Wednesday, September 29, 2010

car washing in singapore

in singapore, there are four ways to get your car washed. you can choose to wash it yourself; you can delegate your domestic help, if you have one, to do it for you; you can have it hand washed by workers at a car-wash, which is usually at a petrol station; or you can pay a car-washer to do the job on a regular basis, usually 4 or 5 days a week.

when you do the washing yourself, it is usually more thorough and you derive a certain amount of satisfaction as you inspect your car's bodywork after the job is done. at the same time, it gives you a good workout. if you live in a housing and development board (hdb) flat, you can do it at the car-wash bay, where you pay 25 cents, using the cash card, to collect about two pails of water. you can also opt to wash your car at a shady spot downstairs, with a pail of water taken from your flat. most of these do-it-yourself car washers own new cars or are first time car owners.

i have seen maids washing cars as early as 5.30 a.m. in the morning. the master or 'madam' will usually try to have the car parked on the level of the wash bay but sometimes the maid has to struggle with the two pails of water up to the 3rd or 4th level of the car-park. the maids are usually given the key to the car so that they can also clean up the interior. is washing car a household chore?

most car-washes at petrol kiosks have done away with the mechanical and automatic washing system. i wonder if it is because the tracks can cause damage, like scratches, to the body of the car. what had happened to the system that used those giant brushes, heavy rollers and mountains of suds as you drove your car through a tunnel? nowadays, they proclaim very loudly 'hand wash' and they employ a few workers, mostly mainland chinese, to do the washing by hands. i think the amount they charge depends on the services you ask for.

where i live, there is still this indian man who charges about $40 a month to wash the car on week days' evening. i think he has an assistant. he does not get his water from the wash bay in the car-park. he does not pay for the water that he uses to wash the cars. he has this mechanical device that allows him to tap on the water used by the cleaners. i wonder if those car-owners are aware that they are unwittingly abetting him in doing something illegal. i have also seen some authorised car washers stationed at certain hdb car-parks.

in my next blog posting, i will write about car washing in melbourne.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

chope seat, chope parking space

i cannot help making comparison between australia - melbourne, to be specific - and my homeland, singapore, because each year i spend a few months in melbourne and the rest of the time in singapore. if i do seem to paint a better picture of certain aspects of life in melbourne, it is not because i like australia more but it is more because i want to point out that although singapore may be considered a great place to live, it can be an even better place if we change some of our ways.

i have blogged about reserving seats at food centres. my australian friends - former singaporeans - had this unpleasant experience at one of the popular food centres in singapore. i have blogged about it here.

seats at food courts are not the only things that singaporeans 'chope'. there is also this practice of 'choping' parking space. in australia, although the car population is much larger than singapore's, they do not go around staking their claims on parking territory.

in singapore, the mentality appears to be 'my own convenience overrides others', so i have the right to chope the space outside my house for my own use. apart from the usual dustbins, what other articles can be used for 'choping'? i have come across used tyres, flower pots, cones, chairs, incense paper burning bins, poles on a concrete base, bicycles and even, tables. however, not everyone who places a bin or flower pot does so for selfish reason; some do it to prevent inconsiderate motorists from parking right in front of their driveway.

in the commercial areas of the city, delivery men and shop-owners seem to have exclusive use of the parking space in front of the shops or restaurants. even if it is a space meant for coupon parking, you seldom gets a chance to park in the 'perpetually reserved' space.

in melbourne, at my daughter and son-in-law's place, the parking space in front of their terrace house is designated a public car-park. even non-residents have the right to park their vehicles at that space. if my daughter or son-in-law comes home and cannot find a space, then she or he will have to park the vehicle further away, without making any fuss about it.

