Sunday, May 30, 2010

superheroes at federation square

yesterday, i was at melbourne's federation square - just across from flinders station - when they established the guinness world record for the most number of people wearing superhero costumes in one place at one time. altogether, 1245 dressed up as comic -not comical - characters registered with the organiser. the previous record, set in london one week ago, was 1091.

there was nothing comical about it. everyone was there to have a good time. humans were not the only entrants, a number of dogs also got into the act. there were also superbabies who came in their prams.

father and son, mother and daughter, father and daughter, and mother and son combinations as superhero duo were quite common.

there were also whole families of superheroes. one family had superman as dad, batgirl as mom and the child was dressed up as spiderman or rather, spiderboy. the most popular character was superman, followed by batman, robin and spiderman.

they came in all shapes, sizes and ages. these people really live up to the saying: there is a child in everyone of us. i find that the australians are game to try and do things when it comes to letting their hair down. in s'pore, i envisage that this is unlikely to take place; imagine your neighbour coming down from his hdb flat, wearing this costume, getting into his car in it and driving himself to the venue (of the gathering). no singapore adult would want to be caught dead in this act.

it was an event that attracted a lot of shutterbugs. many of those togged in superhero costumes were also going around armed with a camera to capture other dressed-up people.

Monday, May 24, 2010

which school first occupied this building?

you cannot miss this school building if you travel along upper bukit timah road. at present, it houses the school of hospitality of the dimensions international college. for a number of years after jurong gardens school moved out of the building, it was left vacant.

do you know that the school that first occupied this building had its beginning in 1925. it started with a different name and the school, which is still around, has assumed a name slightly different from its original name.

it adopted this name - the answer to the quiz question - in 1933. during the japanese occupation period, this school was closed. it reopened after the war and by 1964 it had become a full school, with both primary and secondary classes. when it became too big to manage in the 1980s, it requested the assistance of the ministry of education to convert to a government school. in 1983, it changed to a hanyu pinyin name when it ceased to be an aided school.


1 what is the name of the school that first occupied this building?

ans: seh chuan high school

2 what was it original name in 1925?

ans: tuan cheng public school

3 where is the school today?

ans: jurong east

Friday, May 21, 2010

rituals involved in house moving

compared to our parents' generation and ours, young people nowadays tend to change their home addresses more often. our parents tended to stay put at one place for decades. in this age, relocating has become a matter of fact thing. some people move house every few years. some don't just move from one district to another, they move across borders, from one country to another.

housewarming is a practice among the younger set of people. it is an occasion for them to show off their new house or flat to their relatives and friends. usually, the visitors will come with small gifts for the new owners. christians hold a spiritual housing warming referred to as house blessing.

the other day, i was having lunch at tekka market when i saw a middle-aged couple with one of these red charcoal stoves. immediately, it struck me that they must be moving into a new place.

'housewarming' takes on a different form and meaning for the more superstitious ('pangtang') folks. the traditional chinese observe a certain ritual which involves using a red stove. i am not sure of the significance of this practice. i was told by a friend that the stove with the burning charcoal had to be placed at the threshold. the two house-owners, presumably the husband and wife, had to walk over it, uttering some 'lucky' words as they skipped over the flame.

chinese, especially, are very particular when it comes to moving in to a new place. an auspicious day and time would have to be picked based, sometimes, on consulting the tong shui. then, there is one month when this kind of activity comes to a standstill - the seventh lunar month.

aside from this 'burning success' ritual, there are other practices performed with some variations depending on the dialect group.

i have been told that the hokkiens would buy the biggest ripe pineapple with the crown in tact and roll in into the house. another person told me that he actually smashed the pineapple on the floor of the house he was moving into, then quickly closed the door and left the bits and pieces around for a few days. the pineapple is associated with good luck.

another ritual is the sprinkling of rice grains all over the various rooms in the house. i suppose rice is associated with having enough to eat.

if it is not a brand new house, that is, one that has been occupied before, then the new owner may also sprinkle salt to chase away all the 'bad qi'.

i asked another friend if sugar was one of the items included in this ritual. 'crazy, you want to invite ants into your house even before you move in.'

on the day of moving in, some families switch on all the lights in the house and leave the lights on for a while. some also boil a kettle of water using the same charcoal stove.

