Saturday, 16 December 2006

What's with the Merlion anyway?

The Merlion is the symbol of Singapore, as used by the Singapore Tourist Board between 1964 and 1997 and is a made-up word from Mermaid and Lion. The creature with a lion head and fish body originates with the story of Sang Nila Utama, who saw a lion while hunting on an island, en route to Malacca. The island eventually became the sea port of Temasek, now Singapore.

These days, most people would know them from the various statues and/or fountains around the place. There are several, although the one now standing looking our over Marina Bay is probably the most well known and photographed. To be honest, I'm not sure why it was dropped by the local tourist board apart from noting recently invented legends or cultural icons tend not to last.

Note, I chose it as the basis of my pseudonym because of its local significance and it provides the level of anonymity I wanted for this blog. In other words, I wanted to be able to write freely without affecting my Google CV, an increasingly important consideration.

Thursday, 14 December 2006

Man Picks Nose

This week's venerable Straits Times featured an expose of bad behavior in public libraries. The lurid piece of journalism, complete with pixelated photographs, described no-nos such as ear digging, nose picking and feet on chairs. Moving up the disgusting scale was beard plucking while reading a newspaper.

Which got me thinking about the behaviors that disturbed (tho' not necessarily disgusted) me on my last visit to the excellent Sembawang facility:

  1. Mobile phones. Separating a Singaporean from their mobile would be classed as cruel and unusual punsihment, if you could achieve it. It just doesn't matter where people are, if the phone rings, it gets answered

  2. Kids playing combat video game on the public computers. Actually, they were doing a very good job of keeping a boisterous activity pretty quiet, but still, video killing game in a library?

  3. People sprawled on the floor between bookshelves as there aren't really enough chairs and very few tables. It's common for school children to use libraries as a cool (ie aircon'd) place to work. But it's hard to browse when you can't walk on the floor

  4. Tannoy recorded annoucements exhorting quiet and peaceful use of the facility. D'oh.

Not exactly a Little Shop of Horrors. All libraries I have visited were cool, fairly quiet and exceedingly well run. Book checkout is self-serve using your library card and a chip reader. Returns are fully automatic; just slide the book down the chute at the entrance and the book's chip is read and marked as returned. Payments and fines are cashless using your EZ Link card (train & bus rfid card). Book searches and renewals are online and they stay open until late.

If you want social faux pas, it would be the old lady sat next to me on the MRT using nail clippers to methodically depilate the back of her hands, complete with squeaky sound effects.

The ST article was a lightweight poke at petty rudeness and an attempt to shame into extinction some social errors. It almost certainly missed the mark. The stunningly successful, free, Chinese-language My Paper has the mass readership and has, arguably, taken over as the people's paper.

Monday, 11 December 2006

Have you ever been to Poughkeepsie?

Scene: a local plastic-ware shop. A man is trying to buy a plastic bread bin. After much fumbling with the cardboard box, the shopkeeper declares there is no price marked. An unseen voice from the back boldly states "$26.20" (£8.70).

"$26?" cries the customer in shock, "That's expensive isn't it?"
"Well, it's good plastic" (shades of Monty Python's "beautiful plumage" there)
"Yes, but $26? That's a lot of money"
"Well how much do you want to pay?" asks the shopkeeper, sensing the wild guess from the back might be off the market rate but there is a chance of a deal to be done.
"I don't know, it just seems pricey compared to a few years ago"
"Yeah, but a few years ago we didn't have the MRT!" [MRT=light rail network]

The resulting stunned silence reminds of a scene in the French Connection where Gene Hackman's detective character in mid flow of interrogating a known miscreant suddenly throws in "Have you ever been to Poughkeepsie?" The confused crim is thrown off his well-rehearsed alibi routine wondering what
possible crime in a small, up-state New York town he is now being linked with.

In both cases, a brilliant example of a dissonant response which leaves no room for logical reply.

Friday, 8 December 2006

Day One, the housemates arrive and get settled in

There is an old saying that the 3 most stressful things in life are Divorce, new job and moving house. In other words, people fear change and react badly. More precisely, people fear change they don't control, and since this move to Singapore is voluntary, I'll skip the many irritations and say I Like It Here.

Adventure. That's what I say when people ask why we Upped Sticks and Moved. Adventure is loosely defined as Willful Risk Taking so it puts an acceptable spin on a potentially risky venture, which is handy. The weblog is just a modern form of Airmail envelope. You know, those nifty pre-gummed ones made of rice paper to keep the postage down. Probably don't exist any more with Internet Cafes taking on the twin tasks of dampening parental fears while asking for money to be wired.

So here we are in the Information Age with whole new ways to communicate the pleasures of travel and meeting new people. Stick around to see if the enthusiasm lasts. It's bound to be fun even if it doesn't.