Thursday, December 31, 2009

yesteryears' playgrounds

picture from national archive of singapore

sometimes when you want to know or remember how things were like in singapore in the 50s, 60s or even the 70s, it can be done by visiting one of our own off-shore islands like pulau ubin or by visiting one of our neighbouring countries. when i visit places like sungei rengit in johor or seniawan outside kuching, i will describe to my buddies that 'it is just like s'pore in the 60s'.

i was in kuching recently when i saw these pieces of equipment at a playground, then memories of playgrounds where i had played and where i used to take my children to came flooding back. even up to the 80s, the old type of swings and see-saws were still around. i remember the see-saws and swings at farrer park and at dhoby ghaut, just across from the rendevous restaurant.

at some playgounds, the chains attached to the swings were quite long which meant you could swing frighteningly high. these days, you find modified swings at some parks and playgrounds and they do not go as high as the height has been much reduced. are today's children less adventurous or are we more safety conscious these days?

to get the initial momentum on the swing, some of us stood on the seating board of the swing, bent our knees and straightened them and did this repeatedly to get it going. others needed help from some 'pusher'. yet others could get into the swing of things by just flexing their legs while seated on the board.

in both the primary schools where i studied, we had a monkey-bars in the school-field. it was a popular spot with the boys during recess. girls were rarely seen playing at or on the monkey-bars. we would swing from one end to the other. those who were new to it usually ended up with blisters on their palms to show to their parents and friends.

the present day's playground is so much more colourful and attractive and safety is a paramount consideration in the design and built of these facilities. slides, see-saws and swings are still around but they are not as accident prone as those in the early days. they have even incorporated exercise stations, meant for adults, and very popular with the elderly, at some playgrounds.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

dirty dancing - time of my life (final dance)

what fruit is this?

i just came back from kuching, the capital of sarawak. while there, i was treated to a banquet, local dishes, kueh kueh and fruit.

when someone bought these spiky fruit back from the market, i shied away from eating it because it was my first time seeing such a fruit. but when they pried open the rind, i realised that it was a tropical fruit which i am quite fond of.

i remember seeing quite a lot of this type of fruit on some trees by the roadside and in the compound of some houses when i went to kukup many years ago.

what is this fruit?

quite a number of people are not convinced that the fruit is mata kucing. i hope this picture of the seeds will be convincing enough.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

oh peh som

'oh peh som' is a method we used as children when we had to decide who should be eliminated or which team one should be allocated to. 'oh peh som' is not a traditional game but rather an efficient traditional way of picking the members for two teams. in fact, it can be tweaked to pick members for more than two teams.

my friend dick (the wise old owl) had asked me sometime back to blog about it but i did not get around to doing it until now. what finally prompted me to do it was when i saw four boys using this method to decide the pairs to play each other in badminton. but, they have a different name for this way. they call it 'black or white'.

in 'oh peh som', the palm and the back of the hand come into play. participants begin by placing one hand - usually the right hand - behind their back. they will stand in a circle or a semi-circle. anyone of them or all of them can shout out 'oh peh som'. at 'som', they have to bring the hidden hand to the front showing either the palm or the back of the hand.

say, like in this case of the four badminton players, two of them display their palms and the other two display the backs, the two 'palms' form one team and the other team members will comprise the two 'backs'. if one shows palm and the other three show back or vice versa, then it goes into another round of 'oh peh som'. the same thing happens when all four end up showing the same side of the hand. it goes on until it is two palms an two backs of the hand are shown.

'oh peh som' can also be used to decide on something you, as a group, want to do. for example, if you cannot decide on whether to go swimming at farrer park swimming pool or mt emily swimming pool, you can always 'oh peh som' to pick the venue for your swim. it is not actually a majority decision; it is more like the luck of the draw. i do not ever remembering any quarrel over a decision made in this way.

here is one overseas singaporean who still remembers oh ah, peh ah, som.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

two common types of monitor lizards

all along i had thought that the monitor lizards that i have encountered during my nature walks actually belonged to the same species. i have come across monitor lizards, usually of a smaller size, during my walks at forested areas and the larger ones are usually found in the water or near the water edge at mangrove swamps or water bodies.

