right, distributed by Agence France Presse) shows him atop Marina Bay Sands Casino, with central Singapore city in the background. It was a missed product-placement opportunity for the local favorite Tiger beer.
According to today's Straits Times newspaper, Woods was invited here by the casino. He was reportedly going to hold a clinic at the Laguna National Golf and Country Club for a group of 18 invitees. He then is scheduled to head to Sydney to play in the Australian Open.
Other major golfers will be in Singapore that weekend for the Barclay's Singapore Open, which runs from Nov. 10-13 at the Sentosa Golf Club. The first round will air on Golf Channel next week from 1:30 to 5 a.m. (Eastern US time, I think) Thursday.
At least two players, Graeme McDowell and Lee Westwood, think the Singapore Open could become a Major on the men's pro tour--so the sport can break out beyond its U.K./U.S. playing boundaries in a big way.

COVERING TOPICS GLOBAL AND LOCAL: We had a great dinner at the home of Robin and Monica Tomlin. Joining us were Arnoud De Meyer, Singapore Management University; Kishore Mahbubani, of the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy at the National University of Singapore; Andrea Muller of Principal Global Investors; and Rudy Muller of Adisseo. (Sandy and I had prepared for the dinner by reading Mahbubani's intriguing book The New Asian Hemisphere, right.)
Conversation included our best guesses for the futures of Europe, the United States and China. Rudy and I had a lengthy side conversation about his hometown--Syracuse--and his Nottingham High School (where my son Edward graduated). A little bit of old home week.
The setting and food drew upon Singapore's rich Peranakan heritage, which is captured wonderfully at the city's Peranakan Museum.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Wednesday, November 2, 2011 (Singapore)

I LOVE WORK; I COULD WATCH IT FOR HOURS: Today, with the silt having settled in the river, I saw one small boat out on the river with a man in the bow wielding a small fish net--clearly looking for bits of trash. The river, and the marina bay are now part of the nation's key reservoir system. It now longer flows into the ocean, thanks to a barrage system. Aside from boats for tourists, there still seems to be very little recreation activity on the waterway. But the water remains a hallmark of the city and commands attention. Yesterday morning I came across a dredging operation in one corner of the bay (above). The driver was excellent at his handling of the shovel, from his cab on a floating machine (right). Actually, it looked like fun. Maybe there's some potential as a amusement park ride someday. The silt he brought up will be floated away, likely to be used for any of a number of landfill projects--as the ever-growing Singapore slowly edges its way out to the sea.

CLUBBIN' IT: We had a great dinner at the Second Floor restaurant in the American Club in the evening, with hosts Chew-Mee Foo Kirtland and Gordon Kirtland and their daughter Kim-Mei. Joining us were Stacy Choong and Dr. Toh Han Chong. Great food. Talk ranged far and wide (The Jackson Lab, food, American colleges, food, national service, maids, food, the Straits Times, food, and Tiger Woods, whom Duncan had spotted earlier in the day working out at the American Club). Then we settled for quite a while on YouTube (e.g., "cats that look like Hitler") and humor. They all encouraged us to make some quick clicks to the YouTube postings of the "Mr. Brown Show," which is widely known in Singapore. Han compared it to "Saturday Night Live." I dutifully followed orders and was intrigued by a spoof about the ways cooking with curry can affect relations with neighbors. Here's the video, but first, get Don McLean's song "Vincent" in your mind, starting with the familiar opening words of "Starry, Starry Night":

A TOUGH JOURNALISTIC DECISION: I was startled in the morning, when I opened the Straits Times (with breakfast before me) and came face-to-chest with this image of a burn-victim's scarred torso. Part of me applauds the decision to be very open journalistically. There's no need to sugar coat the tragedy and horrid effects of an attack at a workplace. But I wonder if newspapers in the U.S. would balk at printing such an image. My guess is that it would be done rarely. It might have blunted my appetite but it sure drove the point home, that the injuries were vast.

November 1, 2011 (Singapore)

IT'S BETTER FOR YOU THAN CAPT. CRUNCH: For the second day in a row, I had a fried vegetarian bee hoon for breakfast. It's pictured above. It includes (according to the menu description) "wok-fried rice vermicelli with white cabbage, carrot, mushrooms, bean sprouts and deep-fried dried bean curd." That's the curd, sitting on top.
Anxiety bubbled up when I first ordered it, because the waitress swept away from my place setting the fork, knife and spoon. She replaced it with the chopsticks. I had gotten fairly proficient during the four-month stay last February to May. Hmmm. Happy to report, it is just like riding a bicycle! After a few wobbles, the sticks worked just fine. Even so, Sandy, safely out of harm's way in the background, had some training wheels ready, just in case.

