Friday, 29 August 2008

Show and Tell

ComexSingapore hosts 4 consumer electronics events a year; the IT Show (March), PC Show (June), COMEX (August) and SITEX (November).

This week it's COMEX and as for all the shows, it runs Thursday through Sunday. I usually try to go on opening day to avoid the crowds. It works to some extent or maybe you just end up attending with the other people who can choose to avoid the Saturday and Sunday crush.

I've been to all of them now and they are all the same. Same 3 floors of Suntec, same escalator madness, same Sony stand on level 3, same big names on level 4 and same smaller companies on level 6.

This time I was in the market for a big hard disk drive. At the PC Show in June, the best deal was a 3 interface (USB, Firewire, eSATA) 1TB for S$349 (£134). At COMEX, the same item is S$249 (£96), and you could get the same drive in a USB 2.0-only enclosure for S$199 (£76). I whipped out the plastic NETS card.

It's analagous to Moore's Law, which strictly relates to number of transistors on a chip doubling every 24 months but is nowadays quoted for many measures of technical advance including the effective price-per-megabyte of disk storage. In this case, the 29% drop in 2 months is because the manufacturer is likely clearing stock ahead of the next product cycle.

I only go to the shows because the retailers hold back stock specifically to have show sales. Some Sim Lim stores ran dry of drives ahead of the PC Show. After the show, many of the advertised deals are achievable with regular bargaining but the shows work mostly on sticker pricing so it may be less work.

Otherwise I wouldn't bother. Too crowded. Too much tat being hawked as quality gear. There was one stand, I don't know what they were selling, international dialing cards perhaps, that stuck me a having a uniquely simple sales pitch. They had two ridiculously pretty booth girls in micro-skirts handing out leaflets (not answering questions, just leaflets) under a sign reading "Sign up today, get free stuff".

Thursday, 28 August 2008

Jamaica Takes the Biscuit

O-RingsApparently, the 2008 Beijing games are over. The only reason I know is that the the Today paper is reporting on a Chinese psychologist who believes the home country's sports fans are suffering "feelings of loss, worrying about work and generally feeling sluggish", also "feeling lost and prone to whining".

I hear the whining alright. "Xinhua did not provide any figures for the extent of the problem." Oh Okay, a make it up as you go along story that allows them to invent "Olympic Syndrome".

All of which is a shame as actually the mathematics of the games is more interesting. Freakonomics calculates that Jamaica tops the medal table based on its 2.2 gold medals per million inhabitants. Second place on this table is Bahrain with Rashid Ramzi’s victory in the 1,500-meter race giving them both their first-ever gold medal and a per capita rate of 1.4 gold medals per million. Which puts Singapore's one silver for 4.5m people into perspective.

Singapore is now struggling with the aftermath of their medal win. There's a local scandal about how one of the coaches was summarily sacked by the Singapore Table Tennis Association (the President is my MP). The association claims the decision was made before the games, but others claim it was because one of the team was left to play a match un-coached.

The dash to cash continues with the Singapore Sailing Association saying it needs $10m to $12m to prepare for the next games while others point out that if table tennis suits the Asian physique, then why not put tables in every void deck. Perhaps they need some mathematicians to calculate their odds against how many tables are already in China right now. You'd be better off putting the money into a prize fund to attract top-ranked players willing to take Singaporean nationality.

So there you have it. Mass depression, statistics and money. And I thought the Olympics was about individual achievement.

Saturday, 23 August 2008

Groucho wouldn't buy an iPhone

iPhone Credit: Apple ComputerIt appears I am more rational than my fellow Singaporeans. We are at Day-2 of iPhone availability from SingTel and I'm thinking it's not a club I want to join.

The latest e-mail from SingTel avoided previous faux pas and was text, not an enormous graphic. It was also spam trapped so I didn't even see it for 24 hours. It briefly describes the pricing plans and tariffs that we already know and invites me to book an appointment. This morning, SingTel's website carries the following advice:

Please come on and not before your allocated time. You must have an appointment to pick up your iPhone 3G. Only people with appointments will be able to collect an iPhone. You must be the account holder to collect your iPhone. Please bring with you your ID and your confirmation receipts/emails. Please be prepared for a 2 to 4 hour wait.

