Saturday 5 March 2011


“The African race is a rubber ball. The harder you dash it to the ground, the higher it will rise.” - African Proverb

Today was a lazy day. It’s nice to have lazy days once in a while. Sleeping in, having a leisurely breakfast, then enjoying the morning by taking a walk in the garden, smelling the late summer roses, the flowering ginger, the four-o’clocks, the jasmine and the carnations. Revelling in the colour of the orange zinnias, the yellow and brown marigolds, the scarlet salvias, the pink cosmos. Looking at the green growing things and listening to music playing on the radio and happy to be alive, and being grateful for such pleasures. We said we’d go out shopping, but we ended up staying in, relaxing, taking it easy and having a wonderful lazy day…

Tonight, a hit song from 1994, composed by Youssou N’Dour, Neneh Cherry, Cameron McVey and Jonathan Sharp. It was released as a single by Youssou N'Dour and Neneh Cherry, the song and remained on the charts for nearly half a year. It reached the top three in many countries, including the UK, France, Germany, Italy, Australia, Russia and Poland. The single stayed at the top spot for 16 consecutive weeks on the French Singles Chart, which was the record of the most weeks at the top at the time. Its title “7 Seconds” refers to the critical time after a baby’s birth, essential for its survival and it packs a strong anti-racism message.

Thursday 3 March 2011


“There is nothing like staying at home for real comfort.” - Jane Austen

Ah, it’s good to be home! While I love travelling, after a while living out of a suitcase gets tiring and even if one resides in the best hotel it just doesn’t compare to home comforts. While foreign countries are exciting and interesting and stimulating for the mind, opening the door of one’s home after an absence and smelling that lovely home smell, being surrounded by one’s own things, sleeping in one’s own bed is just wonderful! We got back very early this morning and fortunately we were able to get through customs quickly, hiring a taxi immediately and managing to get home before the morning peak-hour traffic.

After unpacking, I had a shower, a shave and off I went to work, as today was a working day. And there was such a lot to do. Meetings, emails, phone calls, catching up with people. Although we did not manage to get much sleep on the plane, we did manage to snooze on and off. However, the lack of sleep made itself felt in the afternoon at work, and is telling right now. There is a good night’s sleep predicted for tonight, that’s for sure!

Another of the benefits of being home of course is home cooking. Whatever one may have while away – delectable dishes, new tasty treats, interesting and exotic foods, classy hotel food, the best of restaurant fare – one always misses the favourites of one’s own home. Especially so when they are made with the products of one’s own garden. We came back to find growing in abundance in the garden tomatoes, cucumbers, zucchini, eggplant, beans and various garden greens. Fortunately the weather had been kind, with some showers and no temperature extremes while we were away so the garden fared well.

This evening we decided to have something simple and homegrown for dinner. This dish is a traditional Greek one and is typical summer fare, popular all over the country. It is called “vlita”, as its main ingredient is a variety of garden greens known as Amaranthus blitum var. silvestre. This is a species of purple amaranth and grows as a weed in many a wasteland. However, in Greece, it is considered quite a delicacy and is sown in spring, to be gathered for summer eating. We sow it in the garden and needs little care except watering. One gathers the young and tender shoots and boils them with a variety of other greens and vegetables. A must is the addition of the young shoots of black nightshade, Solanum nigrum. These should be less in proportion to the amaranth, as too many will cause the dish to become too bitter. Other bits and pieces in the mixture are slices of potato, zucchini and French beans. All the greens and vegetables are boiled until tender, drained and served hot or cold with a simple vinaigrette dressing, or some people prefer to dress the greens with olive oil and lemon juice, or even just olive oil.

Accompanying this dish one may have cheese, crusty bread, and some kind of canned of smoked fish, for example tuna or smoked salmon, to make it a complete meal. Alternatively boiled eggs may also be served with such a simple meal. One may be misled into thinking that this is a poor man’s dish suited to fasting. However, it is surprisingly tasty, filling and satisfying, not to mention nutritious and filled with vitamins, minerals and bitter tonics good for the liver. Just the sort of thing after a few days travelling in distant and exotic lands. The taste of home!