now i know why i have not struck 4-d, toto or the singapore sweep. i did not carry out any of these rituals when i moved house about 12 years ago.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

where can you find spring water in s'pore?

spring water is defined as where water flows on to the surface of the earth from below the surface. thus it is where the aquifer surface meets the ground surface.

spring water is not the same as mineral water. mineral water tends to contain a higher level of elements that are known as total dissolved solids (tds).

the use of spring water is becoming common in many households in some developed countries. users of the water note that using spring water to brew coffee or tea will result in a more desirable taste for the beverage.

many people who worry about contamination levels in municipal water systems may use spring water for cooking and drinking. for washing and bathing, they still get their water from the taps.

when i lived in a kampong, we had a spring where the water seemed to be gushing out of the ground - just like the one in the top two pictures. the magnitude of the flow was quite substantial. those who lived in the vicinity would wash their clothes and take their bath around the spring. it was a mystery to me then as i often wondered where the water was coming from.

where, in singapore, can you find spring where the water flow is quite substantial? i am not referring to the hot springs at sembawang and on pulau ubin; i am talking about those where the water is clear, cool and fresh.

the top two pictures show a spring at bukit timah nature reserve. this spring is located less than 400m from the start of the kampong trail, just behind the new development that is coming up. up on the hill, there is a smaller spring near the cave path. the third picture shows a spring at bukit batok where private bus drivers collect the water to wash their buses.

Monday, May 17, 2010

food centre gone but name lives on

after my morning walk with my balestier group at east coast park, we usually adjourn to bedok south blk 16 market and food centre. while some will head for the stall with the longest queue, i prefer to get my food from the stall with no queue. so, for that reason, you do not see me buying char kway teow.

the name of the very popular stall is hill street char kway teow. at chinatown complex, i have come across another stall with the same name. it is not uncommon to latch onto a name already known to people, especially if the stall had built up a reputation in its former centre. i am sure all of us have come across food stalls and shops having the same name or bearing the name of some defunct food or hawker centres.

is this a case of stallholders trying to cash in on a well-known name, like the case of the sungei road laksa? i did not know of the existence of two sungei road laksa stalls in the same area until some friends mentioned it. one is at kelantan lane and the other at jalan berseh.

on the other hand, it does not mean that all stalls which bear the name 'hill street' started at this food centre. i do not remember ever seeing the famous hill street tai hwa bah chor mee at the food centre.

however, in the case of hill street char kway teow, when i thought of those days when i used to eat at hill street food centre, i could recall two stalls selling char kway teow. the two stalls were located on the ground level. so, the two stalls, with the same name, could have really originated from hill street centre.

those days, in the 80s and 90s, i used to frequent hill street centre not for the char kway teow. it was to visit another popular food stall located on the second level. it was the heng gi duck and goose meat stall. today, this stall can be found at tekka food centre.

hill street food centre had a car-park on levels 3 and 4. the centre was built in the 80s and by the year 2000, it was closed and subsequently demolished. there was an overhead pedestrian bridge that connected it to funan centre.

many food stalls which have made a name for themselves still live on even after the food centres where they were once located had been cleared or demolished. you can still find waterloo street indian rojak, whitley big prawn noodles, taman serasi roti john and satay club's satay.
some have even upgraded from a stall to a shop like the hock lam street's beef noodle.

Friday, May 14, 2010

mt kinabalu, here i come

i am climbing mt kinabalu this june with ian, my son-in-law, and five of his church friends from melbourne. mt kinabalu is the highest peak in south-east asia. climbing the mountain has been one of the things on my 'to do list' following my retirement in 2007.

i had been naive enough to think that all i needed to do was to fly to kota kinabalu and from there make my way to the base camp to begin my climb. i was not aware of the number of procedures that needed to be adhered to before you could access the peak.

one of the requirements is a climbing permit. a climbing permit costs rm$100 for a non-malaysian. it is also compulsory to have a licenced guide to lead the group to the summit. in addition to these, all climbers need to pay rm$7 each for insurance fee.