THEY CALL IT SINGLISH: The language lessons continue with the Straits Times. The headline pictured above in today's paper uses the word "mozzies." Twice. The word is the nickname for mosquitoes, a life-form of great interest in Southeast Asia. For a similar article, the International Herald Tribune had as its headline: "To curb dengue fever, a sneak attack on the main culprit." Basically, scientists are hoping that some genetically engineered mosquitoes will be willing and able to kill their own children. All things going well, the adults will pass a lethal gene on to their offspring, who will, in turn, die before reaching adulthood. This could cause the ultimate generation gap.

MEANWHILE, BACK IN MASSACHUSETTS: Last weekend's storm did plenty of damage in Massachusetts, and thousands are still without power. I think Jo and Huck are still powerless in Worcester, but they do have water and gas for the stove and hot-water system.
Damage to trees in Winchester was significant, but power problems are apparently minimal. We got a glimpse of what the storm did to two trees in front of our house. They were snapped off at the 10-foot height. We're sorry to see them go.
Thanks to Paul Donahue for sending the photo. Vicious rains here the last two days, but no wet, heavy snow (of course).

Monday, October 31, 2011

Monday, October 31, 2011 (Singapore)

THE FRONT LINE WAS A HIGHLIGHT OF THE PLANE FLIGHT: I forgot to mention yesterday that I watched an excellent movie from Korea on the flight from Newark to Singapore. It's called "The Front Line." The film, set in the Korean War, hauntingly captured lots of the elements of World War I--vicious combat, futile taking and re-taking of positions, stubborn commanders, hints of empathy between enemy soldiers.
The director and everyone wrung just about all they could out of the $10 million budget and created a memorable pic. The contrast was embarrassing, when stacked up against the U.S. movie I watched, "Captain America." Talk about getting bang for your buck, or not. I did not like "Captain America" in any way whatsoever. "The Front Line" moved me to tears--twice. I hope it gets an Oscar. There's a chance. It did very well in Korea. It is Korea's official entry for an Academy Award as best foreign-language film.
American rights are in the hands of Well Go USA Entertainment. It plans a January release.

SLINGING SALADS IN SINGAPORE: We had lunch today at a place near Sandy's work called The Salad Shop (which has a Facebook page) and a cute YouTube clip.
They take pains to de-link salads from vegetarianism. Hence, the "salads are for everyone" theme and the message on the staff's T-shirt (shown above):
"for herbivores, carnivores and everything else in-between."
That just about covers it.

MORE ON FOOD--THIS TIME AT GUNTHER'S: Might as well acknowledge right now that food is becoming a big theme for Sandy and me this week. Not surprising. The dining options are many and varied. In the evening, we went to Gunther's on Purvis Street for a managing directors dinner. There were six of us. I couldn't avoid taking a picture, sub rosa, of the evening's specials (above), which were placed next to me. Some were still moving--the Alaskan King Crab could not stop puckering its "lips". I thought I heard it implore "pick me." I did. I noted some of the ones we ate, or considered deeply.
Not pictured is the "cappuccino, white truffle". Delicious, but likely NOT coming to a Dunkin' Donuts near you.

Sunday, Oct. 30, 2011 (back in Singapore)

IN AN EFFORT TO STAY AWAKE (PART I).... WATCH WORKERS WORK: The plane landed about an hour ahead of schedule, at 4:45 a.m. Sunday Oct. 30. Essentially, I bypassed Saturday entirely, having left Newark at 11 p.m. Eastern Time--just ahead of the wicked storm that struck Saturday and Sunday. The day's main task was to STAY AWAKE. One way I did that was to stare unthinkingly out the hotel window at a couple of remarkable building cleaners (right). They resembled Spiderman as they "walked" along the exterior wall of the neighboring Maybank building. They performed without a net, but, presumably, with plenty of good rigging and hooks and ropes around them. This kept my attention. This kept me awake.

IN AN EFFORT TO STAY AWAKE (PART 2).... WATCH A HALLOWE'EN DANCE TO MICHAEL JACKSON'S "THRILLER": One of the first things we did on Sunday morning, within hours of arrival from Newark, was to take a walk around Marina Bay. All was as I remembered it, until we arrived at the city's signature Merlion statue. When we left in May, the scaffolding and walls were being dismantled from around the waterfront statue, ending a weeks-long exhibit that put the Merlion INSIDE a temporary hotel room. Now it stands, uncaged, in all its water-spewing glory.
Anyway, on the E'en of Hallowe'en, we heard the distinctive strains of one of Michael Jackson's great tunes, "Thriller," coming from the area around the Merlion. As we arrived, we found a group of costumed youngsters (above) dancing to the music, in bright sunshine and nearly 80-degree weather. They were, indeed, "sweatin' to the oldies."
From a distance, I spotted the organizer and noticed the shirt she was wearing. When she turned her back to me, I thought the image above the words showed a profile of Vietnam. Or Italy. Or my spleen. Then I got close enough to read the writing: "His music will live forever." Indeed.
I heard nobody mention the ongoing trial in L.A.
IT would have been great if one of the costumed kids had shown up wearing a "CPDRC Inmate" costume.

