Sunday, June 28, 2009

a meaningful trek - up the kokoda track

today, i went with ian to attempt the challenging 1000-step kokoda track memorial walk at the base of the dandenong mountains. the actual kokoda trail is in pupua new guinea. you can read about the history of the kokoda trail here. as usual, i misheard it as the crocodile trail and so i had imagined that the trail ran along some river and swampy area.

the walk or rather the climb up the steep track is supposed to provide a sense of the exhaustion experienced by the australian soldiers following the trail during the kokoda campaign in 1942. i think the difficulty was just a fraction of what the valiant soldiers had to endure.

when i started the climb, i told myself not to hold on to the railings by the side - in some places, there are railings on both sides of the narrow track. but, after the half-way mark, i gave in and grabbed the railing to aid my climb. at the two-third mark, i was using the railings on both sides, where they were available, to pull myself forward and up.

along the way, i was passed by some fitter and younger climbers. i also came across some young children - not yet in their teens - and some who looked older than i, so it gave me the motivation to push on.

when we reached the end of the track, we took a rest on a wooden bench before making the descent via the lyrebird track. i think ian still had fuel to continue but i felt drained, so the bench provided a much welcomed respite. we chose to come down by a different track because the steps were a bit slippery.

i would rate the climb four or five times tougher than climbing the steep slope at bukit timah, back home.

Friday, June 26, 2009

markets in melbourne

most visitors or tourists to melbourne would have heard about or made a visit to queen victoria market. the locals refer to it as 'vic mart'. when i first heard it sounded like 'big mart' to me. unlike markets in singapore, the markets here are not open every day. victoria market is open 5 days a week; it is closed on monday and wednesday. most of the markets in the suburbs are open on selected days, generally about 2 or 3 days a week. the ones i normally go to are the carribean market and the dandenong market.

there are also some theme or specialised markets like the st kilda arts and craft market, the book market at federation square and some markets that sell farm produce only, like the mulgrave farmers' market held on sundays.

the carribean market is located in an area which, i think, is about half the size of bukit panjang housing estate. it has a huge lake called the carribean lake and in the gardens there are facilities for children to play like chair lift, train ride and a jungle cruise. the wide and expansive parkland is also a popular venue for barbeques and picnics.

the carribean market, which has more than 1000 stalls, operates on wednesday, friday and sunday. on sunday, you have to pay an admission charge, normally $2.50. dandenong market, on the other hand, operates on tuesday, friday and saturday. because some of the stallholders move from market to market, you may find fewer stalls at either market on a friday.

at both markets, you find undercover and outside stalls. i suppose the undercover stalls pay a higher rental fees than those outside, in the open. apart from a wide range of local produce, you can get a wide variety of general goods at these markets. these may include stuff like antiques, bric-a-brac, clothes, plants, books, arts and craft material, computer paraphernalia and household tools.

generally, things are cheaper at these markets than at the supermarkets and department stores. my daughter tells me that the best bargains can be had at around 2.00 p.m. when the stall-holders are about to call it a day.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

i kind of like some of the australian ways

it is most heart-warming to see young children bonding and having fun with their parents on their parents' day off. these kids, ages between 3 and 10, were attending a session on australian football (footie) on a saturday morning. prior to the coaches or instructors conducting the session, the parents, especially the fathers, spent time playing with their own children, nearly all whom were boys.

in singapore, you do not see many parents doing this. yes, some do drive their children to swimming, gymnastic or soccer training sessions but most of the time, the parents are passive spectators or they are there as drivers and/or to keep an eye on the children's belongings.

here, the parents give their full support by not just just being present but also getting involved in the activity. i saw one father on crutches, ambling across the field to get close to his child. when the coaches/instructors took over, most of them did not make their way to the terraces but instead stayed on the field to encourage their children.

i specially enjoyed watching these two boys trying to kick and catch the oval ball. i do not know why they were not with the group although they were properly togged out in jerseys that were similar to the other children. once, when the ball was kicked over the low fence, i picked it and threw it to them and the smaller one - who cannot be more than 3 years old - thanked me spontaneously.

i am beginning to appreciate the australian way of life. they work hard and they play hard. i have been wrong to assume that they do not start work until 9.00 a.m. over at the construction site near my daughter's place, i have watched the workers laying bricks, scrapping, cutting concrete blocks and constructing the wooden fence, all these at around 7.00 a.m.

because of the minimum wage policy here, they do not have pump attendants and so everyone helps himself to filling the petrol tanks. at the car-wash, they slot coins into the machines and do the washing themselves or, if they have company, with the help of a friend.