the climb will normally take two days. most trekkers start their climb at timpohon gate near the park headquarters (1800m) with an overnight stay at one of the guest houses at laban rata (3273m) before pushing to the summit at an unearthly hour, usually around 3.30 a.m. after visiting the official website, i now understand the rationale for the need to wake up at 2.30 a.m. to prepare for the push.

fortunately, i have someone in my saturday's walking group who has successfully reached the summit in march this year. she has been giving me useful tips on what to take along and how to prepare myself for the climb.

in fact, last sunday she sacrificed her beauty sleep to introduce me to the training route/trail at bukit timah nature reserve that her group had used in their preparation for the assault on mt kinabalu.

some of the items that i have secured for the climb include the miner's lamp - the torch that you wear on your forehead, the china-made telescopic trekking poles and a pair of non-slip gloves. i also have my rain-coat, leather jacket and woollen gloves.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

grasscutting, now and then

this morning, i was at upper seletar reservoir watching some park maintenance workers cutting up a fallen tree with motorised chain saws. it made me think of those days when most of this work was done manually, with either a saw or an axe. today, even with such mechanical cutters, they took quite some time, working in the midday sun, to cut up the huge trunk of the tree.

these days, when cutting grass on the slopes or even on big open fields, most contract grasscutters use a petrol-operated machine, strapped to the back, that comes with disposable plastic bands at the cutting end. if it is a big area that needs to be trimmed, the noisy brigade of foreign worker-grasscutters will move in a formation. surprisingly, the plastic band appears to be cut the grass faster and better than the metal blade that was used in the past.

even though the cutting is done with a plastic band, there is still the likelihood of someone getting hurt if one gets too close to the grass-cutter. from my experience, whenever the grass-cutter notices a pedestrian approaching, he will stop cutting for the moment. also, every one of them carries a board at the back which says ' danger! keep clear!'

so, how was this grass cutting task performed in the past - in the 50s and the 60s?

i remember the grasscutters used a scythe or an implement like those shown in the picture below. the grasscutters would have a coarse sharpening stone and some water with him and every now and then, he would stop to sharpen the blade. in those days, the number of grasscutters in a team seldom exceeded four. there were not so many grasscutters then.

you really had to keep your distance from the grass-cutter when he was doing the cutting because the blade was a rectangular metal plate. while most grass-cutters today are foreign workers, those in the past were mostly locals.

Friday, May 7, 2010

bronze elephant at old parliament house

since the shift to the new building in october 1999, the old parliament house has been converted into an arts house. the old parliament house was built as the residence of john argyle maxwell, a merchant whose base was in java. it was bought by the government to be used as the court house. the two-storey house was completed in 1827 but maxwell did not live in the house at all. instead he rented it to the goverment.

the bronze elephant statue, that still stands in front of the stately building, was presented to the singapore government by king chulalongkorn of siam (thailand) after his visit to singapore in march 1871.

king chulalongkorn (rama v) was the first siamese king ever to leave his country to travel overseas and he chose singapore as the first country to visit.

the statue was originally placed in front of the victoria memorial hall where the statue of sir stamford raffles now stands. it was moved to its present site in the old parliament house in 1919 when singapore celebrated the centenary of its founding.

it is the only monument with inscriptions in english, jawi, chinese and thai. if you cross over to queen elizabeth walk and look at lim boh seng's memorial, there are also inscriptions in four languages but the thai has been replaced by tamil.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

ferns are among the easiest plants to identify

when i go for my walks at nature parks and forest reserves, i like to get acquainted with the flora and fauna. i have learned to appreciate the rich diversity of flora and fauna in our urban and rural gardens.

after having tasted the crunchy wild ferns (midin) in kuching, i am inclined to pay more attention to ferns these days when i go for my nature walks. i have come across a species which is similar to the 'midin' in sarawak.

most of the time after finding out the name of a certain plant, i tend to forget its name after a lapse of time. however, with ferns, i do not have this problem because the shape or outline of a fern usually gives a clue to its name. below are four common ferns found in our parks and reserves.

the giant sword ferns grows easily and so they can become quite invasive. i have seen them being grown in pots. they can even withstand strong sunlight. the name comes from its arching and trailing green fronds which resemble a broad sword. there is a whole row of giant sword ferns near the wallace education centre at dairy farm nature park.

