Thursday, December 30, 2010

old thing quiz

looks like i will go with the flow. icemoon ends the year with a 'where is this building in s'pore' quiz, victor koo has his usual 'old building' quiz and chun see's is 'can you identify this place?'. my last posting for 2011 is a quiz based on something old.

senior citizens, with the exception of icemoon, should have no problem providing the answer to this quiz but those who belong to the post-65 generation may not have seen this device. it was in use between 1948 and 1961. of course, you can still see them but they are indeed rare.

quiz questions:

1 what is the almost rectangular shaped thing in that slot?

2 what is the proper name for it?

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

unusual stuff we saw in hanoi

we came across this gas cylinder, topped with something that looked like a home-made rocket. there was a hose attached to somewhere near the base of the rocket. what do you think is this object standing by the roadside? is it a lamp? or is it a petrol pump? i had thought it was used to illuminate the roadside stall but my friend told me it was an illegal petrol pump. they sold petrol to motorcyclists mainly. there were a few of these pumps on that short stretch of road.

these bundles on the sidewalk look like chop-sticks. i do not think they are chop-sticks. they were outside a shop selling incense papers and joss-sticks. joss-sticks are made out of bamboo and covered with sawdust or sandalwood. those coated with sawdust tend to be more smoky.

this man was smoking the local tobacco (thuoc lao) using a bamboo pipe. it is commonly smoked immediately after a meal to 'aid in digestion'. it reminds me of the opium pipe which i had seen my former neighbour in the kampong used. the old man would recline on his bed to smoke his opium.

the vietnamese woman carrying two shallow trays of large water apples used an old fashioned weighing scale called a daching. a daching is a weighing scale used in the old days, and it is still being used in some chinese medical shops to weigh the herbs.

these are not half bras. these are masks which the vietnamese wear over their mouth and nose to protect themselves from the dust and dirt. they are especially popular with women on motorcycles. some pedestrians were also spotted wearing such masks on the streets. each mask costs around $0.60 - that was the amount we paid.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

fitzroy gardens in melbourne city

victoria is called the garden state, not for nothing; there are so many parks and gardens within the central business district of melbourne itself. besides the royal botanic gardens, there are, among others, the treasury and fitzroy gardens, king's domain, alexandra gardens, queen victoria gardens, flagstaff gardens and the royal park. i visited fitzroy gardens recently.

the most notable feature of fitzroy gardens is the wonderful trees that line the many pathways. in the above picture, you see an avenue of majestic trees lining one of the pathways in the gardens.

fitroy gardens are of historical, aesthetic, architectural, scientific and social significance to the state of victoria.

i had wondered why many of the trees in fitzroy gardens have this protective cover around part of its trunk. i was to learn later that it is to protect the bark from attack by possums. i looked around but did not see any possum. i was told that the possums normally appear after dark. some people do go at night to see and feed the possums.

the conservatory is open every day from 9.00 a.m. to 5.00 p.m. there are five different displays each year. it is used by tourists, school students and families and anyone who wants to capture a moment of floral beauty.

the captain cook's cottage, originally in britain, was bought by a prominent melbournian and presented to the people of the state of victoria. in 1933, it was dismantled and shipped to melbourne in 253 packing cases. a site in fitzroy gardens, with large european trees, was selected to complement the cottage. you have to pay a small fee to see the inside of the cottage.

there is a small ornamental lake in this part of the gardens. actually, this part of the gardens is called the treasury gardens. if you go to larger parks, like albert park, you will come across hundreds of ducks, black swans, white swans and other kinds of birds.

the other attractions in fitzroy gardens include the fairies tree - a favourite with children, the tudor village and the sinclair's cottage.

