Saturday, 26 February 2011


“I don't mind what language an opera is sung in so long as it is a language I don't understand.” - Edward Appleton

Singapore has a lively cultural scene with many events staged by both local and international artists. There is the renowned Singapore Symphony Orchestra, the Singapore Lyric Opera company, the Singapore Dance Theatre, theatre, numerous galleries, museums, artistic and cultural groups that reflect the multicultural community of this small but extremely successful Asian nation. One is constantly reminded of this mixed population by the signage, which is in the four official languages of English, Malay, Chinese (Mandarin), and Tamil. Singaporean culture is best described as a melting pot of mainly Chinese, British, Malay and Indian cultures - a reflection of its immigrant history.

Although the Western influence is still strong (remembering the British were here from 1819 till 1965), the Asian flavour of the culture is ineluctable and constantly reminds one that Singapore is a strongly Asian nation. Of its permanent residents (3.75 million), close to three quarters are Chinese, 13% are Malay and 10% Indian. However, it should be kept in in mind that Singapore has the sixth-highest percentage of foreigners globally, with about forty percent foreign nationals working and living here, bringing the population up to just over 5 million). This mix of people and cultures and cultures makes the country an interesting and vibrant place to be in, especially when looking at the cultural scene. The successful economy and subsidisation by the state of many artistic and cultural bodies ensures that art and culture receive strong government support.

As it is Song Saturday, I have chosen two clips of Chinese Opera, which is part of the Chinese cultural heritage that is alive and well in Singapore. Rather than being an entertainment that granny enjoys, Chinese Opera is also popular amongst the younger Chinese speaking people and represents a centuries-old tradition that still thrives wherever there are large Chinese populations. In Singapore there many live Chinese Opera performances staged, including many “street performances”, which literally bring art into peoples’ lives.


“Preach not to others what they should eat, but eat as becomes you, and be silent.” – Epictetus

We are travelling to Singapore where I have two work commitments, but I have also taken a couple of days off for relaxation. I always enjoy visiting Singapore as it is a compact country/city, which is very diverse and cosmopolitan, with a multitude of things to see and do. It is a vibrant place where things are always changing and new developments mushroom into existence seemingly overnight. Every time we visit we notice changes, new buildings, renovations, new services and widespread improvements throughout the city. The people are friendly, polite and nearly everyone speaks English well.

As it has been a period of travel, I shall blog about airline food. One of the advantages of travelling with our local airline Qantas is that I can use the Qantas Club, of which I am a member. This is a very handy lounge that members can use prior to travelling and where they can relax, snack on some food, have a drink and meet friends or colleagues. We were able to use the Business Lounge prior to travelling and this was a very peaceful and spacious place in which to begin our trip. An added bonus was a lunchtime snack by Neil Perry, on which we feasted. This was a plate composed of fried paper-thin pancetta, blanched asparagus with lemon oil and grated celeriac with seeded mustard dressing. It went very well with a Domaine Chandon sparkling wine. This was followed by some fried whitebait and French fries.

This little repast kept us going until we got on the plane. The food on planes can be a lucky dip. On this occasion, we had an Asian chicken dish with rice and steamed Chinese greens. It was quite tasty and spicily fragrant. The flight to Singapore form Melbourne is just over seven hours and the crew kept plying us with drinks, snacks, fruit and various other tidbits. Even if one is not hungry, one is tempted to nibble as it passes the time!

I would say that over the last ten years or so, airline food has deteriorated – at least in the Economy cabin. This is in terms of the food provided, the crockery and cutlery (which have degenerated to plastic!), as well as in terms of the service. I suppose that the airlines were hard hit when the oil price rose, but I remember with fondness the good old times, where some airlines had an excellent food service and even boasted a gourmet food offering even in the economy cabin. Business class still has an excellent dinner service, and I suspect even more so in first.

At the Hotel we have a Club Room, which once again allows us to have breakfast there, enjoy all day beverages and snacks, and evening cocktails and hors d’oeuvres. It is worth using this type of facility as it can give one a feeling of a home away form home. Always something to look forward too after a busy day working or sightseeing.