autumn leaves by the late nat king cole

Thursday, September 23, 2010

back in s'pore, back to nature

i prefer visiting the sungei buloh wetland reserve on a weekday during the school term time. first, you do not meet the crowds. second, there is no admission fee to pay. on weekends, the place can get quite packed, so much so that you may not get a parking space. also the noise generated by so many visitors, especially young children, scare away all the shy animals, like the smooth otters. on a normal weekday, if there is no organised group, you hardly meet anyone along the paths and the three marked routes.

this family of otters was rolling on some dried leaves on the track. there were two young ones in the water nearby. i do not know if they are the same otters that i used to see at the sand bath near the visitors' centre. the two cubs are definitely new additions. the otters are quite wary of humans. you have to approach them slowly because when you get within 'striking' distance, the big male will give a signal and they will all disappear. i think they have a better sense of smell compared to their sense of sight.

while on the main bridge, i noticed something unusual in the water below. from my many visits to the wetland, i could tell that it was not a huge monitor lizard. i suspected it was a crocodile. it turned out i was right. the creature seemed to be aware of my interest because it submerged and disappeared. i knew that it would re-surface somewhere, sometime. it re-appeared on the other side of the main bridge.

i stayed on the main bridge for about half an hour watching the crocodile, apparently stalking its prey. i do not know if it was after the monitor lizard or the common sandpiper. it was still like a piece of log, allowing the incoming tide to push it towards the land. when the bird flew away, it switched its attention to the monitor lizard. i had my camera ready for any swift action by the predator but the crocodile seemed to have loads of patience. i lost mine and decided to go on exploring the other parts of the reserve.

apart from the usual sightings of monitor lizards, plantain squirrels and waterfowls, and hearing the calls of the kingfishers, crows, white-bellied sea eagles and the orioles, i came across this creature up on a tree near platform 2.

what do you think it was?

was it a python? a common krait? a viper?

scroll down to find out









the water monitor lizard is a good climber. so is the clouded monitor lizard. it was enjoying a nap up on the tree.

Monday, September 20, 2010

fishing in lake benalla

while visiting benalla in north east victoria, i noticed this man fishing with a rod and reel by the lakeside. the next day i got to talking with him and he educated me on the types of fish that abound in the lake and the river. most of the time he fishes in the lake but sometimes he moves to the lower reaches of the river. lake benalla is a man-made lake, created by the damming of the broken river.
golden perch, trench and carp are the common types found in the lake and that part of the river. in the faster flowing upper reaches of the river, the brown trout can be found. there are also murray cod in the broken river.

in some states in australia, you cannot take your fishing tackle and go fishing in the lakes, rivers or seas without a licence. a two-day victoria state fishing licence costs $5.50; a one-month, $11.00; a one-year, $22.00; and a three-year, $60. i understand there is also a minimum legal size for some fish that you catch with a rod and reel and other devices. different size limits apply to different fish. again, this may vary from state to state. if your catch does not meet the minimum size, you have to release it.

the lone angler caught four fish that morning. he told me that the day before he had landed twenty fish. what did he use as bait? i was surprised to learn that he used bread as bait. he broke off a small piece of white bread and pressed it onto the small hook. the small fish would nibble at the bread but the big ones would grab the whole thing and that was how they would be caught. as he did not have a marker or indicator on the line outside the water, on windy days, it was difficult to ascertain the movements of the line.

when asked what he would do with the bigger fish, the two carps, the solitary fisherman told me that he would bin them. i thought it was a waste until i found out later that carps were not supposed to be returned to the water. the state of victoria has declared the carp a noxious fish "which makes it an offence to possess, transport or release live carp, or use live carp as fishing bait". the declaration of 'noxious' fish does not mean that the species cannot be fished for, or eaten.

later in the evening, when i mentioned that we had been to the mornington peninsula, a friend told me that we should have tried fishing in the sea off portsea. according to him, you could catch whiting, flathead and snapper in that part of the sea. however, the experience of ian, my son-in-law, and some of his church friends, did not suggest that it was a fruitful (or fishful) or interesting activity. they had spent the whole night shivering in the chilly condition and the next morning, returned home empty handed.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

road users who spoil your day

driving is a much more pleasant experience here in surburban melbourne even though i am not as familiar with the place as singapore.