Friday, December 24, 2010

"silver bells" christmas time in the city john denver

merry x'mas and happy new year!

tree worshipping had been in practice in ancient societies all over the world. ancient greeks, romans, egyptians, indians and chinese were some of the early people who regarded certain trees as sacred.

to the hindus, trees, like the coconut and banana, which have many uses are well regarded. the mango tree is also sacred to the indians. the peepal, sometimes spelt pipal, is revered by both the buddhists and the hindus. both indians and chinese also regard the banyan tree as a holy tree. in singapore, it is not unusual to see a huge yellow or orange cloth wrapped around the trunk of a mature banyan tree or bodhi tree.

some european trees that attained the sacred status included the oak tree, the cypress tree and the fig tree.

about three years ago, in september 2007, a tree, an african mahogany, in jurong west attracted a lot of attention. in fact, the 'magic monkey tree' was reported in the local papers as well as in some international papers. it arose from the discovery of a callus on a tree which appeared monkey-like. it drew large crowds to pray at the tree.

the belief that certain spirits inhabit trees is not new. when i was young, i dared not go near banana trees at night. this was because of the many stories i had heard related to the banana tree. some people even claimed to have seen the 'pontianak' that resided in these trees. according to these 'brave' people, to see the 'pontianak' you needed to tie a red string to the tree and, at midnight, the 'pontianak' would appear to you.

from what i have seen during my walks, any large or odd-shaped tree can be a subject of worship. i have seen taoist altars and idols of different deities left at the base of mature trees. i sometimes wonder why people who abandon their religion or religious beliefs choose to leave these objects at the such places.

in the past, in some societies, you could be punished for cutting down trees, especially large trees. come to think of it, today, in singapore, you can also be punished with a fine if you fell a tree - within the tree conservation areas - with a girth of more than one metre when measured 50cm from the ground. permission has to be sought from the national parks board even if the tree is in the compound of your house.

is this because of reverence for large trees?

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

balestier walkies in hanoi

our 5-day trip to hanoi was conceived not long after our first overseas trip to melbourne. it was not possible to have a longer trip because although the former teachers in the group have all retired, the former students are still working. other than the city tour on the second day and the halong bay trip on the third, we were very much on our own. part of the city tour included an hour long segment when we were taken on a very interesting cyclo ride around the old quarters of hanoi. our accommodation was at the fraser suites, one set up by singapore's fraser and neave.

judging from all the happy faces of our tour participants, you can be sure that there will be more follow-up trips. our next trip is either to guangzhou in china or kuching in sarawak. our visit to the temple of literature coincided with a visit by a group of vietnamese male and female undergraduates who were there to pray for success in their university exam. the young girls were very obliging when approached by the men in our group to take pictures with them in their ao dai.

the men were not the only ones happily snapping away; the ladies also wanted to be in the thick of the action. we all took photographs at the various tourist attractions - ho chi minh's mausoleum, ho chi minh's stilt house, one pillar pagoda, tran quoc pagoda, quan thanh taoist temple and even at the water puppet theatre. the unique water puppet performance was quite interesting.

typical of singaporeans, we sought out the best local food. when we arrived on 4 december, our first vietnamese meal was room service style. the general manager of fraser suites arranged for lunch to be served in our duplex. that night we had local cuisine at a high-end restaurant called the ly. the next day, we had a very satisfying lunch at another vietnamese restaurant called wild rice.

on our 'free day' we went to buy dvd and vcd at one of the shops near the hoam kiem lake in the old quarters of hanoi. we also strolled along 'hang gai' (street of silk) where the ladies bought lots of silk clothing and embroidered materials.

in hanoi, vietnam we were literally millionaires (in dong). a japanese meal we had cost us about 3 million dong. the smallest unit in the vietnamese currency is 500 dong. i do not think there is any vietnamese coin. in singapore, the best exchange rate we could get was $1 to 14 800 dong; in hanoi, we managed to get $1 to 16 300 dong.

from friends who have been to vietnam, we heard about dog meat (thit cho) being sold on the streets. however, although we visited two markets and explored the old quarters, we did not come across any stall or shop selling dog meat.

playing chinese chess seems to be a favourite pastime among the man folks of hanoi. one of our group members, a chinese chess aficionado, was so tempted to play a game with the locals by the roadside.

of course, we were on the lookout for snatch thieves and pick pockets after being warned by well-meaning friends who have visited vietnam or who have heard of incidences of such petty thefts. the ladies had to secure their handbags while riding in the cyclos and the men made sure their wallets were inconspicuous at all times.