i only realise that there are two common types of monitor lizards - the water monitor lizard and the clouded monitor lizard - when i saw an information board, similar to this, at the lower peirce reservoir boardwalk.

the two species of monitor lizard are similar in appearance. those found in forested area, away from the water, have yellow spots on a brown-grey base. they are usually smaller in size. the one distinguishing difference is that the nostrils of the clouded lizard lie midway between the eye and the snout; whereas, in the case of the water monitor lizard, the nostrils lie near the tip of the snout.

incidentally, while searching for more information on the two species, i came across this very informative nature blog with very good pictures.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

free parking car parks

whilst some people chose to blog about car-park wardens, i choose to blog about places where you can avoid an encounter with them.

sometimes we make sweeping statements like: the bottomline of all government organisations in singapore is to make a big profit so that they can boast of a huge surplus in their balance; and all government agencies are out to make money. so, i was pleasantly surprised to find out that the land transport authority (lta) has actually expanded the car-park at sherwood road, behind the st george's church, and that these lots are not numbered, which means there is no intention to levy a charge.

the two mornings when i went to check out the car-park at around 7.30 a.m., there were hardly any vehicle at the newly built extension. however, the lots at the 'old' car-park were all taken up. the extension has space for more than 70 cars/vehicles. the trouble with some singaporeans is that they are too lazy to walk the 50 metres from the proper car-park, so they leave their cars parked 'illegally' by the side of the road leading to the car-park.

so, where else can you find long-term free parking. most nature parks and nature reserves have provision for free-parking except those near to housing estates or near to a paid parking area. for example, at west coast park, free parking is available at parks 2 and 3 but car-park 1 is coupon parking. why? because car-park 1 is next to the pasir panjang wholesale centre.

usually where there is a restaurant located within a park, parking charges are levied and the restaurant is roped in to manage the car-park. over at punggol, clementi woods and choa chu kang parks, parking is not free. at admiralty park, free parking is available at the north entrance. however, at the west entrance, where there is a restaurant, it is paid parking the whole day.

some car-parks have barriers that are de-activated after 7.00 p.m. in other words, after 7.00 p.m. the barrier is immobilised and it stays down until the next morning. the barriers at venus drive and dairy farm road operate in this way. this is done to prevent overnight parking by people who are not genuine park visitors.

whenever i have to go over to pulau ubin, i usually park my car at halton road, just outside the former changi hospital. many people, especially army personnel, seem to know about this free parking spot.

we can also take advantage of park-and-ride car-parks to save money on parking charges. a few car-parks that have this provision for long-term parking charge either $3.00 or $4.00. some motorists going on cruises or staying overnight at sentosa or batam choose to park their vehicles at the seah imm car-park, opposite harbourfront, where they pay - in the form of parking coupons - $4.00 for parking a whole day.

not all park-and-ride car-parks are fully utilised. the one located at the junction of alexandra road and lower delta road - where you pay $3.00 for whole day parking - has available lots on most days. i was told that some motorists avoid this car-park because it is a flood prone area.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

where can you find these sculptures?

i learn - not copy, hor - from this blogger that you do not need significant landmarks to get your readers to guess the location (of a place). just show some bolts and nuts or some patterns on a building.

so, i am showing you three sculptures; three whole things and not just bits of them.

just one question:

at which tourist attraction are these sculptures displayed?

Friday, December 18, 2009

those toothbrushing days

those who are in their late twenties and early thirties may not be aware that in the early days, 'darlie' toothpaste was known as 'darkie' toothpaste. the change of name came about in the 80s, after the company was acquired by colgate.

this video clip (for hong kong viewers) shows the simple change of name - just by substituting the letter 'k' with the letter 'l'.

in the 50s and 60s, people were apparently not so sensitive about racial and race issues. the word 'darkie' is used to refer to black people in the united states. although the new english name 'darlie' has no racial connotation, the chinese name for the tooth paste remains unchanged - black people's toothpaste.

in those early days, the choice of brands of toothpaste was rather limited: in fact, it was between colgate and darkie.

i also remember my late grandmother and my mother using a metal scraper - i think it was made of aluminium - to clean the tongue. that kind of scraper appeared to have become obsolete. i have not seen it around after we moved into a hdb flat in the early 80s.