Wednesday 2 March 2011


“All religions must be tolerated, for every man must get to heaven his own way.” - Frederick the Great

As it was our last day in Singapore today, we decided not to go too far afield and ended up in Bugis Street. This is found in the Arab Quarter of the Bugis district, and its claim to fame is the Bugis St Market, which is the largest street market in Singapore. There are countless stalls selling everything from shoes and clothes, to jewellery and cosmetics, food and drink, souvenirs and gifts, antiques and technological gadgets, CDs and DVDs. Visitors will also find manicurists, tattooists, body piercers, masseurs, reflexologists, cosmeticians and hairdressers to mention a few of the services provided.

Before the arrival of British and American forces from the Vietnam War, Bugis Street was infamous as this was the red light district of Singapore. However, after the armed forces were stationed here everything changed – rather odd I would have thought! At the time of its vivid past, a promenade of garishly made-up drag queens marched through the crowd with sparkling dresses on. They liked to pose and have their photo taken and teased the men walking by. This seamy Old Bugis Street was demolished during the construction of the MTR underground. Nowadays, New Bugis Street is located south-west of the MRT station. The only concession of New Bugis Street to its lurid past are a couple of sex shops, which look more cute than erotic, judging from the merchandise displayed in their windows.

Bugis Street is a crowded, noisy and busy place that has the quality of night bazaar even during the day. There are many pubs, bars, alfresco restaurants, hawkers, street theatre, and of course the markets, open every day and night from about 11:00 a.m. until 3 a.m. (or until the last customer leaves…). The street has a carnival-like atmosphere and is a good place to do some shopping for souvenirs and gifts. We did some such shopping – mainly a few gifts for people back home, but then hurried on visit the temples.

Kuan Yin Temple is on Waterloo Street and rated as one of the most renowned Chinese temples in Singapore. Kuan Yin is a famous Chinese goddess, originally called “Kwan Im”, the goddess of mercy. She is a very virtuous deity as she helps those in need, according to myths retold for many generations. The original Kuan Yin Temple was constructed in 1884 but was reconstructed in 1982. It has the typical structure of a Chinese temple with an impressive gate leading to a courtyard, and then further in, the temple sanctuary. Inside the sanctuary one can see lots of statues of Chinese deities, including that of Kuan Yin. Numerous offerings are made here, including flowers, incense, oil, fruit and candles.

Outside the temple, there are many fortunetellers, flower-sellers and beggars, all of which are part of the attraction of the temple for visitors. The Chinese are very superstitious and have a tradition of asking for divine assistance, consulting mediums and fortunetellers for advice regarding auspicious dates for marriages, selling and buying, lucky number to win lotteries, etc. The statues of the gods may remain silent, but believers shake a circular bamboo box with 50 thin sticks in it, each one having a number on it. When a stick is selected, its number will lead one to the correspondingly marked small piece of paper on which is written the prediction or answer to one’s question.

A few minutes walk west of Kuan Yin Temple stands the Hindu Sri Krishna Temple. Although this temple normally attracts many Hindu worshippers, it also surprisingly attracts Chinese worshippers from the nearby Kuan Yin Temple. Lord Krishna is believed to be the eighth reincarnation of Vishnu, a very well-known principal god of Hinduism. This temple has the typical architecture of a Hindu holy shrine, and is highly decorated with gorgeous ornaments and multi-coloured statues of the gods. Visitors to both temples must take their shoes off before stepping inside.

temple 1 |ˈtempəl| noun
A building devoted to the worship, or regarded as the dwelling place, of a god or gods or other objects of religious reverence.
• (the Temple) Either of two successive religious buildings of the Jews in Jerusalem. The first (957–586 BC) was built by Solomon and destroyed by Nebuchadnezzar; it contained the Ark of the Covenant. The second (515 BC – AD 70) was enlarged by Herod the Great from 20 BC and destroyed by the Romans during a Jewish revolt; all that remains is the Western Wall.
• (the Temple) A group of buildings in Fleet Street in London that stand on land formerly occupied by the headquarters of the Knights Templars. Located there are the Inner and Outer Temple, two of the Inns of Court.
• A synagogue.
• A place of Christian public worship, esp. a Protestant church in France.
ORIGIN Old English templ, tempel, reinforced in Middle English by Old French temple, both from Latin templum ‘open or consecrated space.’