IN AN EFFORT TO STAY AWAKE (PART 3).... WATCH WORLD CUP TABLE TENNIS: How lucky can we be? We discovered from the Straits Times that Singapore was hosting the Volkswagen 2011 Women's World Cup--in TABLE TENNIS. Sure enough, Sandy--gamer that she is--needed only moderate convincing-cajoling-cooing. After a pilsner and Cobb salad at Brewerkz on Clarke Quaye (site of our February Super Bowl viewing), we caught a cab to the Toa Payoh Sports Hall.
The hall, which probably seats about 2,000, was nearly full. (In the photo above, Sandy and I are inside the circle to the right.) (None of my photos came out. The players moved too fast. I did get a photo of Dr. Tony Tan, right, president of the Republic of Singapore, who, fortunately sat quite still for at least one moment.) The thundersticks (aka, ballonstix, cheerstix, bangers, bambams) were prominent. (Too prominent, actually. Sandy nearly got whacked on her left ear a couple of times by an thundersticker with a large wingspan.) The table tennis (aka ping-pong) was, in a word, outstanding. The hand-eye coordination was amazing. So, too, was the hitting.
This was an excellent break from other sports:

Unlike tennis, there were no ball boys or ball girls. The competitors have to track down the wayward pong, or is it a ping. Maybe neither. Each had to go get the ball. If the ball bounded beyond the low walls surrounding the playing area, people (often cameramen) tossed it back in play.

Unlike baseball, they use the same ball throughout a game. They might have switched balls between games, but there was none of the annoying ball-replacement that slows down an already-slow baseball game. This is more like cricket. The same ball seemed to be used throughout--certainly during each game. As the ball "aged" and "cured" throughout the game, the players kept pace. I think they were using the official 2.7-gram, 40-mm-diameter celluloid sphere.

Unlike American football, there was no "posturing" or "trash-talking" or "taunting." Displays of celebration included a subtle fist pump. There were some grimaces. Definitely no "woofing".

Unlike cricket, the scoring was straight-forward and, dare I say, intuitive.

Unlike Rest-of-the-World football, there was no faking of injuries.

Unlike American college basketball, there were no 20-second timeouts that last long enough to accommodate a 45-second television advertisement. (During a timeout, an official emerged and placed an LED clock on the ping pong table, at the end used by the player calling the timeout. The LED showed a clock ticking down.)

Unlike, say, the Georgia-Florida football game, there was no tail-gating.

The winner was Ding Ning of China. Most of the crowd was interested in the match for third place, which featured fourth-ranked Singaporean Feng Tianwei (shown below). But she lost to Hong Kong's Tie Yana.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Thursday June 23, 2011 (Winchester, Mass., USA)

THAI-ING ONE ON: Eager to "return" to the old neighborhood (Southeast Asia), Sandy and I did the next best thing. We went to a showing of The Hangover: Part II in Woburn. Once we heard the focus of the ongoing debauchery tale had shifted from Las Vegas to Thailand, we knew we had to go. It made me feel much better about the day I had in Bangkok. I emerged without a tattoo and free from any annoying contact with a chain-smoking monkey. I do wish I had actually gotten on the Chao Phraya River, which has a couple of scenes in the movie. I tried in vain to spot any footage of Tom's International Collection or of our hotel. I longed for more glimpses of the tuk-tuks (shown above in a clip from the movie). And who knew you could zip from Bangkok to the beautiful Ritz Carlton's Phulay Bay resort in Krabi on the Andaman sea in a matter of minutes? (In real life, such a trip requires zipping around all of Malaysia and Singapore.)
The movie, despite its concentration on the, uh, underbelly of Bangkok, did NOT deflect our interest in returning to the city or country. One message from the movie: Be prepared for the unexpected in Bangkok. As Stu says in one key point, "All I wanted was a bachelor brunch." As I mentioned in my blog entry, "All I wanted was a ride to the palace." This is a perverted twist on the saying, "No battle plan survives contact with the enemy" (courtesy of the elder von Moltke, I think).
I loved the tagline in the movie: "Bangkok has them now."
Many Thais are evidently nonplussed by the depiction of the city and country.
Such a movie CAN help tourism, of course. The topic of the original Hangover movie surfaced in a cab ride in April from Sydney to the airport. The driver, who combined strong Pakistani roots with an equally strong Aussie accent, told us he'd like to visit the U.S.A.
We asked where he'd like to go.
He said he longed to go to Las Vegas.
We asked why.
He laughed and said, "We saw Hangover. I want to go there with my mates."