Wednesday, 23 February 2011


“All is flowing, ever in a state of flux. Change alone is unchanging.” – Heraclitus of Ephesus

The world is changing rapidly all around us at a terrifying pace. Regimes that are decades old tumble as revolutionaries rally in the streets; economies that once were the strongest in the world fail; once underdeveloped countries are now becoming dominant powers worldwide; people struggle to cope with the unleashed fury of the elements as climate variation seems to threaten our lifestyle, our cities, our environment. News of disasters from all over the world seem to underline the changing conditions of our existence and many people are terrified of all the change that is happening all around them.

When we first moved to Australia, the currency had changed from the old imperial pounds/shillings/pence system to the decimal dollars/cents system. I was fascinated to learn that an elderly lady had committed suicide because she could not cope with such a drastic change. The story of the old woman who killed herself because she could not cope with change amused me and repelled me, captivated my interest and my young mind attempted to understand it. I, of course, was no stranger to change, having just moved house all the way around the world and having to cope with a new language, new friends, new house, new language, new customs… A change of currency seemed such a piddly matter!

Change frightens most people. It forces them to move out of their comfort zone and they have to cope with new situations that challenge them in a multiplicity of ways. Routine bores us, but it provides such a security blanket for us that only when the routine is disrupted do we realise how comfortable its humdrum monotone is. We are lulled by habit, comforted by the schedule of our ordinary life, able to function with predetermined steps in procedures that are well rehearsed. No wonder change makes feel uncomfortable.

Libya is following in the steps of Egypt and the populace has risen up to demand its freedom and self-determination. The old regime holds onto power with carious tooth and bitten, cracked nail. The impassioned diatribe of the despot screaming at the people through the mass media has the appeal of a broken record stuck on a groove, repeating threat upon threat. The echoes of gunfire punctuate the violent words, as violent deeds cause innocent blood to be spilt on soil that both sides call “homeland”.

This was a change that was long time coming. The world is poised on the cusp of an enormous social transformation, which seems to mirror the environmental changes around us. Our politics, our economy, our environment, every aspect of our existence will be transformed. In five years time we shall look back and be confronted by a foreign world that we shall remember and feel… What shall we feel? Nostalgia? Fear? Relief? Regret? Sorrow? Happiness? Maybe all of these. It will depend on who you were and you are; where you lived and where you live; what you had and what you have.

change | ch ānj| verb
1 Make or become different: [ trans. ] A proposal to change the law| [ intrans. ] A Virginia creeper just beginning to change from green to gold.
• Make or become a different substance entirely; transform: [ trans. ] Filters change the ammonia into nitrate [ intrans. ] Computer graphics can show cars changing into cheetahs.
• [ intrans. ] Alter in terms of: The ferns began to change shape.
• [ intrans. ] (of traffic lights) Move from one color of signal to another.
• (of a boy's voice) Become deeper with the onset of puberty.
• [ intrans. ] (of the moon) Arrive at a fresh phase; become new.
2 [ trans. ] Take or use another instead of: She decided to change her name.
• Move from one to another: She changed jobs incessantly | Change sides.
• Exchange; trade: The sun and moon changed places.
• [ intrans. ] Move to a different train, airplane, or subway line.
• Give up (something) in exchange for something else: We changed the shades for vertical blinds.
• Remove (something dirty or faulty) and replace it with another of the same kind : Change a light bulb.
• Put a clean nappy on (a baby or young child).
• Engage a different gear in a motor vehicle: [ trans. ] Wait for a gap and then change gears | figurative With business concluded, the convention changes gear and a gigantic circus takes over the town.
• Exchange (a sum of money) for the same amount in smaller denominations or in coins, or for different currency.
• [ intrans. ] Put different clothes on: He changed for dinner.
Change over Move from one system or situation to another: Crop farmers have to change over to dairy farming.
changeful |ˈ ch ānjfəl| adjective
ORIGIN Middle English: from Old French change (noun), changer (verb), from late Latin cambiare, from Latin cambire ‘barter,’ probably of Celtic origin.

Tuesday, 22 February 2011


“The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation.” - Henry David Thoreau

I was mining my archives again this evening looking through old notebooks, yellowing paper, loose pages. You know you’re ageing when the dates on old journals are those of the last century and the paper is starting to yellow. A poem I wrote now rediscovered as composed a long time ago during an “interesting” time of my life where youthful exuberance had already started giving way to more grounded maturity and when experiences (dearly paid for) had already started to colour indelibly my persona.