the leaves of the staghorn fern are antler-like in appearance. staghorns are epiphytes - they 'grow on others'. however, they are not parasites as they do not draw any nutrition from their hosts. they are commonly found on trunks of trees. kent ridge park is one place where you can see lots of staghorn ferns.

tree ferns refer to any fern that grows with a trunk elevating the fronds above the ground level. i remember the huge ones found in fraser's hills in west malaysia and in the dandenong mountains in melbourne. tree ferns are quite common in our natural environment. i see quite a few along the trails at bukit batok nature park.

this is the most common fern in singapore. you do not have to go to nature parks or forest reserves to see the bird's nest fern. the tongue-shaped fronds of the bird's nest fern are borne from a central, funnel-shaped rosette of fuzzy, brown wool where the emerging fronds resemble bird's eggs, giving the plants its common name.

at the botanic gardens, there is a small section designated as the fernery. i had expected to see a greater variety of ferns here but was disappointed to find only a few species at the fernery.

Monday, May 3, 2010

missing building quiz

today, we went looking for the whampoa's ice house. we found it but learnt that it was not the original - it was just a replica.

whampoa's ice house was opened in 1854. it was singapore's first ice house that sold imported ice packed in sawdust from the frozen winter lakes of new england in the united states of america. at that time, refrigeration was not in existence.

as a result of an overestimation in the demand for ice, the business venture between whampoa and gilert angus failed and the building was sold to a bank. tan kah kee's rubber company, kiam aik, occupied the building in 1904. the ice house was demolished in 1981.

what you see today is a relica of the ice house built near the original site.

quiz question: where is this building which carries the name 'whampoa ice house'?

the ice house reminds me of 'kek sng kiao' - the hokkien name for sungei road. the name was made in reference to the s'pore ice works which used to exist in that area, at the junction of sungei road and weld road. i remember the location because i used to eat my sungei road laksa from the push-cart stall stationed outside the ice factory.

the first ice-making plant in singapore was located in the sungei road area. it was built in 1930. it was popular as a pioneer establishment that brought refrigeration and airconditioning to singapore. in later years, it was owned by s'pore cold storage and there was also a change of name to 'new singapore ice works'.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

red and green eyes twakows

on friday morning, we went to trace a section of the singapore river. we started from new bridge road and walked westwards until we came to the former jiak kim warehouses, now a favourite haunt of youngsters, going by the name zouk. seeing how nondescript the place looked in the day, i wonder how it could manage to draw such crowds, especially on wednesdays - mambo nights.

we came across a number of bridges spanning the river, some of them known to us, while some we were getting to know for the first time. one of the first bridges was ord bridge. then, there were clemenceau bridge, robertson bridge, pulau saigon bridge and the most colourful of all, alkaff bridge. i remember a pulau saigon circus from the past but not the bridge.

the bumboat, lighter or twakow which was passing under the bridge brought us back to the days when this vessel was used to transport goods from the inner or outer roads to the quay. today, these boats have been refitted to take tourists on a river cruise. some of these boats appear to be air-conditioned.

back home, i was reading this informative brochure published by the national heritage board, when i came across something interesting about the lighters that used to ply the singapore river.

as the singapore river was too shallow for ships to sail through, small boats known as lighters were used to fery goods between the ships docked at the harbour and the quay. the lighter trade was initially dominated by the chuliahs (indian muslims) and their large wooden crafts known as tongkangs for the larger part of the 19th century. chinese boatmen, mostly teochew and hokkien, started displacing the chuliahs at the beginning of the 20th century with their smaller and faster boats known as twakows. despite concerns over the seaworthiness of the lighter twakows, the chinese lightermen and their twakows became a common sight on the river until the last lighter was relocated in 1983 because of the river clean-up project. the twakows, with its distinctive 'eyes' painted at the bow (red for teochew-owned twakows and green for hokkien-owned twakows) can still be found on the river today performing a different role of ferrying passengers instead of cargo.

(from tides of change, the singapore river trail, published by s'pore heritage board)

if you look at the bows of the boats, it is not the eyes that were painted a different colour. in fact, the eyes in both the teochew and hokkien boats are/were black; it is the background that has the distinguishing colour - red for teochew and green for hokkien. looking at both past and present photos, it will appear that the number of hokkien boat owners outnumber the teochew.