So let me get this straight. I have to book an appointment, and I must keep the appointment, but then SingTel will keep me waiting for 2 - 4 hours? At least the queue seems to be real customers. The Polish iPhone launch by Orange has been caught out hiring actors to create fake queues in front of 20 stores to generate a marketing buzz. At least in Singapore, the queue seemed to be genuine with the first buyer waiting 24 hours in line in the tent erected in front of CommCenter.

What continues to puzzle me is the ridiculously low data caps. It's a "3G" iPhone. Its main claim to fame is the increased speed of data download, otherwise it's essentially the same as the 2G (Ok, they did add GPS). If I chose the basic iFlexi tariff, I get 1GB of bundled data. SingTel don't give the overage charge on their website, so I called Customer Services on 1626 and after a hugely irritating message about iPhone delays, repeated in Mandarin, and 3 voice prompts later, I was queued then quickly talking to an efficient and well spoken Indian man.

The overage charge (the amount I pay for data beyond the 1GB) is 0.5 cents per kilo byte. So if I use 2GB of data in a month, I have to pay for the extra 1GB: (0.005 * 1024 * 1024 ) = S$5,242 (£2,011). It's no wonder there is already an online petition about the niggardly data caps.

To his credit, the CSO pointed that for "people who want to use a lot of data", they are better off choosing one of the normal SingTel tariffs and adding a 50GB mobile data plan on (on offer for 30% off). Funny, they don't mention that in the FAQ.

Just wait until you see the fine print. Calling Line Id is free (footnote: for 3 months only). Auto roaming is free (footnote: for 3 months only). Voice mail is free (footnote: for 12 months only). Incoming calls are free (footnote: until Dec 2010 only). Am I the only one who thinks this is borderline bait'n'switch?

You may be wondering are there any phones out there as good as the iPhone? The Samsung Omnia i900 is often mentioned. I tried one at the CommunicAsia show a few months back. Don't bother, it's rubbish. Sure it looks nice but it runs on Windows Mobile with some custom applications so it's schizophrenic, switching between an iPhone-esque touch interface and the underlying Windows madness. I was left dazed after trying to use it for 5 minutes.

I guess my problem is that I don't do Hype. The iPhone is nice and I'm willing to pay for one, but I hate the bullying marketing antics of mobile operators, the oppressive lock in contracts and the scary small print. I reckon StarHub and M1 will have better data tariffs later this year. And perhaps the final realisation is that I no longer want to be associated with the people who are buying iPhones. Groucho Marx would understand.

Wednesday, 20 August 2008

iPhone Kills Baby Seals

iPhone Credit: Apple ComputerSingTel have stopped sending me e-mails about the iPhone launch; actually it turns out that they are initially targeting existing SingTel customers and I don't have any accounts with them. So only 2 days from the first sale, I have to read in the newspaper about the state of the promotion; only sales to pre-registered buyers for at least the first few days.

So I hot foot over to the SingTel website. Nada. You click around in an increasingly desperate search for any news or even mention of the device. In a sure sign of insanity, you even click on links you've already checked in the forlorn hope the result will be different. It turns out you need to go to the iPhone page, which finally shows the price plans.

SingTel have created special iPhone plans called iFlexi (yes, 2 'i's) plans, all 2 year contracts, assuming the 16GB model:

iFlexi Value: S$508 down, then S$56pm, 200 minutes, 500 SMS, 1GB data.
Total = $1852 (£704) over 2yrs

iFlexi Plus: S$208 down, then S$95pm, 500 minutes, 500 SMS, 2GB data.
Total = $2488 (£984) over 2yrs

iFlexi Premium: S$0 down, then S$205pm, 1500 minutes, 1500 SMS, 3GB data.
Total = $4920 (£1871) over 2yrs

Actually, it's more complicated than that, and there is a very detailed FAQ page just for the iPhone. But still, my immediate reaction is No Way.