My Life’s Two Sides

My life is a lost city, hidden to all by the vast desert;
As sandstorms raised by relentless winds lash sand grains
Against the sharp rocks, wearing them down,
Travellers lose their way on duplicitous paths.
My life is a sand grain, raised by the wind
Whirling, falling, mixing with millions of others;
A single grain of sand, identical with all the rest,
Lost as it is, indistinguishable amongst others in the sand dunes.

My life is the lonely man walking along deserted streets
Of city drenched by storms and pelting winter rain.
The road, the man, the rain, all alone
Under downpour and leaden skies, with freezing cold inside and out.
My life a drop of rain, falling with all the others,
Indistinguishable from the rest, cascading down,
Splashing into the gutter, mixing with the roiling current
Lost, no longer pure rain, but now only muddy water flowing away.

My life is the carpet of wildflowers sprouting amongst
The graves of an old, disused cemetery, forgotten by all.
The wild gush of blooming energy, of vitality and zest
Next to the lifeless graves, amongst cold headstones and ancient marble.
My life a single bloom plucked, and already withering, fading,
As desecrating hand lets it carelessly fall to the ground.
Amongst the thousands of others, still in their prime, alive
Who’ll even notice that single dying blossom?

My life a greenwood tree, bursting with verdant juices,
The green of Spring an untold hope and energy,
Its branches home to singing birds, butterflies, bees;
A microcosm or a macrocosm depending on your point of view.
My life an autumn leaf amongst all others, yellow, dead, falling
As the first rains rush down and take it to the ground with hundreds more.
A single leaf, indistinguishable from the thousands of others, fallen,
My life a dead leaf, insignificant, desolate like so many of its brothers.

Monday, 21 February 2011


“Public calamity is a mighty leveller” - Edmund Burke

The terrible news of the New Zealand earthquake caught me on the road. Yet another forceful earthquake has hit Christchurch, which only barely recovered from the September 2010 quake. This morning a destructive 6.3-magnitude earthquake caused mayhem and devastation in the already ravaged city. GNS Science says the 6.3 magnitude quake struck 20 km southeast of Christchurch, at a depth of 5 km. Two more aftershocks were subsequently felt.  A 5.6-magnitude aftershock hit Diamond Harbour, which is 20km south-east of Christchurch at 1.21pm. The quake was centered at a depth of 5km. The second aftershock was a 5.5-magnitude quake centered at a depth of 5km in Lyttleton.

Unfortunately, this time scores of fatalities have been reported at several locations in the centre of the city with one person confirmed dead in the suburb of Sumner. Witnesses have also reported watching horrified as were people crushed by falling buildings. Two buses have been crushed and the cathedral spire was completely destroyed. About 20 people are reported trapped in high rise building and firefighters are desperately trying to rescue survivors trapped by debris. All airports and airspace in New Zealand have been shut down. Police have called in the defence forces to help evacuate trapped residents and the entire CBD.

The survivors were panicking, crying and shouting while trying to avoid the debris, the cracks in the ground and the clouds of dust, the fires, the gushing water from damaged pipes. The city still raw from last year’s earthquake is once again experiencing the might of Enceladus and we know that some of the survivors were not so lucky this time round. Many eyewitnesses have described the horror and it once again highlights how the might of nature can overwhelm us and reduce us to powerless puppets that can be crushed in the hands of an angry puppetmaster.

Unlike the previous earthquake last year, this tremor caused such a heavy toll as it occurred at lunchtime when Christchurch was at its busiest. The mayor of New Zealand’s second-biggest city says at least 200 people are believed trapped under rubble. Immediately after the tremor, people could be seen wandering the rubble-strewn streets in distress.Police said that among the dead were people on two buses which had been crushed by falling buildings. Officials said up to 30 people were feared still trapped inside the Pyne Gould Guinness building, where screams have been heard from beneath the wreckage. Power and telephone lines were knocked out, and pipes burst, flooding the streets with water. The suburbs of Lyttleton and New Brighton are reportedly “unliveable”.