Monday, December 20, 2010

give us cash, not household gifts

on our first saturday in melbourne, we were invited to a church wedding, followed by lunch in a function room of a hotel. nowadays, young people are so straight forward ...they ask for cash outright. the invitation card comes with an additional card on which was a poem spelling out very clearly what the bride and groom want as wedding gifts. i am sure you, young people, know about this site on the internet where they teach you how to write one of these poems (to ask for monetary gifts).

as if the rhyming verses is not a strong enough hint, there is also an empty red packet to go with it. some people may consider this tacky and low-class but i will compliment the couple for being honest and up front about it. who wants to end up with five sets of 20-piece fine bone china dinner sets or three oven toasters? i think most newly-weds will prefer cash as weddings are expensive affairs. a not so extravagant one held in singapore can easily set you back by $30k to $50k.

not very long ago, a gift list was considered distasteful but over time the gift list has become an acceptable thing. it is part and parcel of a wedding plan. over time, people may come around to accept that asking for cash is a practical thing.

even with a wedding gift registry, you could also end up with similar gifts or more gifts than you need. some relatives, colleagues or your parents' friends might have bought the gifts earlier, even before you sent out the invitation. these are the people who could present you with an item already picked on your gift list.

however, in asking for cash gifts, there is also a risk of you getting less than what you have bargained for. if everybody just drops the red packet into a box or slip in into a big envelope, there is a chance that someone may just put $2 into the ang pow or just stuff it with some neatly cut papers.

to pre-empt this and to identify the giver, i have seen people at wedding reception assigned to receive and mark each red packet or envelope as it is handed to them.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

singapore's last fishing 'village'

in my post on 'orang seletar', i had suggested that the stilt houses near the seletar dam could be the site where they were once settled from the 19th century onwards. during one of our saturday's walks, we decided to explore some of the existing huts. i do not think it can be considered a fishing 'village' because there are only about five huts on land and four floating ones some distance out in the sea. besides, most of the part-time fishermen do not live in those huts.

as with most rural people, the fishermen were very accommodating. they invited us to take a look around the huts and cautioned us to be careful as the planks of the wooden jetty were rather filmsy. although most of the huts were built on stilts over the water, some were on solid land. the fishermen told us that they did not live on the site because of the presence of pesky mosquitoes.

the first line of huts that we visited seem to specialise in catching flower crabs. the three men we met all had flower crabs. one of them wanted to sell us the live crabs at $9 a kilogram. he had a plastic bag of them which he offered to sell us for $15. catching crabs was not their full-time job. it was more to bring in some side income. it was also to connect with the past because some of them were fishermen when they were living near punggol point.

the second row of huts belonged to some malay families. we did not get to see the inside because we could not find the access to it. the third row of huts were occupied by hokkien fishermen. this was the information volunteered by the friendly teochew fisherman in the first hut. here, we were told that the catch had not come in yet. normally, the boats will bring in the fish, prawns and other live seafood at around 11 a.m. we did not that eager to get our hands on the fresh seafood, so we did not want to wait.

in the past, some anglers used to come here to hire a boat, with a boatman, to go fishing out in the sea. when we enquired about renting a boat, we were told that they were no longer allowed to do this kind of business anymore.

from the wooden jetties, you can see seletar island, where orang seletar once lived, and khatib bongsu on the mainland.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

integration in singapore?