First, anyone who spends £900 a year on a phone is mad. Secondly, the data caps are pathetically ungenerous; my M1 3G broadband account is S$22pm (£8.30) with no data cap; None; Unlimited. SingTel do the same deal but with a 50GB data cap. To put this in perspective, my domestic broadband usage is about 15GB per month (~14GB downstream and 1GB upstream). So a phone with a 1GB data cap is only 2 days of my normal broadband use. Clearly, this is no substitute for a home broadband connection (even if Apple would allow tethering, which they don't). So I'll have to keep my M1 mobile broadband account as well.

I have a couple of days to decide. I make few calls (probably less than 15mins a month) because I tend to use landlines for outgoing calls. I do use SMS, increasingly so. It's a convenient way to have a conversation in slow-time. Maybe they are in a meeting, or I am. I use it like e-mail for short, non-urgent discussions. But I still only send maybe 30 or 40 a month, tops.

So out of these choices, I'd take the first one (where I effectively buy the phone at cost) and then keep my monthly subscriptions from bankrupting me over the next 2 years.

Or I might wait it out and see what StarHub and M1 offer at the end of the year. I've already waited over a year for the 3G version. Another couple of months won't make any difference. It bemuses me that most buyers of the phone will not make such a calculated or patient purchase decision, which is one reason why Apple's market capitalisation has just past Google's

Tuesday, 19 August 2008

Singlish WOTD: Boleh

Your Singlish Word of the Day is: Boleh

Defn: Can do, it's possible

From Malay.

Monday, 18 August 2008

No Silver Lining

O-RingsThe country of Singapore won a silver medal in the team table-tennis event and thus ended the perceived 48 year drought of Olympic plaudits. They lost 3-0 to China in the final.

The Prime Minister postponed the English language version of the annual national day speech to Monday apparently to adjust the timing with respect to Olympic broadcasts. You can just imagine the nationalistic, flag-wrapping frenzy that the medal win has caused. The team's future is assured and there are already talks of using the success as a springboard to further focused effort into development of top sports stars.

I was around someone's house last Thursday and when dinner was served, they turned the TV on and arranged the salad so as not to obstruct the view. It was the first Olympic TV I'd seen and the news was Federer losing. I was just surprised that lawn tennis was even an Olympic sport.

One wrinkle is that the 3 winning (losing?) team members are naturalised Singaporeans; all were born in China. The long history of passport athletes (Zola Budd anyone?) is now an accepted practise but it goes to the heart of what I dislike about the modern Olympics. It's right up there with medal league tables sorted by country, commercial sponsorship and ridiculous, equipment-based sports.

Saturday, 16 August 2008

F1 Circus

Checkered FlagSingapore hosts a round of the 2008 F1 GP Championship on the 26th September. The backstory is that Malaysia built a new F1 circuit, Sepang F1, a few miles north of K.L. and hosted its first F1 race in 1999. Its one claim to fame is that is the only circuit with the protected trademark "F1" in the name. Sepang is the place name (of the former swamp).

Singapore is never out-gunned within its local region and as a matter of prestige and income, decided to have an F1 race. The crushing lack of land space forced it to be a street circuit (like Monaco and Montreal) around the Marina Bay roads. Singapore last ran an F1 race back in 1973; this 61-lap race is one of only three anti-clockwise circuits on the current tour and uniquely, the first F1 race run at night under floodlights.

The circuit is downtown and actually runs underneath the bay grandstand that hosted the NDP-08 show. The cheapest ticket for the Bay Grandstand was S$248 (£93), although this prime location is sold out. The official website is showing 92% of tickets sold at the beginning of June and 93% sold at the current time.

The initial flurry of activity (and perhaps enthusiasm) have waned somewhat. The inevitable feeding frenzy and blatant profiteering of hotels with over-looking rooms has settled a little and overall, the Times ran a piece in June about the continued availability of rooms for the event. SingTel quickly snapped up the prime sponsorship prize and have their own fancy website including a competition to select the grid girls.