surprisingly, the majority of the drivers in melbourne try to keep within the speed limit. much unlike singapore, where, when you take the taxi from the airport to the city, you get the impression that nobody takes the speed limit seriously.

i like to think of the use of the indicators (signal lights on the car) as an indication of the level of courtesy. in singapore and malaysia, two countries where i do most of my driving, the indicators are used sparingly. maybe, they should sell cars that come without signal lights because they are more ostentatious than functional.

in singapore, maybe 3 out of 10 will use the indicator to signal their intention to turn; in melbourne, the majority, like 9 out of 10, signal.

here in melbourne, the drivers are more predictable. if they move to the left lane, invariably, they will make a left turn; if they move and stay on the right, then they will turn right. in singapore, in many cases, you know of the other drivers' intention only at the last minute.

of course, here in melbourne, you do find recalcitrant drivers who ignore the red lights and those who treat the public roads as a race track but the number of such misdemeanors is much less than back home.

the following are the types of road users back in singapore who are a bane to other road users:

he thinks the numbers 50, 60, 70, 80 or 90 on the signboards denote the minimum speed.

when he wants to exit from the expressway, he has to get as close to the exit as possible before making a dash into the left lane.

the signal light is to be used only in a situation when he may be in danger of being hit by a vehicle from behind. or, it is to be activated, as an afterthought, when he is in the midst of making a turn.

he thinks he is very smart to move ahead of everyone in a queue and bullies his way into a gap in the queue.

the battery life is more important than a human life. that may explain why he uses the signal light sparingly and also why he does not switch on the headlights before 7.00 p.m.

he thinks he is a skilful driver because his lorry/cement mixer is travelling faster than all the cars on the road or the expressway. (i overheard this young man boasting about his uncle, a lorry driver, who overtakes everybody, except the police, on the road.)

he chooses to ignore the advice to switch on the headlights while driving in a tunnel.

he does not need extra lighting, even when it is cloudy or when visibility is poor, like during a heavy down-pour.

he thinks he is a skilful driver because he is able to cut across three lanes to get to the exit lane at the last minute.

he considers himself very smart because he has ignored the red light and beaten the two-second allowance before the vehicles in the adjacent road start moving off.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

benalla - one street town
in north east victoria

on tuesday, i visited two of the towns affected by the floods in the first week of september 2010. of the two, i much prefer benalla to shepparton. both are located in north eastern victoria. the two towns are 60km apart. the lake (above picture) of the rural city of benalla was created in 1973 by damming the broken river. during the recent flood, the water level in the lake reached up to the top of the supports.

a friend who accompanied us on the trip, a singapore-born permanent resident, described benalla as 'a one street town where you cannot get lost'. in spite of its smallness when compared to shepparton, the fifth largest city in the state of victoria, benalla has got more than you can imagine.

benalla, which has the status of a rural city, has plenty of colours. the sky is clear and blue and the sunset is fiery red. it also has the title of 'the rose city' but because the rose plants in the rose garden were not in bloom, i did not take any picture. even the sunrise is equally brilliant.

this strikingly modernist building is the benalla art gallery. it is located in the botanical gardens (is it not botanic gardens?), near the town's famous rose garden. it has a cafe that overlooks the lake. many visitors like to come here to sip coffee or wine or have lunch while enjoying the unique and beautiful setting.

ths ceramic mural also found by the side of the lake has been called 'the largest community artwork in australia". according to the tourist brochure 'the sculptural piece was inspired by the works of spanish architect antonio gaudi and was created by the local community with the assistance of some of australia's best potters'.

this unique archway leads to a carpark and an indian restaurant. you do not see many 'black hair' in benalla. looking through the telephone directory, i could not find a single chinese or asian name. however, there are two chinese restaurants in this town with a population of 9000. according to my daughter, if the food is popular with the locals (meaning, australians), then it means it will not suit the chinese.

