Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Doing Away With the Plastic Carry Bag

In a previous post (Just One Word... Plastic) I reported that we have been somewhat amazed (and a little appalled) at the quantities of plastic carry bags that are dispensed to shoppers by the various shops.   In some cases you will receive multiple plastic bags-- an item placed in a bag, then placed in a second bag.  Not that this isn't happening elsewhere in the world, but it was very evident here.
The reusable carry bag is now a thing of the 21st century.  If you are not yet using these bags, they are heavy duty, made of inexpensive nylon or some other synthetic cloth, and frequently are green in color.  (Nothing lost on me here).  Shops typically sell the bags for a nominal fee.  We first experienced these in Ireland, where Europe is leading the green movement.  They have become common place in the U.S.  California has recently passed legislation to outlaw disposable plastic bags. 
The movement to minimize disposable plastic carry bags in Singapore is not new (Petition to Ban Plastic Bags June 2008, Government initiative in 2006), but perhaps it has lagged other parts of the world by a few months in gaining the necessary momentum.  The effort seems to now be taking hold  (Singapore Gov't campaign: Less plastic bags).
However is this creating a new problem?   In an effort to get these reusable carry bags into the hands of shoppers there have been a number of shops and businesses providing free bags free as part of a promotion.  Despite our best efforts to carry and use reusable carry bags, we've ended up with a drawer full of them.  For those not making the effort where will their free "reusable" carry bags end up?

Would the disposable plastic actually have been better?
A sampling from our collection of "reusable" carry bags here in Singapore

Monday, June 28, 2010

He'll Take the Beating

Well, in quick justice here in Singapore, 32 year old Swiss national Oliver Fricker has had his day in court, and  pled guilty. He and an accomplice broke into a subway (MRT) train yard and spray painted grafitti on two train cars.  He will be fined and will receive four lashes of the cane--  the punishment meated out here for such an offense.  The whole event from crime to time spanned only a little over a month-- the grafitti painted on the train first hit the news May 18.  It has not been announced when Oliver will receive his beating.  His accomplice in crime, a British national, has apparently skipped the country.

I'm not sure why anyone would want to paint "McKoy Banos" on subway trains--  an obscure message, or at least obscure to me.  This was apparently a prior planned crime, and not an alcohol induced event.  Go figure.

If you can't take the cane, don't paint the train.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Raising Cane with a Tag

[Monday June 21]--  Deja vu--  another Peter Fay here in Singapore!  (The 18 year old American convicted and punished by caning in 1994 for stealing road signs and spray painting graffiti on cars).  "Tagging", among other offenses here in Singapore, is punishable by caning.  This fellow doesn't dress like a gang-sta, but perhaps these are the colors and uniform of his homeys in Switzerland, where he is from.  His name is Oliver Fricker, and he's a computer software consultant expat here in Singapore.  Graffiti--  what an interesting career move!  (Software guy-- need I say more?)  Right now I'm imagining just what his company and immediate manager is going through right now, and glad I'm not either one of them.

Nice to see it's someone from some place other than the U.S. creating an embarrassing international incident for doing something totally stupid.

Singapore Fashion

With such a warm and humid climate, attire in Singapore is generally pretty casual, which works just fine for me.  Of course certain environments and circumstances require much more conservative and formal attire, but these are circles of society (i.e. the work environment) that I haven't been associated with lately.  There are many who dress smartly, and choose a wardrobe fitting for the climate.  For the more casual set, Tee shirts and polo shirts are more common.

Polo shirts will typically have a company logo on the breast.  The designer shirts will have a name or logo on the breast, or a new trend--  at the back of the collar, which is worn raised up, so as to make the branding visible.  The logo and brand name font are large--


so as not to be missed or unreadable from, say across the subway platform.  I am not familiar with many of the brands I have seen, and many seem very close or similar to brands more familiar to me (e.g. Polo Ralph Lauren).  Certainly no accident.  It is possible to purchase modest unknown brand polo shirts here very inexpensively-- say S$19.00 (about US$15.00) if you shop for them.  No telling how long they will hold up.  On the other hand authentic designer brands will cost you some serious coin.

Tee shirts are more interesting.  Nearly every work crew pouring concrete, serving coffee, or working on something or other can be identified by their tee shirt with the company name on it.  Sales events at the shops will usually have shop assistants or touts with matching tee shirts, and special events (runs, expos, festivals, etc.) will have tee shirts for the event.  Of course this is not unique to South East Asia and Singapore.  Tee shirts are perhaps one of the greatest advertising media available.

