Tuesday, 29 May 2007


I was watching Wallace & Gromit, Curse of the Were Rabbit on DVD again the other day and was playing around with the freeze frame and frame-by-frame advance. Apart from being simply better than any multi-headed VHS player, this game is especially neat with such stop-motion animation because it reveals the detail of the animator's craft.

Checkout the Lady-Rabbit-Hits-Bridge and the Airbag sequences especially. It's what the creator's would want as there's so much loving attention to detail in the action. Repeat with Monsters Inc, The Incredibles or any Pixar title actually.

This sort of segues into what I wanted to talk about. It's a common sight here: on a train, bus, in a meeting or elevator, someone's mobile phone rings. (No, this isn't a grumpy rant on mobiles, as such). What interests me is not the Annoying Frog(tm) or electronic jingle at 65dBa, not the fact that everyone can hear it and is possibly fumbling in their pockets themselves. No, none of these.

Why is it that they pull out the mobile and stare at the screen for a while before answering the call? They always do answer the call. so it's not screening. Conscious of being a public noise nuisance, I always answer the phone immediately, but I'm clearly rushing the experience and the opportunity to spread a little ringtone joy.

Note, if you want a rant, tell me why the latest phones don't even have a simple brrr, brrr ringtone anymore? Label it Classic if you want but make sure it's there. Here's a tip - keep those old mobiles, some will become classics in a few years.

Sunday, 27 May 2007

Taxonomy of Blogs

It was only a matter of time before this blog started talking about blogs, and hence itself. All publishing becomes self-referencial eventually so I'm on a well worn path of journalistic introspection.

I started writing because I wanted to see what I would say. Creativity requires practise, although you may be glad to know that not everything I write gets published [Ed - yup]. I exercise self-censorship to reduce the dross. Online writers are often encouraged to amplify, to be provocative or controversial, to be iconoclastic as a route to notoriety. I don't find myself drawn in this direction at all and in thinking & reading about the process of writing, this quote said the most to me:

In a very real sense, the writer writes in order to teach himself, to understand himself, to satisfy himself.-- Alfred Kazin

I write in bursts when I have time and when the ideas just flow. But I have to be meticulous about writing ideas down otherwise I forget. [It's amazing how much of what we think up we then throw away by just forgetting it]. I don't lack subject matter, only the opportunity to stop and think about them in a non-superficial way.

The note-taking is becoming a habit and I think I need to find a small notpad that will fit in my wallet. Most ideas are triggered from other reading combined with events. And I do read a lot, at least 1000 : 1 versus writing, maybe 10 times that.

Looking back over the first 30-odd posts, it's mostly observational nuggets. I find just being here such a stimulus to ask questions and compare with my experiences that this could go on a long time. It's not all original, but it's definitely personal. A recent discussion on blog types caught my interest and using this nomenclature, I write Conversationally with few aspirations for other motives.

As they say in the Truman Show, "It isn't always Shakespear, but it's genuine. It's a life."

Saturday, 26 May 2007

Spotting Tourists

Number 1. Shorts. Virtually no man who lives here wanders around town in shorts. If visitors wear long trousers on the plane, they don't last long. Job #1 is to strip off, shower and don shorts and a T-shirt. The only exceptions are older gentlemen and Japanese visitors who both demand greater sartorial dignity.

So the burning question is how quickly do economic migrants (e.g. expats) flip from shorts-wearing tourist mode to local long pants? In my case, about 2 months, a random statistic I am going to arbitrarily state as the average.

Number 2. Cameras. Anyone taking a picture of a glass building is a tourist. And one clearly without the creativity to think of a better picture after having done the Merlion and the Durian concert hall.

There are other dead giveaways like maps, Swedish students with enormous backpacks and Japanese tour groups who all wear cotton hats and sensible shoes. But for me, it's the shorts and white knees.

Sunday, 20 May 2007

Sexual Timidity

I've just had to fill out another form asking for my Gender and as usual I am allowed to respond with Masculine, M, Feminine or F. As a nit-picking pedant with a scientific background this never fails to irritate me and cause me to cast aspersions of ignorance or timidity on the source organisation.

In writing this entry, I researched whether I was wrong in thinking people have a Sex, and words have a Gender. I'm not, and Lynch, Guide to Grammar confirms my understanding, talks about how feminists started the newer usage and has the following comment

"It's probably unwise, though, to allow gender to edge out sex altogether. Once gender began to be used to describe people, it became first a synonym, and then a substitute, for sex. The word sex still provokes giggles, and I can understand why people who prepare questionnaires would be glad to see it disappear after finding the "Sex" blank on a form filled in with "Yes, please" for the jillionth time. Still, using gender to refer to biological sex should be avoided, except where it avoids confusion or ambiguity."