driving is quite a pleasant experience here because the majority of the drivers make full use of the signal lights - they signal when they want to change lane or when they want to make a turn. everyone travels at about the same speed, so you rarely meet road hogs.

my younger daughter complains that some of the bus drivers are grouchy but i have yet to meet one. one driver stopped passengers from exiting from the front door; but i do not see it as evidence of his grouchiness. the sign clearly states: exit by the rear door. another driver told me that i should raise my hand to hail the bus; i see that not as the driver admonishing me but rather as an advice. what really gladdens me, when taking the bus, is hearing the passengers thank the driver before they alight. most the locals do that.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

warrandyte, a suburb of melbourne

most mornings, in melbourne, i would walk the 550m-track around the oval field at waverley park. today, i went with my friend chris and his dog toby to a riverside settlement called warrandyte for a nature walk . he likes to take his dog for a walk by the yarra river at this small town about 24km north-east of melbourne city. a lot of dog-lovers take their canines for exercise by the bank of the river.

warrandyte used to be a gold mining town in the 19th century. you can gather evidence of this from the conserved colonial wooden buildings and cottages, some of which have been coverted into hotels, craft shops, antique shops and cafes.

unlike the parks and nature reserves in singapore, over here, the tracks are not paved; they are well-trodden paths formed through continual usage. people from the other suburbs drive or take a bus to this rustic town to enjoy the atmosphere and to get close to nature. i saw quite a number of cuckatoos and parakeets up in the tall trees. not far from where we started our walk, we came upon this paddling of ducks.

the 8000 or so residents of this small town - with the feel of a village - takes good care of the natural environment. there are toilets and car parks along the route. but, what i find most welcoming was the bakery located by the side of the river. you could sit outside the cafe, with a view of the river, to enjoy your hot coffee and pie.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

wicked, the musical @ regent theatre

on friday night, we took the train from huntingdale station to flinders station in the city. we went to regent theatre on little collins street to watch the much acclaimed broadway musical ' wicked'. ivy has been waxing lyrical about this musical; according to her it is the best musical she has ever watched.

the tickets, which we had booked online, were priced at aus$112 each and these stall seats placed us somewhere in the middle of the theatre. we were the rare ones; all around us the rest of the audience comprised caucasian, aussies or otherwise.

in spite of the h1ni situation in melbourne, the performance was played to a full house. i would not say it was the best musical but i would say i enjoyed the performance. i had enjoyed les miserables and miss saigon (both musicals, i watched twice) more. i would even placed the phantom of the opera one notch above 'wicked'.

i stole a shot of the props in the theatre before the performance began. the regent theatre was built in 1929 and had undergone rebuilding at least three times. at one time the government wanted to tear down the building but it relented when the people protested. it would have been a real waste if the authorities had demolished this glorious building.

as i said earlier, i was moved when watching les miserables and miss saigon but not this musical. also, the songs were not as stirring as say, those in les miserables. after so many years, i can still remember the tunes and lyrics of some of the songs in les miz.

all in all, i will still think it is worth watching again if it goes to singapore.

Monday, June 15, 2009

a place not on the tourist map

most tourists to melbourne invariably go to phillip's island nature park to catch a view of the fairy penguins and to the great ocean road to see the twelve apostles (i was told that only eight are still standing). i know a few singaporeans who have expressed disappointment because when they reached the spot it was raining they could hardly see the rock formations out in the sea, after enduring a few hours of coach ride over some twisting and narrow coastal roads.

these visitors should instead make their way to the mornington peninsula which is about an hour's drive from the city of melbourne. if they go to portsea, they will be able to see similar rock formations, albeit on a smaller scale. a nice view of the sea can be had from arthur's seat. rye and rosebud have nice beaches. there are many wineries and some fruit farms in the peninsula that are open to visitors.

another place that i like to visit when i come to melbourne is the dandenong mountains. the mountain ranges are about 35km from the city. although most families with small children go there for a ride on the puffing billy, we go up to the mountains for the food, especially scones.

one of the more popular eating places is miss marples at sassafras.

this time, instead of miss marples, we went to fortnums for lunch. it is a cosy place where one can see colourful rosellas - a species of parrot - in the garden.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

what is this huge urn used for?

the other day, while we were exploring the chinatown area in singapore, one of my fellow explorers excited called out to me: "come here and see this! do you know what this huge urn is used for?"

the gigantic urn was raised and resting on four pieces of bricks. it had a cover which could be slid open.

i do not if the chinese characters on the side of the urn will give the answer away.