“A good traveller has no fixed plans, and is not intent on arriving.” - Lao Tzu

Today we decided to visit Malaysia, just like that, on the spur of the moment. Singapore, the island, is situated to the South of the Malay peninsula with a short causeway connecting the two land masses, ensuring there is road and railway access to and from each country. The small size of the main island of Singapore (remembering the whole country is only 704 square km) is apparent when one travels from one end to the other. In fact, the area of Singapore is about the same as that of New York City. Travelling from the CBD in the south to the north, where the causeway that joins the island to Malaysia, takes about half an hour and there are excellent bus and rail services that connect the two countries.

We took the MRT (the very efficient underground train) from Orchard station and got off at Woodlands station. Then a short bus ride and we found ourselves in the immigration halls, first of Singapore, then of Malaysia. This was the most inconvenient part of the trip. Getting of the bus, trudging up and down escalators and endless corridors to go where is most convenient for the immigration officials, not for the travellers. This is a huge time waster and a great disincentive for doing the trip at all. Nevertheless, we finally negotiated the halls of officialdom and kept the petty bureaucrats happy, while inflating the egos of the nationalists by traipsing through vast, resplendent halls designed to impress and awe the visitors entering each country…

The main city in the southern part of Malaysia is Johor Bahru (JB in short), which hugs the coastline facing Singapore. It is located at the southern tip of the Malay Peninsula and is the state capital of Johor Darul Takzim. JB was established in 1855 by the late Sultan Abu Bakar (the Father of Modern Johor) and now serves as the administrative and commercial centre of the state.

Its population consists of a diverse ethnic mix of races, and offers the visitor heritage attractions, colourful culture, spicy local cuisine, and many recreational activities. It is also a major port, a manufacturing, trade and export centre. The city is popular with Singaporeans, and has many landmarks, such as The Grand Palace with its distinct Anglo-Malay architecture, which houses the museum where priceless treasures of the Royal Collection are showcased. Unfortunately this was closed for renovations and we did not get to visit it.

“Ghazal” music imported from India, is unique to Johor, and is usually performed during cultural shows and weddings. Another famous performance distinctly Johorean is the “Kuda Kepang” dance, which is spun from tales of Islamic heroes. Dancers imitate the movement of horses to the music of a traditional orchestra.

Shopping opportunities abound in JB. Modern malls, arcades, handicraft centres, bazaars and markets offer international and local products. Local craftwork makes good souvenirs of a trip here. The JB Duty Free Complex located at the JB International Ferry Terminal offers all sorts of merchandise for the international traveller. Known as “ZON”, it is a large duty free department store encompassing 163 retail outlets and a hypermarket. The complex offers a variety of goods such as branded designer wear from London, Paris, New York and the likes. Glassware, confectionery, and other items are also to be found on sale.

Another interesting side of JB can be experienced when night falls over the city. A vast array of food stalls and vendors appear and the adventurous tourist can try out the taste of popular local dishes such as the famous Laksa Johor, flake fish and gravy cooked with coconut milk and served with noodles and vegetables. The smells and aromas of this city can best be described as a full gamut – they range from the noisome to the delightful. While walking through the streets, one is assaulted by the malodorous stench of sewers and drying rotting fish, while the next step confronts one with the smell of jasmine and tuberose from the vendors of devotional garlands, while further down the street the delicious smell of frankincense burning on charcoal and joss sticks being offered in Chinese temples caress the nose.

We visited a Chinese temple and saw Hindu temples, mosques and Christian churches. This is another cosmopolitan city of over a million people and its multiracial population appears to be living in harmony with one another, just as is the case in Singapore. We enjoyed this side trip to Singapore’s northern neighbor and in the evening we caught a different bus back, which took us to the Bugis area of Singapore, very close to the CBD. A short taxi ride later we were at our hotel for cocktails at the club lounge. Definitely worth the effort of the travel, and despite the rigmarole of the passport checks and immigration lounge odysseys, this trip is an easy and worthwhile to do if staying in Singapore for a couple of days.

As it is Poetry Wednesday, here is an apt offering from the pen of Charles Beaudelaire:


WHEN with closed eyes in autumn’s eves of gold
I breathe the burning odours of your breast,
Before my eyes the hills of happy rest
Bathed in the sun’s monotonous fires, unfold.

Islands of Lethe where exotic boughs
Bend with their burden of strange fruit bowed down,
Where men are upright, maids have never grown
Unkind, but bear a light upon their brows.