Then there are the cute saying, social message tee shirts, and tourist destination tee shirts, (often with a U.S. location), which are very popular here.  Some examples:


  • "LOVE IS AN ACHIEVABLE DREAM"  (Seen on a 30-something male)





  • "LITTLE MISS PERFECT"  (Seen on a 40-something female)
I'm apparently a little slow, because many I don't understand.

    For several months now, I have been collecting data for a hypothesis I have formed:  Tee shirts messages are always printed in English.  This seems odd to me--  although English is the "administrative" language of Singapore, there are four official languages (including English).  English is not always the first choice for many locals.   There are also many foreign expatriates and visitors in Singapore.  Yet I couldn't recall seeing a tee shirt with writing in a language I couldn't read (and unfortunately I only read English).  In Shanghai the same thing appeared to hold true, and there are far fewer English speakers there.  I suspect that many tee-shirt wearers have no clue what is printed on their shirt.

    Recently I did see a tee shirt here in Singapore with both English and mandarin on it.  The English read "Delaware Physical Ed", with the Mandarin printing beneath.  This shirt raises additional curiosity for me in my tee shirt study-- does Delaware have a multi-language ed program in physical education, or are these shirts some sort of  strange Asian knock off?  Does Delaware Physical Ed have world wide mass culture appeal and this is some type of commercial venture?

    More data will need to be collected on this.

    Not tee shirts...  but some strange window advertisements...

    Sunday, June 13, 2010

    Shanghai PRC: Expo 2010 Day #2

     [Monday May 31]--  We returned to the Expo on our final day in Shanghai, and visited as many pavilions as we could.  Our plan was to stay into the evening (which we did) and witness the fireworks that are done every evening (we didn't stay that long).  The expo was a great place to visit-- I wish we the queues had been shorter such that we could have seen more of the larger pavilions.  However, I found the experience to be worthy of our expense in traveling, and I hope to visit Shanghai again sometime.

    The promenade walkway at the expo.  There were two promenades that intersected one another-- they're enormous.  The promenades are elevated steel decks-- there is also a walkway underneath.  (The major promenade also has an additional sunken level that connects to the subway.)  I have tried to imagine how much steel went into the construction of these promenade decks alone.  There were a few electric 6-seat vehicles (like a large golf cart) powered by fuel cells, that shuttled people along the promenades, if you were willing to wait for them.  No people up here--  they are all in the queues trying to get into the pavilions.

    Perhaps one of the most interesting, and in my opinion most creative, was the Chile pavilion.  The entire inside was constructed of a sculptured plywood, featuring the natural resources of Chile.  They also were featuring Chilean wines, and had free wine tasting!  Apparently this was an exception-- we were there on the right day at the right time.  We spent some time talking with a couple of the Chilean representatives, who were very friendly and informative.  We were told that, although the earthquake was very destructive, the Chileans are very familiar with earthquakes and will pick themselves up, rebuild, and move on-- quite stoic.  They also said that wine production this year will be very minimal, as one of the primary wine regions of Chile was heavily impacted by the earthquake.  Chile is high on our list of future places to visit--  definitely a fly fishing destination.
    Russia pavilion--  large queues to get in

    Ukraine pavilion.  Their exhibit featured a small cafe style restaurant, where we had lunch.  What else-- chicken Kiev!

    The United Kingdom pavilion as seen from the Netherlands pavilion.  The U.K. pavilion was "Thousand Points of Light", and built around a theme of a project launched by Kew Gardens in London.  The project plans to archive and catalog plant seeds from around the world, as many species become extinct from climate change.  Nope-- didn't get inside.  Major queues.

    The Netherlands pavilion.  One of the more bizarre exhibits, this pavilion was a spiral ramp with a number of small exhibit windows that featured both the artistic, agricultural, and technological prowess of The Netherlands.  At first I thought the small window exhibits were art exhibits (one or two were), but then realized that each was a contribution of something from the Netherlands.  One window showed a large steel diamond covered cable--  a section of a cable used to slice apart and recover the soviet submarine Kursk from deep water.  Another exhibit appeared to be a gas pump.  In reality, it is a water purification system developed by a Dutch company that can be brought to disaster areas to dispense purified water.

    Fill 'er up-- Not petrol, but water. This is the distribution end of a water purification system that can be brought into disaster areas to purify and pump water for victims in areas where the water supply has been fouled.

    What would a Netherlands exhibit be without tulips? I thought they were artificial at first, but no, they are the real thing.

     A flock of plastic sheep, grazing on indoor/outdoor carpet-- a tribute to The Netherlands agriculture no doubt. These were present underneath the elevated pavilion, and popular with the Chinese kids to sit on (as intended).