answer to the quiz:

as victor has correctly guessed the answer, i have posted a picture of the inside of the urn. it was used by the restaurant for preparing soup in the small pots. the shop where we came across this urn or jar is called the old shanghai.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

house at waverley park, mulgrave

we arrived in melbourne on the day my two daughters moved into their new house at waverley park. it is a 3-bedroom terrace house, very near to the sir kenneth luke stadium, home to the hawthorns.

the house was bought by my elder daughter and her husband-to-be.

my younger daughter, who is finishing her 2nd year of studies at monash university, clayton campus, stays with her sister. meantime, until they are married, my daughter's fiance will continue to put up at his rented place nearby.

while they were house-hunting and found this place, they were undecided because the price was higher than similar houses in other areas. i had told them if they liked the house, they should go ahead and buy it. anyway, the price is about the same as our hdb flat in singapore. a terrace house like this, in this kind of locality would cost at least s$1.5 million in singapore.

we like this place. there are facilities for recreation and exercise. the bus-stop, where my younger girl takes a bus to monash university, is about 150m away. there is a nice view of the dandenong mountains.

their home is just next the hawthorn football club stadium which has an oval field and a 550-metre track surrounding the oval. there are 3-storey residential houses overlooking the oval, some of which are occupied and some still under construction.

Monday, June 8, 2009

the h1n1 situation in melbourne

i am now in melbourne where the number of h1n1 cases has shot past 800 compared to the mere 15 cases in singapore.  however, looking around as you move about the city, you do not sense any feeling of anxiety among the people, both local and visitors.  everything goes on as per normal.  it is not as though the people are complacent; it is the way they look upon it - they treat just like the seasonal flu.

anyway, i am staying in the south-eastern part of melbourne whereas most of the reported cases of h1n1 are in the north of melbourne.  however, the people know that it is a matter of time before it spreads further. 

on my flight to melbourne, i had expected at least some cases of cancellation but instead mine was a full flight.  i did see a few passengers wearing the surgical kind of masks but none was wearing the n95 type.  at melbourne airport, they have set up thermal scanners but everyone seems to breeze through.

the medical authorities here in melbourne treat h1n1 just like the normal flu.  except for those cases with complications who may require hospitalisation, most of the affected patients were asked to return home after receiving their medication. the doctors do advise them to stay at home so as to minimize contact with other people.

it is winter in melbourne and temperature has been hovering around 10 degrees celcius. it has also been raining since i got there.

this afternoon when we were at ikea, the swedish furniture store, it was as crowded as a weekend because today is a public holiday - the queen's (of england) birthday.  i did not see a single person wearing the mask.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

answer to 'one tree hill at bukit panjang'

i am sure that when i get back to singapore at the end of this month, the tree in question (why did they leave this tree alone?) will not be standing anymore.  it will have served its purpose and like all old things in singapore will have to make way for development.

up to today, no one has given the correct answer to the reason for its stay of execution.  it has been spared because some the people involved were waiting to enjoy the fruit of its labour.  this is the durian season - yes, it is a durian tree - and these people just could not bear to 'kill the goose that lays the golden eggs'.  

they have been waiting to gather its fruits and when there are no more 'golden eggs' to savour, they will not hesitate to fell the tree.

Friday, June 5, 2009

expansion of mohd mustafa samsudin company

when hotel new world collapsed in march 1986, i remembered watching the rescue operations from across the road, from serangoon plaza. i think mustafa samsudin had moved into serangoon plaza about six months before the catastrophic incident in which 33 persons died.

before it made the big move to serangoon plaza, i used to see its two retail stores also along serangoon road, just after buffalo lane. it was already into clothing and some electrical goods business. i was told by a friend who has lived in that area that mustafa samsudin had its beginning as a push-cart stall along campbell lane.

then in 1995, its extension - the mustafa centre - along syed alwi road came up. not long after, it also acquired the adjacent piece of land across the road. yesterday, when i was at syed alwi road, i discovered that it had acquired more land and was extending more towards jalan besar. i will not be surprised if, in time to come, it occupies the whole stretch of syed alwi road between serangoon road and jalan besar.

incidentally, when i was teaching at monk's hill secondary, one of the daughters of the boss of mustafa was a student there. she kept a low profile and very few then knew about her connection with the big shopping complex in serangoon road. her chauffer would let her alight along bukit timah road and she would walk the stretch of winstedt road to the school.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

lai chun yuen - old chinese opera theatre

i am sure that there are some places which foreign visitors are aware of but which are not known to many local people. today, i stepped into a place which has been visisted by many tourists from other countries but which had escaped my attention all these years. how many of us have walked past this building without realising its historic and cultural past?