Led by that perfume to these lands of ease,
I see a port where many ships have flown
With sails outwearied of the wandering seas;

While the faint odours from green tamarisks blown,
Float to my soul and in my senses throng,
And mingle vaguely with the sailor's song.

Charles Baudelaire (1821-1867)

Tuesday 1 March 2011


“We're living in a time when the world has suddenly discovered India because it’s run out of raw material for its imagination. The raw materials for imagination are inexhaustible here.” - Deepak Chopra

Today we visited Little India, which is one of Singapore’s most colourful and exotic neighbourhoods. The classic shopping arcade of Little India is located on Serangoon Road and was built in 1828. Immediately one enters this district, the sights, sounds and smells are immediately evocative of India. Arts, handicrafts, clothing, carpets, fabrics, food, jewellery, music, films, spices, flowers and flower garlands, sweets, all are to be found here and of course they are all Indian and transport one to the country of their origin.

Ten per cent of the permanent Singaporean population is Indian, most of them from the southern part of the subcontinent. This thriving community has become very successful in business and there are some very rich Indians amongst the well-to-do Singaporeans. However, when one walks down the street, many of the menial workers and labourers are also Indians. These may not be permanent residents, but rather guest workers, of which there are several hundred thousand in Singapore.

At Serangoon Road where Belilios Road crosses it, stands the Hindu Temple of “Sri Veerama Kaliamman” constructed in 1881. This temple is quite an amazing sight, as the colourful façade and roof are intricately decorated with all of the gods of the Indian pantheon. It is really worth a visit if you go to Little India. There are other temples of course, like the Sri Srinivasa Perumal Temple built in 1855 and designated a national Singaporean monument. This is located on upper Serangoon Road. A block up northeast on Race Course Road stands the Sakya Muni Buddha Gaya Temple. Here one finds hundreds of lightbulbs surrounding an enormous 50-feet high statue of the Buddha. Another temple is Leong San Buddhist Temple, which was constructed in 1800s and is rated as one of the most beautiful Buddhist temples in Singapore.

Heading up Serangoon Road through Kitchener Road takes one to Central Serangoon Road where many Indian cafes, clothing shops, and hardware stores are to be found. Some of the highlights are the Asian Women’s Welfare Association building located at 9 Norris Road, which was established in 1935. It is an interesting mixture of Art Deco, North Indian, and Chinese-inspired fish-scale designs. The Gandhi Memorial was dedicated by Indian prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru in 1950 and is situated behind the Broadway Hotel. A modern S$48 million dollar shopping complex located at Serangoon and Syed Alwi Roads is also worth seeing.

Going towards the East, one enters the Arab Quarter. The atmosphere here changes to one evoking the middle east, Arabia and Moslem world. The Arab community has been settled here even prior to the arrival of Sir Stamford Raffles. Arab merchants were monopolising Malaysia and Singapore for hundreds of years, and the links are forged very strongly. The Sultan Mosque is one of the highlights and it can be found between Bencoolen and Arab Streets. It was built by the Swan & MacLaren in 1924. Arab Street and the Bussorah Street mall are definitely worth lingering as the air reeks of the Arabian Nights and the fragrance of incense, perfume and spice.

This Muslim centre of Singapore is a traditional textile district, full of batiks from Indonesia, silks, sarongs and shirts. Add to this mix rosaries, flower essences, hajj caps, songkok hats, basketware and rattan goods, and you have a fair idea of the products haggled over in this part of the city. The grand Sultan Mosque is the biggest and liveliest mosque in Singapore, but the tiny Malabar Muslim Jama-ath Mosque (built in 1819) is the most beautiful. There’s fine Indian Muslim food along nearby North Bridge Rd and the foodstalls on Bussorah St are especially atmospheric at dusk during Ramadan. Gemstones and jewelry of all kinds are to be found in the Golden Landmark shopping centre, very close to the Sultan Mosque.

We also visited another sacred place in this area, the Old Malay Cemetery recorded as the oldest Malay cemetery, which unfortunately is note very well looked after and going to ruin. A pity as it is evocative of old times and has the atmosphere of a lost city in the jungle, so overgrown is it with greenery, although surrounded by busy thoroughfares.