I've attended a GP race, actually at the Sepang circuit, and while it was an interesting and memorable experience, I have no desire to repeat it. First, you medically require ear plugs to avoid hearing damage. Second, a static track-side view is the worst as you see each car for 4secs out of every 50secs. You need a portable TV to get the live overview or at least a radio with headphones. Malaysia in August was also Hot, +35degC and despite a hat and even a sarong as sunscreen, I was sunburnt through the material. It was also crowded with congested roads and amateur arm-wavers hired for the day to impose leadership on tired and irritable visitors.

So I have to balance nationalistic oneupmanship, greedy hoteliers, girl-next-door beauty pageants, deafening noise, the £100 a head cost and the inevitable overcrowding against seeing that Hamilton chap do amazing things. Hmmm, nah, I'll catch the result the following day on the RSS news feeds thankyouverymuch.

Friday, 15 August 2008

Singapore Does God

Creation of AdamUnlike Tony Blair's press secretary who cut famously short a questioner who asked if the Prime Minister's (Catholic) religion influenced his political decisions, Singapore does do God, in increasing numbers.

In 2000, 14.6% of Singaporeans claimed to be Christians, up from 12.7% a decade before. Taoist numbers are falling fast. In 1980, 30% of Singaporeans said they were Taoists, by 1990 it down to 22.4% and just 8.5% in 2000.

In terms of apostasy, Buddhists are holding strong with more than 80% who were born Buddhist staying Buddhist. The survey also claimed it is the fastest growing religion, although I don't immediately see the data for that claim. It does say Buddhism is the top choice among those in search of spirituality, gaining converts among those seeking "time out" from stressed lives. I can believe this: practical life management rather than preachy moral guidance.

If we assume the Muslim population of Singapore is stable (they take a very dim view of apostasy indeed), and Indians similarly, then all this religious chair hopping is going on in the Chinese community.

"There's a leakage from traditional Chinese religions, which don't seem to have the same appeal to younger people,"

according to National University of Singapore sociologist Alexius Pereira.

"Three-quarters of those queried who abandoned Taoism said they felt disconnected to the religion or perceived a "lack of meaning" in following it".

A strong, evangelical Christian attitude is often encountered with Chinese Singaporeans. It's not oppressive, but it has the heart-felt fervour of someone who decided their faith rather than inherited it by default so caution is required. Whether it's invites to parties (that turn out to be Church events), conversations on stock market investments (prayers to lift a sagging stock price), talking about illnesses (group prayer is offered with follow-up offers to join a bible study group), changing jobs (prayers for guidance) or anything sexual (where the good old standbys of gays & lesbians are dangerous topics).

Catholics and Protestants are split 1 third / 2 thirds. There's a Christian (Mormon) seminary near Novena MRT and you often see neat, polite and earnest young men wearing the uniform black trousers, white shirt and sensible tie on their way back to the dormitories at Woodlands. Mostly Americans with a refreshingly unabashed attitude to speaking to strangers on the train, something locals never, ever, ever do.

My favourite God conversation so far was with a near neighbour (Chinese) who declared she was "Catholic. Not Christian, Catholic.". It's somehow reassuring that in adopting Christian beliefs, locals have digested the full-fat version complete with inter-denominational prejudice and two millennia of schism.

Thursday, 14 August 2008

The Broadband Hustle

M1 LogoWhen it comes to marketing broadband services, there is no such thing as coincidence. Singapore has a few mobile phone carriers (SingTel, M1, StarHub) and broadband carriers (SingNet, StarHub, Pacific Internet). Now M1 is moving into fixed broadband by re-selling service based on StarHub's cable network.

It's an arrangement familiar in England where BT's OpenReach wholesales aDSL service to many ISPs, including themselves. StarHub will charge $35.71 (£13.27) a month to M1 who will then sell broadband service for up to S$88.50 pm (£32.89).

