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.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

the top tourist attraction among s'poreans?

even if you do not understand the language, you will know that this sign is pointing to some tourist attraction. a brown signboard with white lettering is an internationally recognised tourist sign.

so, in singapore, which tourist attraction/spot is most popular with local men - both married and unmarried - and some foreign ones, especially those from across the causeway? some of them go there surreptitiously, without the knowledge of their wives and family members. i suppose some women do visit this place. i do not have the kind of money to visit such a place.

i believe the place gets crowded on fridays and weekends.

where is this place ? most of the people who go to this place are repeat visitors.

scroll down for the answer










sorry, hor, not geylang. geylang has red letters (numbers) on white signboard







it is the singapore turf club!

Thursday, November 12, 2009

ruby murray -let me go, lover (1955 song)

irish singer who had 5 songs in the top 20 in 1955

from dairy farm to bukit timah

i wonder if the original objective of opening the dairy farm nature park has been met. the dairy farm nature park was developed with the idea of relieving the congestion at bukit timah nature reserve. over the years the popularity of the oldest reserve in singapore had meant that if you went after 6 a.m., especially on a weekend, you would not be able to find a parking space in the car-park. it appears to me that the situation has not changed much even with the addition of the wallace trail and a well-marked link to bukit timah nature reserve from the dairy farm nature park.

even before dairy farm nature park was opened, there was already connectivity between the two areas. i used to meet a few seasoned walkers moving from dairy farm to the summit of bukit timah and vice versa. today, in spite of the signboard indicating the path to the summit, the number of people taking to this trail has not increased very much.

most people who visit the dairy farm nature reserve tend to explore or use the easy trail - the wallace trail. the trek to the summit of bukit timah is definitely more challenging. it involves climbing steps carved out by constant trampling, steps provided by the roots of trees and some giant steps constructed from concrete slabs. a reasonably fit person should be able to reach the summit of bukit timah from the dairy farm nature park within 20 minutes.

to get to the summit of bukit timah, you have to first follow the trail to the dairy farm loop. here, you have the option of going either left or right. both directions will eventually lead you to the 'main road' on bukit timah. if you make a right, you will come to the north view path and if you turn left, you will reach the rengas path. the north view path merges with the rengas path at some point.

most visitors to the two nature areas still treat them as separate entities. they generally do not move from one to the other. if they go to the bukit timah nature reserve, they seldom end up at the dairy farm nature park and vice versa.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

cat's whiskers (misai kuching)

when my friend told me that the cat's whiskers plant was very easy to propagate, i had my doubts because i had tried it once and it did not prove successful. anyway, each of us cut a stem and took it home to soak in water. we were told to leave it in the water till tiny roots appeared before planting it in a pot. last week, i checked with the other two friends and both assured me that their plants were growing very well. only the doubting thomas' plant did not make it. to cut a long story short, i finally managed to grow one in a pot ( picture above).

many people in this region, especially in malaysia and indonesia believe that taking the 'java tea', made by boiling the leaves of this plant, has a cleansing effect on the body. i have been taking the light golden tea, on and off for sometime, but i have yet to realise its effect.

with a tradition of use in thailand, malaysia and indonesia for several centuries, we can learn how to use one of our beautiful native plants. cat's whiskers is an esteemed tea for kidney diseases, disorders causing wasting disease, dysuria, and for the treatment of kidney and urinary stones or discharge.

recent research in south east asia with trials over 1-6 months, showed that patients taking it as a tea made with 4g dried leaf to 750 ml of boiling water, released urinary stones 0.5cm in size for 40% of the patients, and another 20% of the patients found that all pain was gone after the treatment.

leaves can be used fresh, or dried as an infusion or decoction. the crushed, dried leaves may be encapsulated; the active ingredient retaining its properties for several years when stored in cool, dry conditions. the herb is also used for gallstones. use 15-20 fresh leaves, a 'finger knob' of fresh turmeric, 7 cloves of garlic, and 1 litre of water, simmer 10- 15 minutes, strain. half the decoction is drunk in the morning and half in the afternoon.

for rheumatic pains and coughs, a cup of tea is made with 15-20 leaves, drinking 1-2 cups a day.

i photographed this at car park b of the dairy farm nature park. cat's whiskers come in two colours - white and purple. but the purple flowers that you see in the above picture do not belong to the cat's whiskers.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

el paso - marty robbins (1959 song)

the song is a first-person narrative told by a cowboy who was in el paso, texas, in the days of the wild west. he fell in love with feleena, at rosa's cantina dancing. when another man made advances on "wicked feleena", the narrator gunned down the challenger, then fled el paso for fear of being hanged for murder or killed in revenge by his victim's friends. he hid out in the "badlands of new mexico".