So I'm right, but will probably lose the battle.

Singapore inherits the Chinese repressed attitudes to sex. It still goes on, I assure you, but anything lewd is shunned. Singapore used to have a nude revue club, the Crazy Horse, which was in the news recently as announcing its closure. Not enough business. I wondered with a colleague if this was because it was too much for local tastes and his take was it was way too tame, standing in the fallow middle ground between acceptability to a prudish (license granting) elite and the wider market for lively adult entertainment.

Sunday, 6 May 2007

Moan, moan, moan ...

This is about personal hygiene, noise, anti-social behaviour and pet hates. It had to come up at some point and since it will probably sound racist, or at least xenophobic, I might as well get it over with in one go.

The first time I went to China in 1991, it took a while to realise that the glazed bowls around the place which seemed to be covered in wax were in fact spittoons. I'd never seen one before and it was a while before I saw anyone actually use them (as in, get the spit in the pot rather than just nearby). So the cultural background here is that Chinese like to expectorate - to get foul liquids out of their bodies. Spit, snot, you name it, it's gone. So how is Singapore doing? Not that badly in public. Few people spit on the street but (Chinese) people still noisily clear their throats and noses in toilets and in their homes. And it's that last point which is the most distressing. It's like a dawn chorus in HDB land with ritual throat clearing echoing from the bathrooms. You think I exaggerate? I do not.

You might think I would be all for personal grooming. Yes, but not on the bus.Today's example was an older Chinese lady, carefully giving all 10 fingers a nail clipping with a practised 3 snip (left side, right side, middle) for each nail. The moon-shaped clippings cascaded down onto her handbag, lap and seat, and were all swept onto the floor before carefully replacing the clippers back inside her bag. Nice.

Men often don't wash their hands after going to the toilet. I end up having to use a tissue on the door handle then holding the door with my foot while I throw away the tissue. It's embarrassing when other people are trying to get into the washroom and I'm doing this Jackie Chan style kung fu move with the door. One more reason never lend your laptop.

There's no way to get through this without talking about eating. It's simple. People lean their forearms on the table edge, hold the spoon pointing towards themselves and move food from the plate to their mouth in a manner reminiscent of a building site tower crane. This style is not well correlated to social class (as in, nicely dressed professional people seem to do it also). There's a small justification in the sense than some food like noodles benefit from a modest lean over to avoid splashing, but the rest is just bad manners and it ain't a pretty sight.

Lastly, there is the shuffle. This is a hot climate; people often wear flip-flops that cannot sustain a normal walking flick of the leg without risking them fly off. People learn early to shuffle, keeping the shoe in contact with the ground, thus keeping it on the foot. At a minimum, this produces a sshh, sshh, sshh sound, but with hard-soled ladies shoes, this turns into a full blown clack, clack, clack of surprising percussive intensity. You're probably thinking I should lighten up, but you would complain too if half the population tied cymbals to their knees when going out.

Thursday, 3 May 2007

Life in the Fast Lane

A recent article reported how over the last 10 years the average walking speed in cities has risen by 10%. Maybe its all those expensive sneakers & Starbucks caffeine?

Fortunately for me, the article answered my immediate question about how the Singaporeans fare in this regard. The whole place is a tiny bit manic, on the edge, so their 1st place is justly deserved. London's 12th placing sounds about right considering the loose scientific method used and the difficulty of separating the top few entries.

The fact that Singaporeans completed the test distance fully 3 times quicker than 32nd place Malawis passes the I can believe that test.

Wednesday, 2 May 2007

Top 10 worst habits of Singaporeans

Taken from the front page of Sunday's Chinese paper:

  1. one person taking up 2 seats in bus (eg with handbag etc)
  2. putting snot onto elevator buttons, bus / train seats, etc.
  3. squeezing fruits at fruit stall and taking free tasters
  4. aggressive driving, hogging overtaking lane
  5. sexually harrassing maids
  6. throwing things from windows of high rise buildings
  7. looking down on mainland Chinese
  8. not flushing toilets
  9. drips from wet clothes hung out to dry in a high rise flat
  10. spitting

My list (soon to be published) has little in common with this one, but it got me thinking about what a similar list for English people would contain? This immediately shows what a blind spot we have for ourselves as I struggled to think of anything like 10 decent entries.

Alcohol seemed to account for half my list (noise, violent behavior, rowdy holidays, football violence, etc). Littering? Aggressive driving? Fly tipping? Xenophobia? Inconsiderate talking on mobiles? Using mobiles while driving?

I don't like either list much. Pointing out a few anti-social habits is shallow and getting at the deeper attitudes & issues can't be done with a simple Top-10 list.