it is a quiet town, good for a short stay. when i went on my morning walk at 6.30 a.m., there was hardly anyone on the road. the night before, after having had our dinner at a local hotel, we found the whole street deserted at 9.00 p.m.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

places we visited in melbourne

for three of them in this group of nine, this was their first visit to melbourne and out of these three, one of them is an australian permanent resident. one thing that was borne out during this trip was that when you are older, enjoying the company of your travelling companions was more important than taking in all the sights. at swanston street, the men were content to just sit outside a cafe enjoying a cup of long black while the women went shopping at davy jones. melbourne in early spring still retains the chill of winter, with temperature hovering around 13 degrees celcius.

from our service apartments at william street, we walked the 800m to queen victoria market. market days are 5 days a week, except for mondays and wednesdays. on most days, the market opens at 6.00 a.m. however, on sundays, it starts a bit later, at 9.00 a.m. although i have been to 'vic mart' several times, every visit is filled with a sense of anticipation: expectation of something new or something interesting. nevertheless, i will always look out for the iconic doughtnut van, which has been around for more than 50 years. the doughnut which cost 80cts during my last visit, now costs a dollar each.

a few of my friends, not members of this group, who have been to melbourne had complained about the long and winding trip to view the 12 apostles along the great ocean road. actually, if you want to see features like arches, stacks and stumps, you do not have to travel so far away from melbourne. at the sea, off portsea, in the mornington peninsula you can see these wonders of nature.

"The scenery at London Bridge was fantastic. White-foam waves throwing at the coastlines to form coastal features like outcrop of rocks along the coast. It was chilly cold at London Bridge....." as reported by the secretary for the trip

sorrento is about one and a half hours away from melbourne city. i have always enjoyed sorrento because of its italian name and our wonderful stay at hotel sorrento on our first visit to the peninsula. sorrento is described as a largely upper class seaside resort area but it is also a quiet seaside township in the off-peak months of the year. sorrento is the place where you can take the vehicular ferry to queenscliff. we had dinner at an italian restaurant in sorrento.

the t'gallant winery was also on our itinerary. the group did not show much interest in the vineyard as there was nothing much to see because the grapes had all been harvested. we, however, enjoyed the lunch of wood-fired pizzas at the winery. we had a bottle of wine to go with the food and only one person in the group bought a bottle of wine. from the winery, we moved on to the sunnyridge strawberry farm which is more popular during the strawberry picking season, between november and april.

i had told my group that we would miss out on strawberry and cherry pickings. we also would miss the tulip festival which does not start till 16 september.

we also drove to murray's lookout point at arthurs seat which afforded visitors panoramic breathtaking views of the mornington peninsula and beyond. on a clear day, you could even see the city skyline from the various lookout points at arthurs seat.

at the dandies, where we had lunch at miss marples, the ladies in the group bought souvenirs and cards. one of the men bought a wooden mandarin duck.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

mahatma gandhi's ashes

scattered in s'pore

small photos from national archives of s'pore

i was browsing for photographs of the old clifford pier when i came across these 3 interesting photographs. i just found it hard to believe that the ashes of the great mahatma gandhi were brought to singapore from new delhi via ipoh on a cathay pacific flight to be scattered in the sea off connaught drive.

prior to that, it was on public display for a week at the victoria memorial hall. on the first day, it was up for viewing up to midnight. on subsequent days, viewing stopped at 9.00 p.m. representatives from the main religious groups like hinduism, christianity, buddhism and sikkhism offered prayers. the muslim community offered prayers in their mosques.

on the day, the ashes were to be scattered, large crowds gathered outside clifford pier. rough seas prevented the ashes from being immersed from the big launch which brought them from the shore. the ashes had to be transferred to a smaller marine boat.