The wider story is that StarHub and M1 are in one of the two consortiums bidding for the NGNBN (new national fiber network) that is due to be announced any time, although an insider has already tipped it will go to the SingTel consortium.

The non-coincidence is that out of the blue, the Merlion household was cold-called by our existing broadband supplier, StarHub. We have been with them since we arrived 22months ago and have been contract free since the end of the first year. We pay S$59.80 (£22) for an 8Mbps/256kbps service that is Okay.

Given the choice, I'd change to SingNet on aDSL because Starhub do traffic shaping at busy hours. Trying to download (not watch, just download) YouTube videos on a Sunday night just fails, and slows to a crawl during evenings generally. SingNet have a better backend network and indeed use it to stream realtime video for their Mio (said Mee Oh) video on demand (VOD) service.

So when StarHub call and offer 25% off for a 2 year lock-in, I declined faster than a scalded cat. I hate lock-ins and, as is common with most of these deals, the cost to breakout of the deal is to pay the entire outstanding balance up to the end of the lock-in contract.

I haven't moved to SingNet for exactly the same reason. Only their entry level 512kbps aDSL has a 1 year contract term. All the faster plans are 2 years with the usual full penalty breakout. No deal.

The problem is freebies. If I commit to 30months with StarHub, I could get a 'free' laptop. Two years with SingNet gets me mobile discounts or whatever the offer is this month. I can't get a freebie-less deal without the term lock-in because the local market is saturated and stopping subscribers jumping ship at the first whiff of a better deal elsewhere is the main preoccupation of the marketing departments.

This also explains the horrible websites of these providers, especially SingTel [Ed: just re-vamped so looks nice but functionally similar] that, as you may now realise, are not there to inform, but to sell. I go looking for facts and get gypsy carnival style bait'n'switch showmanship. Just read the tiny footnotes if you doubt me.

Singaporeans are mercenary consumers who consider it a statutory obligation to change suppliers to get a better deal and publicly congratulate themselves on their savvy. Most change mobiles every 12 months. In my case, I stay with StarHub not because I'm locked in but because I am not. Lacking clarity of my tenure here in Singapore, I just sit on a contract-free, traffic-shaped StarHub line, paying a little more each month. As they say, Freedom isn't Free.

Wednesday, 13 August 2008

Singapore gets the iPhone

iPhone Credit: Apple ComputerHaving complained only days ago of e-mails from SingTel that consist solely of a single graphic image with no text, I can now report they have been listening. Yesterday's update e-mail, reporting that the iPhone will be on sale in Singapore on the 22nd August contains neither text nor graphics.

Unburdened by such e-mail trivialities as a message body, I can reproduce it here in its full and glorious terseness:

Subject: It's coming on 22 August 2008!
Date: 12 August 2008 17:44:58 SST
To: [redacted]

The popular & technical press have more coverage but still no indication of pricing although the word is that it will be subsidised so cheaper at the start, but more $ per month.

The other carriers (M1, Starhub) claim they will be offering the gadget before year end so SingTel had better think hard before trying to gouge the early-birds. I'll just pass and buy an unlocked phone in Hong Kong if they get greedy.

Shock Reversal of Fortune

Singapore FlyerThe Flyer, Singapore's answer to big wheels everywhere has been put in reverse by a bevy of Feng Shui masters who approached the operators of the Flyer to ask that it turn the other way.

The Flyer originally revolved so that it rose to face the business district and went down overlooking the sea. The geomancers argued this was taking good fortune away from the city and have convinced the wheel's management to reverse the rotation as it sits on the perfect site to pick up the good qi (energy) flowing into Singapore, but it was going in the wrong direction. The Flyer was going against the sun and taking fortune away from Singapore.

Flyers now experience a view starting with the beaches and housing estates in the east and culminates with a vista of the business centre.

The AP article dryly notes that "despite being a modern city, Singapore is a largely ethnic Chinese nation, where traditions still hold sway". No kidding. I suppose we should feel lucky they didn't ask to be moved to the left by 6 feet.