    For anyone planning to attend the Expo, my suggestion would be to go in the evenings.   Shanghai is a city of lights, and the Shanghai Expo has followed this lead.  The pavilions are spectacular at night.
    Malaysia Pavilion

    Norway Pavilion
    Ukraine Pavilion

    United Nations Pavilion

    The Lupu Bridge--  the lights on this bridge, which crosses directly over the Expo site, change colors.  The bridges and buildings light shows in Shanghai are almost as good as a fireworks show.  This picture also shows the promenade walkway, which connects the various sections of the expo.

    Chinese Gardens--  The Expo site included a Chinese Garden, which was a great place for people to relax and take a break from the queues and walking about the pavilions.  There were bird cages (See Shanghai:  The French Concession) and bonsai plants and art-rock.

    Turtle Rock--  This rock, among others is natural (not carved) and has a striking resemblance to a turtle.  There were others-- one that looked like an elephant.

    Saturday, June 12, 2010

    Shanghai PRC: The Bund

    [Sunday May 30 Evening]--  The architecture and sites of Shanghai is fascinating by day, but the city really comes alive at night.  One of its features are the lights that are on every major bridge and building in the city.  An area in the oldest part of the city is called The Bund.  This area was the center of commerce, and location of many of the wharfs along the river.  The area frequently flooded, and so a levee was built to protect the city.  The levee is called The Bund (literally translated, "the beach").  There are many old buildings in this area, as well as new.  The government has taken steps to protect and restore these heritage architectures.  On the far side of the river (Pudong district) there are many new buildings and tower.  As you can see, they are lit colorfully.  (One tall downtown building has search lights  at night--  I thought we might actually be in Gotham City!)
    Chinese Dinner--  While in Shanghai we were hosted for a dinner by an HP acquaintance in Shanghai and HP friends from Singapore, who happened to be in Shanghai at the same time.  From left to right:  Sunny (HP employee in Shanghai), Karen (works with Elaine in Singapore), Matthew, Dr. "Zinny" Ho (Karen's husband), Elaine, and Jim.
    Elaine, Jim on The Bund, Shanghai

    The Bund Walkway--  Just a few folks out enjoying the incredible lights of Shanghai from The Bund.  This picture was taken about 23:00.

    River Cruiser--  A river cruiser competes for attention among the lights along the Bund.

    Dragon Boat--  This one grabbed my attention...

    Large scale digital imagery

    Discotheque--  This odd shaped building along the Bund has an outdoor disco on the top floor.

    New--  The blueish lit building in the background is a recent addition to Shanghai.  It is one of the tallest buildings in the world.  There is an open area near its top, with a sky bridge connecting the two towers.  The sky bridge has a glass floor.  We didn't get to go in the building, but its construction was featured on The Discovery Channel.

    Old--  circa 1920's on The Bund

    When you are walking along the  Nanjing Road pedestrian mall (and nearly anywhere else in the Bund area) you can expect to be constantly approached by touts and hucksters--  people who are selling counterfeit merchandise.  This is particularly true if you are obviously a Westerner.  (Some friends from Singapore had no experiences with touts).   Some of the touts are only trying to sell laser pointers or strap-on roller skates that light up.  However most have small laminated brochures with dozens of pictures of the many wares they are peddling.  "Shop-ping!  You want bags, watch, i-Phone, T-shirt?"  Some can be quite persistent, following you along the walkway for quite a distance.  We declined to participate in this black market--  not sure what kind of "deals" you might get.  In general (legitimate) prices are very inexpensive in Shanghai, which was a very pleasant relief from Singapore, which is very expensive.  There are police officers everywhere, but there appears to be tolerance to the touts.
    But not entirely.  On our return to our hotel from The Bund, we witnessed a tout selling counterfeit Expo 2010 merchandise being rousted by the police.  (Looked like Haibo key chains)  A police officer chased after him and confiscated his goods.  Seeing this, a number of other touts starting running away, with their bogus Expo 2010 wares.  There are apparently certain limits to tolerating counterfeiting goods, that when crossed, bring about law enforcement.
    Counterfeiting seems to be a common problem, and not just with counterfeit goods.  We learned that counterfeit currency (The Yuan also know as RMB) is a big problem in the PRC-- the 100 Yuan note is a popular target.  So much so that most hotels, businesses, and certainly banks have scanning machines that are used when the merchants are presented with 100 Yuan or larger notes to detect the counterfeits.

    Nanjing Road--  A casual stroll down Nanjing pedestrian mall at night.

    Billboard?--  What appears as a billboard is actually the side of a hotel.  Through changing lights different images are displayed, visible from the Nanjing Road pedestrian walk.

    Moments later, a new image...