it is lai chun yuen located at the junction of smith street and trengganu street. when my friend jason told me that we could go inside the building, i did not quite believe him. i thought that that could have been possible in the past. was i surprised when the security personnel waved us on.

lai chun yuen was by far the most popular chinese opera theatre in singapore in the late 19th century. built in 1887 and originally designed in the style of a chinese tea-house, its overwhelming popularity made it a prominent landmark.

patrons would sit around small tables, nibbling tidbits and sipping chinese tea while famous opera singers performed on stage. wealthier patrons had private cubicles where they enjoyed more personal services, rendered by girls from the brothels on smith street.

all these took place in high-ceilinged rooms with wooden balconies, decorated with painted ornaments and dimly-lit lanterns.

opera stars and patrons from hong kong and china graced the theatre. the most well-loved stars were showered with gifts of money or gold and silver pendants.

opium smoking and gambling were fashionable. in fact, the more famous an actor was, the more copiously he smoked and the more recklessly he gambled.

all these gradually came to an end in the late 1930s, with the advent of the 'talking' movies. in 1941, lai chun yen was converted into a cinema, bt did not survive the japanese occupation.

these days, full opera performances at lai chun yuen are rare. cultural and musical performances are sometimes held in this old opera house. however, on every tuesday and friday, an extract of a cantonese opera classic is performed. the show is accompanied by a talk and some snacks. these performances in the opera house are carried out as a workshop.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

old chang kee had its beginning here?

i had thought that old chang kee had its beginning in the selera restaurant. in the 70s, i used to queue up in the afternoon with many other people in this shop/restaurant to buy their popular curry puffs - at 25 cents each. i was told that the chinese couple making and selling the puffs were muslims.

then one day somebody (i cannot remember who it was) told me: "don't worry, if you cannot get, go to the shop on the other side, the one facing selegie road, they also sell tasty curry puffs". but, somehow, most of my friends and colleagues preferred the curry puffs from the shop at the junction of mackenzie road and niven road - the selera restaurant.

we would refer to the curry puffs sold at the selera outlet as the 'rex curry puffs'. even though the curry puffs were priced higher than others in those days, we were still willing to pay the little extra because it was deliciously packed with substantial ingredients like curried potatoes, bits of chicken and an egg.

'the shop which also sells nice curry puffs' was the original old chang kee. today, the shop has been taken over by some budget hotel operator and the name of the place is g4 station. however, old chang kee still maintains its presence in the vicinity, in the form of an outlet at the former rex cinema.

old chang kee's curry puffs were also filled with similar ingredients. in addition, they had some herbs and spices in the fillings.

according to my friend, this place could lay the claim to be the fore-runner of the banquet experience - where malays enjoy halal chinese food. besides selera restaurant which sold muslim food, there was also another halal restaurant called cameron restaurant. cameron restaurant was squeezed between the two curry puff outlets. the restaurant is still around today.

in 1986, when old chang kee was bought over by a certain mr han keen juan, he decided to mass produce the curry puffs using factory methods.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

nice, undisturbed spot for pak tor-ying

"by the way, the high ground from where you took the photo looks interesting. eh, is it a pak-tor spot?"

this seems like an indirect way of asking victor - the pak-tor king? - to recommend places for the questioner to indulge in this love-to-marriage partnership activity.

the place from which victor took the picture is definitely not a pak-tor spot because it is out of bounds to members of the public.

this reminds me of an old couple, friends of mine - they are now in their 70s - reminiscing about their pak-tor days. "at first, he took me to the park and the beach but as we progressed in our pak-tor-ying, he took me to darker and darker places. the darker, the better."

i will recommend this place to you but it is not dark. anyway, you cannot go there in the night, unless you get special permission, because it closes at 7.00 p.m.

if you go on a week-day, you will normally have the whole place to yourselves (just the two of you). the environment is peaceful and you have nature all around you. you can watch the birds or look at each other. you may end up with bites here and there but that is expected of this kind of activity in this kind of surroundings.

hello, i am talking about mosquito bites. go prepared; take along protections. from the weather, like an umbrella or a cap; from mosquitoes and other insects, the insect spray; and binoculars (to look at the real lovebirds) and a bottle of water. this time of the year, most of the birds have migrated north but you may still see some laggards, those who have been left behind.

i am recommending the aerie or the tower hide at sungei buloh wetland reserve. you get to be close to nature, have the whole place to yourselves and look in the same direction - at the johor skyline - together. if you have to choose, i will say that the aerie is a better choice because you are not visible from the ground. there are also two low benches at the aerie for your use.