Many of our staff are New Zealanders or have family there and it is inevitable that they will have been affected, some in a very immediate and personal way. It was good to hear that our Prime Minister immediately pledged Australia’s support and help during this terrible time. I have visited Christchurch several times and it was one of my favourite New Zealand cities. The 300,000 strong city was a picture of serenity and elegance with its wonderful people full of joie-de-vivre and friendliness. That is has now been reduced to this devastated, warzone-like appearance is unthinkable. To think that 65 people are already confirmed dead and that unfortunately more are to be discovered is terrible…


“Everyone is a moon, and has a dark side which he never shows to anybody.” - Mark Twain

We watched the 2009 Duncan Jones science fiction film “Moon”. This was more of a psychological thriller, rather than a “shoot-‘em-up” laser beam warfare type of adventure space epic. Although the story (which Jones wrote) was original, the film paid tribute to the classic 1968 Stanley Kubrick science fiction film “2001 – A Space Odyssey”. There were enough references there to evoke smiles of recognition and acknowledgement. The main similarity is in the computer that the hero of the film in each case develops a relationship with. The sinister Hal in “2001 – A Space Odyssey” is paralleled by the more benign Gerty in “Moon”.

The film (like any good science fiction) raises important moral and ethical questions. In this case (and without wanting to give anything away in case you haven’t seen it), it is the question of what makes an individual and individual? How do we know we are ourselves? A fundamental existentialist question, which is explored by this thoughtful film, which also looks at the price of our comfort and progress. Where do we stop? How many sacrifices must we make in order to maintain our lifestyle? Do the collective benefits and rights of a society outweigh the rights of an individual?

The plot concerns itself with a time in the near future where the world’s energy problems have been solved through mining for helium-3, which is carried out in a semi-automated manner on the dark side of the moon. The lunar base is looked after by astronauts from earth who do their three-year stint and then go back home. Sam Bell is the film’s hero and we see him anticipating his return to earth in a couple of weeks to join his wife and young daughter. There is no direct communication link available between the lunar station and Earth, so his only direct real-time interaction is with GERTY, the intelligent computer whose function is to attend to his day to day needs. He becomes aware that he is beginning to hallucinate as the end of his three years approaches. Just when all was going according to plan, he has an accident at one of the mechanical harvesters and is rendered unconscious. His personal odyssey then begins…

Sam Rockwell who plays Sam was given an opportunity to showcase his acting talents and he has done much with what is essentially a solo performance that carries the whole film. We enjoyed this film and would recommend it to both science fiction buffs as well as those who do not normally enjoy science fiction. Perhaps the latter more than the former.

Sunday, 20 February 2011


“Promise yourself to live your life as a revolution and not just a process of evolution.” - Anthony J. D'Angelo

It is the anniversary of the birth of Honoré Daumier, (1808-79). He was a French caricaturist, painter, and sculptor, who in his lifetime was known chiefly as a political and social satirist, but since his death recognition of his qualities as a painter has grown. Daumier’s paintings were probably done mainly fairly late in his career. Although he was accepted four times by the Salon, he never exhibited his paintings otherwise and they remained practically unknown up to the time of an exhibition held at Durand-Ruel’s gallery in 1878, close to his death.

The paintings are in the main a documentation of contemporary life and manners with satirical overtones, although he also did a number featuring Don Quixote as a larger-than-life hero. His technique was remarkably broad and free. As a sculptor he specialized in caricature heads and figures, and these too are in a very spontaneous style. In particular he created the memorable figure of “Ratapoil” (meaning `skinned rat'), who embodied the sinister agents of the government of Louis-Philippe. A similar political type in his graphic art was “Robert Macaire”, who personified the unscrupulous profiteer and swindler.

In the directness of his vision and the lack of sentimentality with which he depicts current social life Daumier belongs to the Realist school of which Courbet was the chief representative. As a caricaturist he stands head and shoulders above all others of the 19th-century. He had the gift of expressing the whole character of a man through physiognomy, and the essence of his satire lay in his power to interpret mental folly in terms of physical absurdity. Although he never made a commercial success of his art, he was appreciated by the discriminating and numbered among his friends and admirers Delacroix, Corot, Forain, and Baudelaire. Degas was among the artists who collected his works. 

Here we see one of his iconic paintings, “The Uprising” (ca 1860). The work is oil on canvas, 87.6 x 113 cm, and to be found in Phillips Collection, Washington D.C, United States of America. It is characterised by Daumier’s revolutionary politics and typifies the social commentary that his oeuvre displays. Daumier was the artist of the lower classes, the malcontents and the underprivileged. The artist has chosen to depict a public uprising, with masses of people marching in the streets. A charismatic figure, spotlit as it were, leads the crowd and his hand is raised in defiance. His open white shirt and determined face, chanting some slogan of rebellion is captured with a directness and immediacy that places the viewer in the thick of things. It is reportage in painting, as well as art as propaganda…