we have the two much publicized integrated resorts, one at sentosa and the other at marina bay. these two places are drawing the crowds from within and around the region. they seem to be doing very well as far as sucking making money is concerned. when it comes to businesses, it is easy to decide if there is integration or not. the main attraction may be the casino but as long as there are recreation facilities, high-end shopping, hotels and convention halls, they can qualify as an integrated resort.

over at my public housing estate, there is this integrated sports complex. actually, it is a sports complex-cum-community club. the sports facilities include swimming pools, a fitness gymnasium, basketball-cum-badminton courts, tennis courts and a street soccer pitch. there are also other sporting activities like roller blading, silat, taekwondo and qigong. from my balcony, i can watch the goings-on at the street soccer pitch. i have made some interesting observations.

i came across this report which says: "the findings show that public housing has succeeded in reducing the intensity of the ethnic enclaves while increasing social integration." i wonder how they arrive at the conclusion of 'increasing social integration'.

this is my findings based on my observations of the several groups that have played at the street soccer pitch. out of the 10 times, 8 times there was no racial mixing at all. the malay teenagers would play among themselves and the chinese would play among themselves. there was hardly any interaction between the two different groups. while one group played, the other group would wait passively for their turn. so far, i have not seen any group of indian youths playing soccer at the pitch.

some of these groups are students from the neighbourhood schools like fajar secondary, zhenghua secondary and greenridge secondary. even among the students, the situation is the same. what does that tell us about integration at school level?

out of the 2 times when i saw a mix of chinese and malay boys playing together, once it involved children of primary school going age. the other time, i was quite heartened to watch three chinese teenage boys playing with eleven malay boys. however, the three chinese boys were in the same team. one of them played in the position of the goalkeeper. the three of them were heard communicating in mandarin.

even organised groups - those that were attired in soccer jerseys and proper shorts - were also racially grouped. so far, all the organised groups that played at this pitch were malay children belonging to some clubs or those who have been trained by the same soccer coach, who invariably is a malay.

needless to say, the silat group comprises malay participants only and the qigong, chinese. as for roller blading and taekwondo, the majority of the members are chinese, with a sprinkling of indian members.

back in those kampong days, we sometimes played soccer (we called it football then) with our malay and indian neighbours and we would interact with one another in our bazaar malay.

so, is there more integration today compared to our kampong days?

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

guanyin, male or female?

when i visited the kong meng san phor kark see recently, i was puzzled to read on one of the information panels that guanyin bodhisattva was referred to as a 'he'. all along, i have seen guanyin protrayed in the female form, clad in a flowing white robe and holding a slim pitcher in one hand and a willow branch in the other. in fact, the usual name in english is 'the goddess of mercy' or 'the bodhisattva of compassion'.

i asked a buddhist friend if she knew the gender of guanyin. she told me that she had heard that guanyin was a buddha, meaning he was a man. another nominal buddhist friend told me that she knew that guanyin's origin was that of a male.

on checking wikipedia i found this: guanyin is the bodhisattva associated with compassion as venerated by east asian buddhists, usually as a female. it is generally accepted by buddhists that guanyin originated as avalokitesvara, which is her male form.

now, i have a clearer picture of things. i am enlightened to know that among the mahayana buddhists, the belief is that quanyin can manifest in many forms and either gender. to the taoists, however, guanyin has no other form than the feminine one. the taoist's version of the origin of guanyin differs from that of the buddhist's.

guanyin can assume many forms; guanyin is sometimes depicted as one having one thousand arms or one with as many eyes.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

halong bay (vietnam)

when my former colleague found out that i was visiting hanoi, she wrote in my facebook: "you must go to halong bay". so, on our third day in vietnam, we made the 3.5-hour (157km) drive to halong bay, journeying through the rich farmlands of the red river delta, observing vietnamese villagers working in their rice fields, taking pigs to market on their motorcycles and ploughing the fields with their water buffaloes.