Monday 28 February 2011


“What is fame? The advantage of being known by people of whom you yourself know nothing, and for whom you care as little.” - Lord Byron

The Oscars are about to be awarded again, and looking at the list of nominated movies this year leaves me rather uninspired on the main. In terms of the whole brouhaha surrounding the Oscars, the ceremony, the attendees and the lists of famous guests, every year seems to grow more tiresome and boring. The way that the US film industry has created the myth surrounding Hollywood and its star system feeds on events such as the Oscar Award Ceremony and for people away from it all, it is a little hard to take seriously. The choice of “Best Movie” award every looks like being more than a little arbitrary and motivated by a host of behind-the-scenes machinations. And how often is it that some remarkably good movies are entirely ignored…

Seeing “The Social Network” as one of the candidates has given me the willies. On principle I refuse to see this movie, just as on principle I refuse to have a Facebook account. The whole surge in popularity of this decidedly flawed and misused social networking site is quite astounding and despite all of the user horror stories that are aired worldwide, more and more people persist in joining and many more of them join the ranks of the disgruntled. Admittedly there are many more satisfied users, but I guess my beef is against monopolies that become behemoths and can do whatever they like with impunity. Such was the case with Bill Gates’ Microsoft until it started to be seriously challenged by Apple and other platforms.

I am also rather suspicious of “accidental billionaires” who seem to have made fortunes out of a single serendipitous venture and who are then lionised by the media and fêted in general to the extent of having biographies written about them while they are still in their twenties: “Lived boring childhood; went to College (Harvard though it was); had fun studying; had a good idea; made lots of money; still lives the same old life…” And then there’s a film about it, which will get the Oscar? Please, wake me when it’s over!

Hmmm, having re-read all of the above perhaps I come out as a bitter, old fogey who is shouting “sour grapes” at the top of his lungs.  However, my polemic is not self-motivated and underlying it all, I guess is the premise that to be successful as human being and to have lived a fulfilling, useful life does not go hand in hand with having fame and money. My objection is that our society is increasingly equating living a successful life with having money and being famous.


Well, at least “The King’s Speech” won the Best Picture Oscar, I’ve just heard. Just as well the other one didn’t! I have spoken to several friends who have seen “The King’s Speech” and by all accounts it received very good reviews from them. As I trust their judgment, this is a movie I shall see.

Sunday 27 February 2011


“Cities all over the world are getting bigger as more and more people move from rural to urban sites, but that has created enormous problems with respect to environmental pollution and the general quality of life.” - Alan Dundes

The Singapore Art Museum (SAM) was opened in January 1996. Its mission is to preserve and present the art histories and contemporary art practices of Singapore and the Southeast Asian region. SAM has amassed one of the world’s largest public collection of modern and contemporary Southeast Asian artworks. It is housed in a restored 19th century mission school, which can be found in the very heart of the city. It draws from its collection and collaborates with leading international museums to present shows covering both local and international art practices, as well as cutting edge art expressions. Contemporary art of the region is given international exposure through the museum’s travelling exhibition programme and collection loan.

The museum’s extension building, SAM at 8Q, was opened in August 2008, and expanded the museum’s contemporary art space to present fresh, multi-disciplinary, interactive and community-oriented exhiobitions. Today, SAM is a place where the public can directly experience the diversity of contemporary art practices ranging from painting and sculpture, to installation, film and video, photography, new media, performance art and sound art. It is a rich place where one can experience the work and ideas of living artists of Southeast Asia, and relate to the region’s unique aesthetic and social context. SAM is also the organiser of the Singapore Biennale 2011.

One of the striking works exhibited there currently is “Neo-Camouflage” by Indian artist Vibha Galhotra (see above). The artwork raises current urban issues such as destructiveness, overcrowding, pollution and psychological distress. It depicts how the artificial environment has become an almost uncontrollable phenomenon, overflowing and intruding public and personal spaces. “Neo-Camouflage” examines the urban landscape and suggests that human beings are easily lost within their an environment of their own making. Galhotra also imagines the need to reinvent and borrow the idea of the military fatigue (camouflage uniform) for civilian use as if it is needed to blend in and battle with the concrete jungle of the modern city. Galhotra’s art expounds the ‘brutal force of urbanisation’. The philosophical consideration of urbanisation and its effects is a subject often considered by artists from Asia and Southeast Asia, particularly those experiencing third world conditions.