Tuesday, 12 August 2008

iPhone Marketing

iPhone Credit: Apple ComputerMy pre-order of an iPhone from SingTel is moving along. They sent me an update e-mail the other day. Well, I say e-mail, there was no text, just a single, stupid graphic file as an attachment which just throws petrol on the fire of my disdain for SingTel's marketing prowess.

Their website is such a cacophony of offers, special offers, circular links and footnotes it's about as useful as taking LSD and discussing astrophysics with Paris Hilton. Anyway, the non-email:

iPhone 3G coming soon

First, SingTel brought you the best in coverage. [sic] And now we bring you the Apple iPhone 3G.

We know you're keen to hear more, this is just a quick note to say that we have not forgotten about you.

As you are registered, we will let you know very soon how you can be the first in line to collect your new iPhone!

We will give priority to customers who have registered, at this stage registration is still open but we may not be able to keep this open much longer.

If you have friends who may be interested, they can register now at

I will email you next week with more details about how you can get ready for your new iPhone.

Like you, I can't wait to get mine. Watch this space!

With best regards
Wong Soon Nam
Vice President - Consumer Marketing

From this I understand that this veep is fond of exclamation marks and is getting his iPhone first while the rest of us are all somehow going to be "first in line". Still no pricing (I'm expecting over S$1,000 (£372) for the 16GB model) or launch date. I guess I just keep watching out for more such e-mail misuse.

Monday, 11 August 2008

Beijing 08

O-RingsFor reasons that make me sound particularly curmudgeonly, I don't pay any attention to the Olympics. It's nothing to do with China, I haven't watched any games since at least Barcelona (1992) or perhaps Seoul (1988). It's a shame because I applaud the individual sporting excellence but cannot abide the rampant nationalism and commercialism. Thus, my knowledge so far of the Beijing games is limited to the terrorism, crime and ridiculous re-education of the populace stories.

Singapore have a small team (26 Olympians) at the games and have declared they expect to win 1 medal, which is either over or under ambitious, depending upon your perspective. Singapore has yet to win a gold in any games with Howe-Liang Tan's silver in the 77kg weightlifting at the 1960 Rome Games the country's only Olympic medal to date. Table tennis star Li Jia-Wei, placed fourth in Athens, is the top local medal prospect.

If underdogs are your thing, you could try rooting for the countries with only one athlete such as the Republic of Nauru, the world’s smallest island nation at only 8.1 square miles. It is located northeast of Australia in the Micronesian South Pacific. Their sole Olympic participant is Itte Detenamo in the weightlifting competition. Go Nauru!

Sunday, 10 August 2008

NDP 08

NDP 08I wasn't mad keen to go the the National Day Parade 2008. I had an offer of 2 tickets for myself and the Merlioness but she had other commitments and the real fun from such events is the snipping cynical chit-chat with a soul-mate. Going alone sounded like a barrel of laughs without the laughs. What tipped the decision was when I mentioned I might go and the locals reacted with amazement that I had manage to chope tickets (where was I getting them from?); it's a lottery, literally. You apply in advance and only a few get tickets, which are then valuable and can be (illegally) traded or sold on eBay. That was it; in the interests of investigative journalism, I had to go.

The NDP is a stage show at Marina Bay (where the Merlion is). A fixed seating stand looking out into the bay with a huge floating pontoon as the stage. Since the show includes a major firework show and the event is pitched as a national birthday party, the whole downtown area becomes one big party and is the most crowded it ever gets. I was warned that getting away at the end would be difficult and that security would be tight.

Undeterred, I turned up reasonably on-time (you were asked to be seated at 4:45pm) but the huge queues, poor signage for ticket holders and then a full baggage X-ray and magnetic pat-down made entry to the stands a +20min trudge with some less-than good natured sharp elbowing from the 5' 2" Chinese grannies (I was shoved off the path at one point as she caught my natural shift of weight in a move that would have drawn praise from a Judo sensei). No canned drinks allowed in and the tickets said not to bring big bags as they would slow down inspection.