the narrator switches from the past tense to the present tense for the remainder of the song, describing the yearning that drives him to return to el paso in the face of almost certain death: "it's been so long since i've seen the young maiden / my love is stronger than my fear of death". upon entering the town, he is attacked and fatally wounded by a posse, but the cowboy is found by feleena, and he dies in her arms

Saturday, November 7, 2009

queenstown remand prison

today, we explored the margaret drive area. we had read about the closing down of the queenstown remand prison in august this year. we wanted to take some pictures before they demolish the buildings.

however, although it would appear that the inmates have been moved to cluster 2b at changi, there was still a skeleton staff manning the place. we could also see some activites - moving or clearing of furniture - at the staff quarters next to the prison.

some well-known personalities who have seen the inside of the remand prison include politician chee soon juan, actor christopher lee, t t durai (nkf), ta wee sung (ck tang) and american michael fay.

the remand prison was meant to be a place that would leave a deep impression of prison life for the potential prisoner. inmates could not expect to have a cushy time at the 'transit place'. in the early years, the prison cells did not have sanitation facilities within and the inmates were each issued with a toilet bowl instead. in the morning, they would dispose of the waste in the communal toilet.

before queenstown prison opened in 1966, remand prisoners were held at outram prison at pearl's hill. outram prison was built in 1847 and by 1945, it was overcrowded with over 500 inmates living in unsanitary conditions. there was an urgent need for a new prison with better facilities and more space to house the prisoners.

thus, in 1948, it was decided that the land at pearl's hill would be released for city developments and a new prison built elsewhere. however, it was only in 1963 that the final decision was reached to demolish outram prison and build a new one in queenstown.

situated off margaret drive at jalan penjara, queenstown remand prison, built to accommodate 300 inmates, was officially opened on 23rd September 1966 by encik othman wok, then minister for culture and social affairs. (from

Thursday, November 5, 2009

what was the cinema that was here?

from the national archives of singapore:

the paradise cinema at the junction of east coast road and brooke road was also known as palace theatre and palace centre during different years.

peter got the answer to the first question. obviously, victor knew the answers but he did not want to get involved because katong is involved. nah actually submitted the perfect answers but for some unknown reason, he asked me to delete the comment (answers).

guy mitchell - singing the blues

1956 song

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

elephant giving birth baby

an elephant giving birth and her determination to revive her baby after it appears to be lifeless.
(sent by betty)

Monday, November 2, 2009

keramat habib noh

learning journeys do not have to end with your school days. each and every day, you can learn something new. most of us know about the ancient tomb at fort canning, the keramat iskandar shah. today, i found out that the most famous and best ordered of the malay keramat(s) on singapore island is on a hillock at palmer road.

we had thought the tall structure was the mosque; it turned out that the prominent structure was the keramat. the mosque known as masjid haji muhammed salleh was much less conspicious. in fact, you cannot make out the mosque in this picture and we did not even step into it.

as we were about to enter the building, we met a devotee who had gone to pay his respects. he told us that the mosque and the keramat were supposed to be demolished to make way for the east coast expressway. according to him, the contractor and his workers encountered all kinds of problems. finally, it was decided to leave the building alone and so, the expressway curved at this point.

the maqam sits on top of a flight of 49 steps. the long flight of steps is marked by yellow and green railings on both sides, and lined with potted plants. yellow is the colour of holiness and green that of paradise. the steps lead to a building that houses the maqam of habib noh. the entrance of the building is adorned with yellow curtains and green tie-backs. it leads into an inner room where the maqam lay.

the maqam is elaborately framed with yellow curtains hanging from a four-post frame, and the tombstones are also wrapped with yellow cloth. a chandelier hangs over the tomb. lining the perimeters of the tomb on the floor are bottles of drinking water placed by visitors who hope to have them blessed by the soul of habib noh.

the tomb of sayid abdur rahman bin salim al-habshyi, a cousin of habib noh's, rests behind the maqam. abdur rahman was singapore's first qadhi and died in 1867. from his tomb, one could previously see the tomb of sayid abdur rahman as-saqaf sited on a hilltop at kusu island.

keramat habib nor - this is the most famous and best ordered of the malay keramat on singapore island. habib nor bin mohammed al-habshi is said to have been born in penang and to have come down to singapore shortly after the (straits) settlement was founded. he died at an advanced age at the end of july 1866, in the house of a relative of temenggong abu-bakar, at telok belanga. while he was alive, habib nor who was reputed to be a man of great piety was credited with the possession of supernatural power which would enable him to transport himself anywhere a will and to visit mecca every friday. the chamber now surrounding his tomb was built by syed mohammed bi ahmad al-sagof about 1890, and the site is still maintained by members of the al-sagoff family. (extract from singapore guide and street directory 1969)