recently, however, i have come across a number of reports which advocate the use of the scraper as the most effective way of curing bad breath. the new scraper is usually made of plastic. it has a handle which makes it long enough to reach the inside area of the tongue. you scrape your tongue gently a few times and after that you rinse your mouth and the scraper.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

paid parking at macritchie reservoir

the days of free parking at macritchie reservoir park are numbered! looks like the nparks people are going to resolve the problem of insufficient parking space at macritchie reservoir park the usual singapore way - by making walkers and joggers pay to stay healthy. actually, the problem arises on weekends and public holidays only; on weekdays, there is no shortage of parking space.

so, when a park or garden, like the botanic gardens, gets too popular with health conscious people, the solution is to implement paid parking. in some parks, like the ones at punggol and choa chu kang, they outsource the management of the parking to the respective restaurants operating in the two parks.

over at the botanic gardens, concession of one hour free parking is granted between 11.00 a.m. and 5.00 p.m. however, not all popular parks charge for parking. over at bukit timah nature reserve, one of the most popular venues for excercise enthusiasts, parking is still free. at east coast park, it is not difficult to find a free-parking space if one is not picky.

before the macritchie car-park was upgraded and consolidated, it was never a problem finding a space to park at macritchie reservoir park but exiting was a problem because of the heavy volume of traffic at the former exit point. those days, i used to park at the private housing estate.

hopefully, they will implement a system in which paid parking is imposed during 'peak hours' only - that is, on weekends and public holidays. alternatively, there can be a system whereby the genuine park users are not penalised. they could devise a system which allows for complimentary parking for under three hours; beyond that (three hours), then the parking charges kick in.

one retiree has written to the straits times' forum page to make this proposal:

A PARKING toll gantry has been installed at the currently toll-free carpark at MacRitchie Reservoir Park, a favourite haunt of many elderly park users for their exercise routine.
As most users are retirees, I hope the authorities will consider two hours of free parking to allow them to continue to visit the park for their healthy routine.

To make up for the loss, impose a higher-than-normal rate for subsequent hours.

Friday, December 11, 2009

pink necked green pigeons

i first came across the pink-necked green pigeons at sungei buloh wetland reserve. they usually make their appearance on the trees next to the pond, near the entrance of the reserve. when they fly, they make a distinct flapping sound. most times, i will see a pair of them but sometimes i may see as many as five.

today, i saw as many as thirty of them on a single tree at the zhenghua park. they were not roosting but feeding on the same berries found on the tree. pink-necked pigeon are quite well camouflaged. there are about six of them in the above picture. can you spot them?

as with most other animals, the male pink-necked pigeon is more colourful (attractive) than its female counterpart. unlike the common pigeon, this species of pigeon normally do not come to the ground; they are always perched on shrubs and trees.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

pump prices in melbourne

i noticed that pump prices in melbourne follow a certain pattern that is unique to australia. in singapore, pump prices vary, but not day to day; in singapore, when the world's crude oil price goes up, after a while, this increase will be reflected in a higher pump price, with an announcement made of the new price. the adjusted price will remain the same for a period of time unless there are marked fluctuations in the prices of crude.

in melbourne, australia, the price can be, say, aus$1.13/litre one minute and then aus$1.16, the next on the same day. prices are usually lowest on tuesdays and wednesday mornings. so, it is not surprising to see queues of cars waiting to top up at petrol kiosks on these two days. prices tend to be higher on fridays, weekends and public holidays.

unlike singapore, prices are not standard: they not only vary from day to day, they vary from station to station and they vary from one suburb to another. in the rural and outlying areas, where petrol stations are few and far in between, you will definitely have to pay more for your fuel. in singapore, whether you fill up at changi village or pasir panjang, you pay the same price for the same grade of petrol.

another trend that i have observed in melbourne is the switch to cars using diesel instead of the conventional unleaded or leaded petrol. my friend chris who drove me to the yarra wineries drives a diesel powered holden captiva.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

wineries at yarra valley

wine-drinking tourists to melbourne would have designated the yarra valley as one of the must visit places in melbourne. as for me, a social drinker, who has visited melbourne at least a dozen times, i made my first visit to the yarra valley wineries today. my original plan was to go to miss marples in sassafras for tea but my friend chris suggested yarra glen as i had been to saafraas and olinda a few times already.