the indian government representative in singapore mr john thivy performed the ceremony. he poured the water from the ganges river into the urn containing the ashes, dipped the urn into the sea, took it out and scattered the ashes.

as mr thivy immersed the ashes, hundreds of people, in about 20 private chartered launches, joined in a mad rush to sip the water around as a last token of homage to mahatma gandhi.

the ashes of mahatma gandhi were split into many portions. most of the ashes were scattered in india but some were scattered overseas and singapore was one of those countries to receive the ashes.

the last scattering of mahatma gandhi's ashes was carried out this year (2010). his ashes, kept for decades by a family friend, were scattered off the coast of south africa on the 62nd anniversary of his death.

mahatma gandhi was assassinated by a hindu fanatic on 30 january 1948.

Friday, September 10, 2010

balestier walking group in melbourne

the idea of a trip to melbourne was first mooted about two years ago. the balestier walkies, as we called yourselves, have been walking together on a regular basis for about four years. when we first started out, it was a monthly affair. as the group members grew older and closer, it has become a meeting on a weekly basis. the 16-strong group comprises mainly former teachers and students of balestier hill secondary school. owing to work and family commitments, not everyone in the group could go on this first overseas outing. 8 members of the 16-member group have children who are studying or have studied in melbourne.

based on the pictures, it would appear that it was more a gastronomical adventure than a sight-seeing or walking tour. anyway, we did not have the luxury of a leisurely tour. the group had 5 days only in melbourne. we stayed two nights at rye in the mornington peninsula and two nights in the city. in the city, we stayed at the quest service apartments on william street, for which we paid aud$115 per room per night. at rye, we stayed in a 6-room holiday house belonging to my daughter's pastor.

we had rented a 8-seater kia grand carnival to accommodate all the 8 of us but at the last minute, we had a pleasant surprise. steven, an australian permanent resident and a former balestierian, flew in from sydney to join the group. we rented another car, a holden berlina, to carry the baggage and to ensure that we abided by the strict australian traffic laws. from the airport, we drove to springvale, a vietnamese enclave, where we had lunch at a chinese restaurant.

my elder daughter, who works in melbourne, joined us for a meal at miss marples, up in the dendenong mountains on the third day of the group's stay in melbourne.

we had italian food on the two days when we were at the mornington peninsula, once at sorrento and the other time, at t'gallant, a winery in the red hill area of the mornington peninsula. when we in the city, we decided to go for yam cha at the very popular shark's fin house at little bourke street in melbourne's chinatown. we had to call up one of our fellow walkers in singapore for the name of the chinese restaurant. he had been a frequent visitor to melbourne but he could not make the trip this time.

one of the best meals we had in melbourne was the lunch we had in the open, overlooking the vineyard, at a winery in the mornington peninsula. we had the house wine (juliet pinot noir) to go with the three types of wood-fired pizzas, hot roasted potatoes, sausages, salad and ciabatta bread. there are food, wine and song at la baracca kitchen at t'gallant. on weekends, the place is always packed.

on our first night in the city, we had buffet dinner at kitchen workshop, one of the many restaurants at the crown entertainment complex. we were joined by audrey, the daughter of william, another member of our group. we had visited audrey's place earlier and she led 5 members of the group to take the free city circle tram to somewhere near the casino. the rest of us went in the 8-seater to the casino.

on the second and final night of the group's stay in melbourne city, we had dinner at oriental spoon, a korean restaurant on la'trobbe street. this restaurant is apparently very popular with the asian students from the nearby melbourne university. it was audrey, a melbourne university student, who made the recommendation.

this was how one of the members felt about the trip:

"I had a really wonderful time on this short trip. We were reminiscing the good old days, the laughs and how even after 35 years+ we are like the kids we were in Balestier Hill. I know many people around me are amazed how I still keep in touch with schoolmates and TEACHERS???? but they will never understand how we have become and continue to become the best of friends regardless of classmates or teachers. Now, if those who were in Melbourne might know I bought a piggy bank (after our meals at Ms Marples) with these words engraved on its stomach: OLD FRIENDS ARE THE BEST!"