You were also encouraged to wear red so you get whatever red T-shirt people have in their closet. Ex McDonalds uniforms, corporate events, and some made for the event. One chap had "Jesus is here, all of the time" which was neatly balanced by the lady 2 rows in front of me who just had "Satan" written on the back. We all ended up wearing red anyway because 15mins in, it started to drizzle, persistently and sooner or later, everyone was wearing the thin, red, plastic disposable rain cape from the free goodie bag.

It was free seating and as I was at the tail end, I was high up at the back (a better location in my opinion). Stage has huge video screens and music and odd videos were already playing to keep the crowd amused. I pulled out the iPod and a book.

The show started, literally, with a few fire bangs and the 5 MC's dressed in bright, individual coloured jump suits arrived at the front by quad-bike. All the MCs throughout spoke only English and tried to get the lacklustre crowd going with sectored cheering contests. I swear we were only a hair-breadth away from "Give us an S!".

Entry included a sponsored Goodie bag and this was a good time for a rummage; I was thirsty. Full inventory was:

An outer paper carrier bag with shoulder strap and inner pocket with postcard. Inner nylon bag containing:
Carton of Isotonic drink.
Carton of Soya milk.
Plastic bottle of Newater.
Bag of Hot & Spicy Prawn Crackers.
Bag of Cracker Crunch mixed nuts.
Halls Mini Mints (2of).
Baseball cap, white/red with NDP08 logo and battery plus flashing stars lights.
Inflatable hand glove (with battery and lights).
Singapore flag (8x6") on short stick with detachable desk stand.
100-page discount coupon book.
Temporary tattoos (Singapore flag, "Shine Singapore", and 2 lines of stars).
Plastic rain cape.
Packet of tissues.
Packet of Wet wipes.
Bottle of AXE brand universal oil (for colds and headaches).
Magnetic bookmark / fridge magnet (with instructions for flattening Tetrapak cartons on the back)
1 White paper clip.
1 Red paper clip.
Plastic rubbish bag
Lucky Draw Ticket for "Bag It to Win It"

At this point, the MCs asked us to pull out the plastic "spinner" from under our seats (image 10" petals around a shaft which unfurls into a flat flower head). Because most were red with some white ones, if everyone held them up and spun then, they spelled out the event's slogan "Shine Singapore" for the camera on the helicopter.

Then the show proper got going. About 30mins in, it would become a live TV broadcast to 18 nations but first some warm-up acts.

1. Music/dance routine with massed school choir accompanying wheelchair+able-bodied dance partners. Mainly jive steps given the limited hand-hand contact points.
2. Music/dance by massed crowd of people dressed in waistcoats that made them look like the guys with paddles that park aeroplanes.
3. Pair of paragliders (red chutes) vaguely hover stage left.

Then the show cut live so insert a load of MCs shouting about cheering and spinning the flower things.

4. Song
5. Bayshow on the water: Jet skis dragging wake boarders, then Jet skis dragging stunt kites, then 2 F1 power boats, them final parade of all of them
6. MPs arrive all dressed in white, take seats.
7. Ten skydivers from helicopter (about 2000ft) so pretty quick, for soft landing on front of stage. Pretty good with only one wipe-out landing ("he's Okay" says the MC but he'll get a right thumping from his mates back at base).
8. Military band with rifle twirling, then formed into characters "NDP08" and stayed there.
9. Inflated plastic balloons released at top of stands with sector race to get them to the MCs at the stage.
10. Song and dance: "Home" translated and sung in Tamil.
11. Ministers arrive, take seats
12. Song and dance: "My Island Home" sung this year in Mandarin
13. Prime Minister arrives in white Merc at front.
14. Song and dance: "We Are Singapore" sung in English
15. President arrives in (same) white Merc, takes acknowledgment from Parade Master, inspects front ranks on foot (cue artillery shell salute), then into the "Ceremonial Land Rover" for a drive around the rest of the massed ranks. [Note, it's no LR that I know of, probably an Indian Tata vehicle quickly re-branded as LR since they bought it from Ford a few months ago]
16. Black Knights acrobatics. Really disappointing since they've been practising over my house for weeks and they only did 4 or 5 things with lousy commentary. The easy stuff (head to head fly past) got wows from the crowed, but the cool one (a tight inside turn then vertical climb, all on full afterburner) was unappreciated. Plus, the intended re-broadcast of the inter-pilot radio chatter was just static, and was the only AV failure of the event). Shame.
17. Dance show with balloons (lit from the inside) dragged around the bay by boats.
18. Parade of floats with a wave/boat/sail theme
19. Then a series of song/dance acts that I couldn't be bothered to write down. Some better than others, some by schools, one by the Soka Association (Buddhists).
20. Fireworks from barge in the bay. Not bad. I'm highly critical of fireworks as I've seen some suberb shows and most are pretty feeble given the expertise and costs involved ($100k doesn't buy much). One green starbust blew up on the barge which I thought was spectacular but was probably alone in even noticing.
21. MCs, videos, fireworks, yadda, yadda.