our day-trip ticket entitled us a visit to one of the many caves. we chose to visit hang dau go (grotto of wooden stakes) known to the french as the grottes des merveilles (cave of marvels). it is a huge cave, comprising three chambers, which can be reached via 90 steps. the third chamber was said to have been used by vietnamese folk hero tran nung dao to store sharp bamboo stakes which were used against the mongolians led by kublai khan.

our junk sailed past one of the four floating villages in halong bay but we did not make a stop. the people who make these pontoons their homes spend most of their time fishing in the waters of the bay and cultivating some marine biota. some venture to grow some food crops on the nearby islands. their catches from the sea are usually sold to people who come in bigger boats that take the fresh fish to markets on the mainland.

we had the luxury of having the boat, which could accommodate up to 48 passengers, all to ourselves. according to our tour guide, there are about 1000 boats of varying sizes available to tourists in halong bay. we were served a basic seafood lunch, which included crabs, prawns and fish, on board the boat. we spent a large part of our time on the boat soaking in the atmosphere drinking in the beautiful sights around us, and taking lots of pictures.

we took the most number of pictures at halong bay. some of the pictures were taken on land but most of the pictures were taken when we were on the boat out in the bay.

when we mentioned that we would be visiting halong bay, a number of our friends cautioned us about the weather and the flooding in hanoi. "it is the monsoon season at the end of the year". on the contrary, we found out that december is part of the dry season and actually it is a good time to visit because of the cool weather. temperatures were in the low 20s.

one friend who has been to halong bay before recommended that we stay at least one night. we could opt to sleep on those boats with cabins or stay overnight at one of the hotels on the bigger islands in the bay. it was a pity our schedule did not permit us to do so.

in 1994, halong bay was designated as vietnam's second unesco world heritage site in recognition of its outstanding universal aesthetic value. visitors have compared the mystical scenery with thousands of limestone islands rising from the emerald waters to guilin in china
and krabi in thailand.
in 2009, halong bay was on the list of nominations as one of the world's 7 natural wonders.

Friday, December 10, 2010

kissing cocks in halong bay

one of the most well-known limestone formations is called the kissing rocks. it is also called the ho ga troi (fighting cocks). a picture of it appears on the 200 000 dong note.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

tiu chiam - chinese fortune sticks

chinese fortune sticks or divination sticks are the flat, wide sticks that are usually stored in a cylindrical bamboo container. they are generally made of bamboo. they look like extended ice-cream sticks and are often painted red at one end. each stick carries a number written in chinese characters. the total number of sticks in a tube may vary between 60 and 78. in the past, its practice was more prevalent and you could 'tiu chiam' at any large buddhist or taoist temple. today, you can still do so. i was told that the kwan imm thong hood cho temple on bencoolen street is popular for its fortune stick prediction.

these are the prediction sheets that go hand in hand with the fortune stick. each printed slip is numbered to correspond to the number on the stick. suppose you toss out a valid stick and its number is 30, then you go to the counter to get prediction sheet number 30. the slip of paper contains a short poem or rhyme. interpretation of the it may not be definitive; at best, it gives you an indication of what lies ahead.

for a small fee, you could get a temple worker or a volunteer to do the interpretation. you could even take it home to get someone knowledgeable in such matter to interpret for you.

the chinese like to believe that opportunity exists for people to make the most of their lives by being more aware of the 'environmental conditions' that surround their lives.

here are two pairs of wooden moon blocks (jiaobei). they are used to decide the validity of a fortune stick that has been dislodged from the container. if both blocks fall on the same side - either flat or curved - then you do not accept the stick. the fortune stick is valid only if one lands on the flat side and the other ends up on the curved side.

here are the steps involved in this method of fortune telling:

first, kneel in front of the deity and think silently or whisper your question to the deity while holding the cylinder in your two hands.

next, shake the cylinder, which is usually tipped slightly forward, resulting in one stick dropping out of the cylinder. if more than one stick falls out, replace the sticks and repeat the procedure.