enroute to the yarra valley, we dropped in at lilydale. i have heard of lilydale but i had not seen the place. chris perked my interest when he mentioned some 19th century buildings, including a small theatre and a museum in the town. we did not manage to see the inside of the theatre as it was in total darkness but we managed to get a glimpse of the lobby.

at yarra glen, we stopped to have coffee and pie at a small cafe. that is one aspect of life in australia that appeals to me: you wander to some outlying town and have a light meal on the sidewalk. would have been perfect except for the pesky houseflies that appear in droves in summer. across the road was a brewery. we tried the six types of home brewed beer; rather it was chris who tried most of it while i had the apple cider only.

the first winery we dropped in was the yering, the oldest winery in the valley. this winery was different from those i had visited at the mornington peninsula. it has a fairly long history and the original buildings have been conserved. the other winery - the chandon - conducts daily tour for walk-in visitors. we joined one group at the tail end of their tour and managed to see the wine hall.

although we did not buy any wine, we stayed back to have a light meal at the cafe so as to enjoy the countryside scenery - the vineyard and the mountains in the distance.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

why drive?

"driving in singapore is a breeze." whoever wrote this had to be joking. what is the use of well-marked roads when you can hardly see the markings; when what you constantly see these days is a close-up view of the back of the vehicle in front of you.

driving, especially to work, is no longer a pleasant experience in s'pore. the roads to your working place seem to be all clogged up. in the early days, it used to be the main roads that were jammed. nowadays, even the arterial roads are chock-a-block. returning home from work, you go through the same grind.

even with having to pay for erp, quite a number of motorists do not seem to be deterred. there is only a slight drop in the traffic during those paying hours. the number of cars on the roads has increased a few folds over the past few years. there was a time when parking space was never an issue, whether you reported for work early or late. nowadays, you had better be early or you might end up leaving your car at some unauthorised spot.

when i first started working in the 60s, it would have taken us at least a few years of working and 'moonlighting' before we could afford to buy a used car. these days, it is quite normal for a person who has just joined the workforce to own a new car within the first two years.

the congestion on our roads is beginning to remind me of our experiences when driving in kuala lumpur (kl). i do not know of the present traffic situation there but for many years, each time we visited kl, we would park our car in the hotel and relied on public transport - even though we ran the risk of being charged an exorbitant rate by the taxi-drivers - to move about. chun see mentioned about the notorious traffic in kl here.

here, in melbourne, i see the same kind of traffic build-up during peak hours but the speed of flow is definitely much faster than back home.

i just checked with my friend's daughter who lives in melbourne. she parks her car, for free, outside the train station at huntingdale and takes the train to the city. as long as she exits the station, any station, before 7.00 a.m., she travels free on the train. this is one of the ways that they have adopted here to reduce morning congestion on the roads.

she has been back to s'pore recently and she told me that she has changed her mind about going back to work in singapore. she finds the place much too crowded, not just the vehicular traffic but also the human traffiic.

Friday, November 20, 2009

how they clean the canals

keeping the waterways clean is no easy task, given that you have to contend with the ways of man and nature. from my observations, a lot of the rubbish in canals come from nature, mostly the dried leaves from trees. after a heavy downpour, the condom shaped nets at this canal outside bukit panjang will swell up with lots of brown leaves, among other things.

i once commented to my friend that the kallang river was so clean that one would be tempted to have a swim in it. however, i changed my mind about doing it when i saw the state it was in after it had rained the night before. the amount of rubbish was unbelievable and the cleaners had to go around in a boat and armed with huge nets to scoop the rubbish and transferred it into a container in the boat.

with many of the canals and rivers draining into the marina reservoir, it is even more critical that less rubbish reaches the area dammed behind the marina barrage. apart from nets, booms are placed across some of the canals and rivers to trap the rubbish.

how do they remove the debris from this narrow and shallow canal which is not accessible by boats? the rubbish is trapped in the elongated nets and although it is mainly leaves, it is still too heavy for the workers to carry it out of the canal. normally, once a week, the contractor will come in this lorry equipped with a fork lift to haul up the nets laden with rubbish and dump the rubbish in his lorry. however, during the end of the year rainy seasons, he may have to make three or four appearances a week at the side of this canal.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

a trust system - can it work here?