I left to try and get a jump on the crush to leave. I did leave ahead of 97% of the crowd but that just meant I joined the throngs around the event earlier than most. The entrance to City Hall MRT was closed due to over-crowded right in front of me, so I took a path of lesser resistance and walked away from the MRTs and met up with the Merlioness later on. By 10:30, the trains were empty. Result!

All in all, I'm glad I went. It's easy to snipe at such nationalistic displays and they were really pushing for multi-racial, politically correct, inclusive harmony and continued success; reasonable given the swamp-to-city transformation they have achieved in 43 years.

The NDP site is broken this morning, probably by people trying to see if their trash bag won the "Bag It to Win It" prize. And there's a true lesson for working with Singaporeans; if you want them to do something, make it a competition with a prize.

Sunday, 3 August 2008

8 8 8

Beijing OlympicsThe Olympic games, awarded to the city of Beijing (not to the country of China) are days away, and the lead up has been traumatic for the Chinese. Floods, earthquakes and political unrest have made the headlines and have left insiders wondering if the organisers have been too bold in scheduling the games to start on the 8th August, 2008. It sounds nice, 8-8-8, since eight is a lucky number (in Chinese it rhymes with prosperity) the attraction was obvious. Now the fear is that the gods are angered by such impudence.

Theory one is the four mascots of the games represent four tragedies to befall the games, somewhat like the four horseman of the apocalypse. The analogy breaks down considering there are 5 mascots, and numerology around single digits is always suspect due to simple coincidence. Plus, who gets to decide what is a calamity and what is a domestic political issue?

Theory two is spiritually deeper. August is a Hungry Ghost month and the thinking (?) goes that while 8-8-8 is auspicious, the hungry ghost festival trumps the auspicious date, so a high-profile activity is inappropriate and unlucky.

The usual Singaporean, ghost-appeasing pyrotechnics have certainly begun. What is notable this year is that more people are using the shared oil-drum burners rather then finding their own patch of grass to burn. Rows of shops have huge candles melting down to a waxy Quatermass on the block paving and the food offerings are a boon to the birds and rats. I still hold out some hope the bonfire excesses will decline with the modern secular generational transition.

As for the games, the official attitude in Singapore has always been pro-Chinese, talking down the vociferous criticism of Tibetan policies, human rights and freedoms, instead pointing out the intense national pride the games have generated and the danger of getting on the wrong side of it. It's the right approach since the games are supposed to be a non-political event but one can't help but notice the self-serving, long-term relationship building rhetoric.

Singapore has its own reasons for eschewing political gamesmanship since they were awarded the inaugural Youth Olympic games in 2010. The mission statement is "Excellence, Friendship, and Respect" and the official logo competition has just been launched. You will have to forgive the excessive use of exclamation marks in the text but you too can try to avoid the inevitable criticism such logos attract. Try to avoid any reference to Gods, legends, numerology, politics, science, nationalism, celebrities, race, religion or any single colour or colour combination with any meaning whatsoever. Good luck.