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

once there was a bridge here

this is part of the bukit panjang integrated sports complex. the two tennis courts and street soccer pitch have been built over the canal. the canal serves as the run-off for water from the pang sua stormwater pond. when it rains heavily, the canal fills up and the water can be very fast flowing.

there was a cable-stayed bridge over the canal. this bridge was built by the land transport authority (lta) to provide a short-cut to the bus-stop for the residents living in this part of bukit panjang. it must have cost the lta a few hundred thousand to build this pedestrian-cum-cyclist bridge. it took them just about a week to dismantle the whole bridge.

before they wrecked the bridge, they had to prop up the arches. you can see the metal beams (in the above picture) which they used to support the arches as the bridge was systematically dismantled. for the few days we had to endure the rattling and banging as they used heavy machinery to carry out the demolition.

this was the bridge that served us well for a number of years. it was integrated with the covered walkway that led to the bus-stop about 150m away. with the bridge now gone, we have to walk along the perimeter of the front of the complex to get to the covered walkway.

today, 8 september 2010, is the official opening of the bukit panjang sports complex.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

exam results in the 60s

i seem to be harping back to the 60s in my last few postings. in retrospect, the 60s was a very interesting decade not only for me but for singapore as a whole. if you talk to any senior citizen, he or she will recall that particular period with nostalgic fondness because of the many wonderful memories relating to clothing, music, food, social activities and things in general.

my fellow blogger andy young has a blog dedicated to the pop music of the 60s. on the fashion scene, there are many who blog about the clothing in the 60s, one of which is this blogger. as for food, there were the real hawkers and you could get food delivered right to your door. the sellers of nasi lemak, epok epok, tok tok mee, bread, green bean soup and red bean soup peddled their ware from door to door.

another interesting feature of the 60s, which has been discontinued, is the publication of examination results, especially those of the school certificate and the higher school certificate in the straits times. the school certificate is equivalent to today's gce 'o' level and the higher school certificate is the 'a' level.

there would be a few pages devoted to the examination results. if you had made the grade your name would appear under your school name with the passing grade (1, 2 or 3) next to your name. for the higher school certificate results, it was either a 4 or a 5 next to your name. a 4 meant a full certificate. a 5 referred to a partial certificate. to qualify for a full certificate, you needed to have 2 principal level passes and two subsidiary level passes, including a pass in the general paper.

in the earlier part of the 60s, there was no junior college. the first junior college, national junior college, came into being in 1969. in 1965, for example, pre-university education was offered in about 11 schools which included acs, bartley, beatty, chij, gan eng seng, montfort, raffles institution, st andrew's, st joseph's institution, st patrick's school and victoria school.

the results of private candidates were not publicised in the newspapers but those who sat for the examinations under the lembaga gerakan pelajaran dewasa (adult education board) were.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

prayers on rainy days

rain, rain, go away

don't come and cause any more delay
we need time to clear the messy choke
that has led to massive and costly floods
along our fabled orchard road

rain, rain, go away

we have been cracking our brains
to find out what refuge blocked the drains
that were supposed to carry the deluge
out to the marina reservoir that's so huge

rain, rain, go away

we have been innundated
with a barrage of questions
that the general public has thrown
keeping us on our soaking wet toes

rain, rain, go away

don't wash away the topsoil
that loosen the anchoring roots
causing our angsanas and senegalensis
to topple and fall on roofs

rain, rain, go away

at least now we feel somewhat relieved
that there are some people who believe
that none of our engineering feat
can plug and stop nature's leak

however, in the 60s, we would have said this prayer

rain, rain, come again

we children all want to play

swimming in the longkang for free

and pushing stalled cars for a small fee

photo of flood in the 60s from national archives, s'pore

Wednesday, September 1, 2010