some friends who have travelled overseas - seems like everyone has travelled to other countries - marvelled at the trust or honour system practised in some of the developed countries. the system could be used for payment of newspapers, farm produce or even to pay for train rides.

you help yourself to the day's newspaper and drop the payment into a container. in melbourne -where i visit quite often and am now at - for example, not all the train stations have turnstiles. this means that a person need not have a valid ticket to board the train. in some outlying, rural areas in australia, the farmers just leave their produce at an unmanned stall by the roadside. you pick up what you want, weigh the stuff and leave your money in the honesty box.

of course on the train, once in a while you have ticket inspectors boarding it to check your tickets but so far, i have encountered them once on my so many trips on the melbourne train. if you do not have a ticket or if you under-pay, then you will be slapped with a penalty.

come to think of it, the collection of baggage at most airports is also based on a trust system. although you have the tabs issued by the airline, these are seldom or never used to check against the stickers/tabs on your bags. very often, when waiting to collect my bags, i worry about them being mistakenly taken by someone else.

in singapore, some toilets at food centres, like the one at sembawang hills estate, has this sytem in place. a coin collection box is placed outside each of the entrances to the men's toilet and the women's toilet. i find it interesting to observe the users to find out if they will be honest enough to drop their 10 cents into the box when no one is around. it will also be interesting to find out if more men or women do the honest thing.

the other day, i stood outside the toilet at bukit timah 7th mile food centre to make my observations. for the ten minutes that i kept watch, about 8 persons used the toilets but none make any payment. some either did not see the tin or they did not see any person sitting at the table, behind the tin.

i asked a friend: do you drop money into the tin when no one is around to check on you? "sure," he said, "that small amount goes to the attendant's earning for keeping the toilets clean." obviously, a lot of people do not see it that way.

so, it does not seem that the trust system will work in singapore, yet.

Monday, November 16, 2009

roadside persimmon-like fruit tree

the other day, while walking from the railway mall to the bukit timah nature reserve, i came across this persimmon look-alike fruit by the roadside, just before the former bukit timah fire station. two of the ripe fruits had fallen to the ground. the fruit was not as big as the normal persimmon sold at fruit stalls or the supermarket. the tree seems like a young tree, not taller than 4 metres. the smell of the ripe fruit is similar to that of the persimmon although it appears to be seedless. it may be the seedless variety, just like the sharon persimmon from israel.

surfing the internet, i found out that the climatic conditions suitable for growing persimmon is the mediterranean or sub-tropical type of climate. what that means is that it could still survive in our tropical type of climate, though it might not thrive. in asia, china, japan, korea and vietnam grow a lot of persimmons.

in the past, we used to eat the soft and fibrous type (the one directly above) which is very sweet. these days, we can get two types of fresh persimmons - the soft and the crunchy types. the crunchy type of persimmon comes to us from south korea. the cost is about the same, between forty and sixty cents a fruit. bigger fruit may cost more.

i do not think that the fruit i found belongs to the persimmon family because if you look at the persimmons, there are 4 or 6 sepals that form the calyx at the top of the fruit. in the case of the chinese persimmon, there are six sepals. the korean persimmon - the crunchy type - has four sepals. the look-alike has 6 sepals but they are not symmetrically arranged.

persimmons can be eaten fresh or dried. when i was a boy, i enjoyed eating the dried persimmon. it is like a candy. if i am not mistaken, dried persimmons were cheaper than fresh persimmons. (today, this is not necessary the case; a pack of four dried (white type) persimmon sells for $2.75 at cold storage supermarket). we used to get ours from the kampong provision shop. they were also sold in the chinese medical shop. these days, you may still be able to buy them from some supermarkets, some medical halls or some of the older shops in chinatown. surprisingly, i could not find the dried persimmons in sheng siong and ntuc but i found them being sold at cold storage supermarket.

some dried persimmons have a thin layer of white coating. the white comes from sugar in the fruit that has crystallised. you could tell that someone had been eating dried persimmon as his lips would all be smeared with the white powder. the same evidence could also be found on his fingers and sometimes on the clothes.

this dried persimmon (above) does not have the white coating. a packet of 7 pieces is being sold for between $1.50 and $2.00. my friend who visited guilin in china saw strings of them being hung out to dry outside the houses of the villagers.