    Bronze sculpture along the mall

    Shanghai PRC: French Concession Walking Tour

    [Sunday May 30]--   We allocated the second of our three days in Shanghai to do a bit of touring-- to see a little of the city, and a bit of shopping.  We decided to follow the Lonely Planet:  Shanghai guide book walking tour of an area called the French Concession.  This is an old part of Shanghai city not far from our hotel.  The French Concession was a district of Shanghai allocated to France by treaty from 1849 to 1943 during the imperialist expansion of western nations into China.  This was an arrangement (similar to the 99 year lease of Hong Kong and Macao to Britain) which allowed the U.S. and European nations to have trade centers and colonies within China.  The arrangement ended with the Japanese invasion of China.  The French Concession district was a stylish and affluent area of Shanghai in the 1900s through the 1920s.
    With tour book in hand, and overly confident of finding our way about the city after successful travel on the subway the prior day, way headed for the train, plotted our route, and got off at our desired train stop.  We exited the train station, and were immediately lost.  Not so much lost, but unable to follow and find the path detailed in Lonely Planet.  One thing we have learned in Singapore is that it is important to know which exit from the subway station should be taken--  it is possible to get very disoriented and be a block or more off from your target destination if you do not pay attention to this detail.  Unfortunately Lonely Planet was not forthcoming in providing this very detail in their walking tout.  We ran into a Dutch couple with a guide book in hand, who were also obviously trying to find their bearings too.  After wandering around for a few blocks, we eventually synchronized our location with the walking tour in the guide book, and off we went.
    The walking tour leads you to several interesting areas within the district-- a renovated area that is now a POSH restaurant and boutique area, apparently popular with expats and tourists was our first stop.  In this area there was a museum of a classic style house called the Shikuman Long-Tangs (literal translation-- "stone gate") of the district.  The tour leads to several important buildings and parks in the area, including Sun Yat-Sen's house.  (Sun Yat-Sen was the revolutionary leader who helped overthrow the Quing dynasty in 1911 and became the first president of the Nationalist government of China).  The tour also led to Zou Enlai's house, but we skipped this segment.
    We had lunch at a wonderful small restaurant at the back of an old hotel grounds, overlooking a pond and garden. By the end of the tour, we were very tired and ready to be back at our hotel. It was a great tour, albeit a very small section of Shanghai.

    Graffiti?   I presumed this was graffiti, but possibly not.  It is the only thing like it that I saw--  a relatively clean city, although not to the level of Singapore.  If it is graffiti, I think this displays significantly more talent than the typical tagging seen in the U.S.

    A restored building in the Xintiandi boutique/restaurant shop district of the French Concession

    Elaine at the entrance of Fuxing Gongyuan Park

    A tribute to Westerners?   Marx and Engels of course

    St Nicholas Russian Orthodox Church--  Built in 1936 to service the large number of Russian emigrants coming to Shanghai in the 1930s.  The church escaped demolition during the cultural revolution, and has been used as a restaurant and a washing machine factory.  It currently is closed, and a guard (looking very bored) sits in front to prevent vandalism.

    Sun Yat-Sen's residence--  now a museum.

    Sun Yat-Sen residence-- front entry

    Sun Yat-Sen Residence-- backyard

    No trumpet Playing!--  The driveway to an old estate house along the walking tour

    Lion (and Lioness) at the hotel/restaurant where we had lunch

    Old and the New Shanghai--  Among the 21st century Shanghai, there are still vestiges of older times.  This vendor has his store on the back of his bicycle.  The cart is overloaded with brooms, dusters, mops, etc.  The Fuller Brush Man?  The woman is apparently a local customer who came out of the nearby building to make a purchase. There are also scrap collectors that use similar manual transport, moving about the shops collecting cardboard and plastic for recycling.

    Moller House-- Swedish shipping magnate Eric Moller built this house, finally completed in 1949.  It housed the Communist Youth League for a while, and is now a hotel.  Moller delayed finishing its construction, having been told by a fortune teller he would meet his demise upon its completion .  He died in a plane crash in 1954.

    Jingjiang Hotel--  (ca 1931)  The Shanghai diplomatic community were held under house arrest during the Japanese occupation of Shanghai in 1941.

    Lobby of the Okura Garden Hotel (ca 1921)  Art Deco hotel in the French Concession

    Russian Orthodox Mission Church-- (ca 1931)

    Sensible Shoes-- High fashion in Shanghai.  Hot pink and overalls.

    Donghu Hotel--  Not quite the Great Wall of China, but fairly imposing.  This estate, with imposing iron walls was once the home of a reputed gangster of Shanghai.  Now a hotel.

    Birds are a traditional pet for the Chinese--  they often accompany their owner to tea houses when out on the town, and displayed in ornate cages (these are not the ornate cages).  These birds were just hanging around outside a shop.