once a stick falls out, you pick up the two jiaobei blocks and toss them. you only accept the stick when one block lands on the flat side and the other is on the curved side.

take the valid stick to the counter where you will get a prediction slip corresponding to the number on your stick.

i remember my mother resorting to this method of fortune telling when i was very ill at one time. the other instance she did this was when she tried to find out how i would fare in the primary school leaving examination.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

motorcyclists in hanoi

before i visited vietnam i was told that the roads were swarming with motorcycles - that appeared to move in a haphazard way - and that it was a challenge to cross the road. so, when i came over to hanoi, i was looking out for motor-cyclists all the time. after a while, i discovered that crossing the streets of vietnam was not as life-threatening as back home because the traffic here moved at a much slower speed.

seems like anything and everything goes in hanoi, vietnam. wearing a crash helmet may be compulsory for motor-cyclists but not everyone complies. generally, most riders and their pillions put something on their head but it may not be a crash helmet. in fact, so long as it resembles a helmet, it seems to satisfy the requirement. i have seen baseball caps and construction workers' hats. it is as if wearing something on the head is a token gesture; sometimes, the strap is not even secured properly.

most riders were able to multi-task while riding. carrying on a conversation on the mobile phone was not something unusual here. some were even able to text and send a message while the bike was moving and, mind you, they were not pillion riders. the bike could be used like a four-wheel vehicle to transport more than one passenger and to carry bulky goods and heavy items. some carried both passenger and goods. while most pillions sat behind the rider, some, especially small kids, rode in front.

here are some tips on how to cross the noisy and 'crazy' streets of hanoi where you should not expect motorists and motorcyclists to stop at pedestrian crossings:

wait for a break in the traffic before stepping onto the road.
don't run; move at a steady pace
don't hold hands while crossing the road
do not stop and do not turn back because you will confuse the riders and drivers.
if you still cannot cross, then just depend on blind faith - close your eyes and just walk across.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

the japanese cemetery park

the japanese cemetery park has been around since the 19th century, long before the japanese invaded singapore. it was gazetted as a memorial park in 1987.

'japanese brothel owner tagajiro fukaki donated 7 acres of his rubber plantation at chuan hoe avenue, off yio chu kang road, to be used as a burial ground for young japanese women who died in destitution. the british colonial government granted permission for this use on 26 june 1891. since then, it was used to bury japanese residents. during world war ii, the cemetery was used to bury japanese civilians and soldiers who lost their lives in the battlefield or to illness.

no one has been buried here since 1973 as this was one of the 42 cemeteries where burials were prohibited by the government. the japanese association of singapore maintains the park which is often visited by japanese students, residents and tourists.'

this is the prayer hall within the cemetery park. i had thought it was a shinto shrine. although the prayer hall is closed most of the time, if you peep in, you can see some statues of buddha at the front of the hall.

the cemetery park is well-maintained and there are quite a number of mature trees, including some fruit trees. there is an old lychee tree - designated an heritage tree - next to the prayer hall. the lychee tree is not able to bear fruit here because of the unsuitable climatic conditions.

these three slabs of stones were erected in memory of those who lost their lives during the pacific war. behind this memorial, buried in a hole which was sealed with concrete, were the ashes of dead japanese soldiers collected from the destroyed syonan chureito at bukit batok.

this is a statue of the hinomoto guardian deity. this memorial was built in memory of 41 japanese civilains who died in the internment camp at jurong while waiting for repatriation after the japanese defeat in world war ii.

one surprise find at the japanese cemetery park is this chinese grave of a chinese man. although my mandarin is rather inadequate, i can make out certain characters like 'hokkien' and 'heng hwa' inscribed on the tombstone. i was told that the tomb had been refurbished. it belonged to the a former cemetery care-taker who died more than 70 years ago.

strangely, this chinese tomb is different from one i came across in another website. could there be more than one chinese grave within the japanese cemetery?