Friday, October 26, 2007

What A Life

Carl (3 1/2 years old) got off the school bus at 12.30 this afternoon. With a world-weary look on his face, I asked him "how was it today at Jip and Janneke (preschool)? Did you have fun?"
Wiping his hand across his eyes he looked at me with an exaggerated look of tiredness and said in a hushed voice: "Wow, I'm tired. What a busy day".

If only I'd had his social life at his age.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Dance Festival 2

On Sunday night we went to our second Da:ns Festival event; ‘Waves of Love, The World of the Whirling Dervishes’ by the Istanbul Historical Turkish Music Ensemble. This was unlike anything I have ever seen or heard before. Because this is something I knew absolutely nothing about before booking the tickets, I’m going to quote the evenings program to explain what it was about.

“The ancient sacred ritual of the sema performance of the Mevlevi order of Sufism is regarded as one of the most beautiful and mesmerising expressions of spirituality and art. With origins in Turkey and inspired by the great 13th century mystic, poet and philosopher, Mevlana Celaleddin-i Rumi, the ritual seeks divinity and maturity, carrying his message of love, brotherhood and tolerance…[Performed] by the Istanbul Historical Turkish Music Ensemble as part of the world’s celebration of the 800th anniversary of Rumi’s birth, an event recognised by UNESCO.”

In silence a group of 20 men slowly stepped in single file onto the stage, each pausing to bow to a red sheepskin which was placed on the opposite side of the stage. The men – singers and musicians – each slowly made their way to a slightly raised podium at the rear of the stage where they sat and picked up their various Turkish instruments, most of which were unfamiliar to us. The singers stood like statues at the back. When all was still again, the process was repeated by the 8 dancers and their two ‘leaders’, who very slowly and rhythmically moved into the places on the stage and began a slow pacing, in step, in a circle around the stage, accompanied by the haunting unaccompanied voice of a lone singer.

“…the sema is a ritual conceived…as a form of prayerful meditation. Mevlana’s followers, the Mevleviye, adopted this ritual and are today commonly known to the English-speaking world as the Whirling Dervishes (semazens) for their practice of whirling as they meditate. Indeed, the whirling rituals of the Mevleviye have endured through time, and have become deeply entrenched in Turkish culture and heritage.
"Similar to the established order in nature, from the atoms in materials, cells in living bodies, our life cycles to the planetary systems, sema engages the semazens in a shared experience of revolving motion.
“The sema ceremony represents a spiritual journey that unifies the human mind, emotion, body and spirit…With feet firmly on the ground, left hand turned towards the earth and right hand outstretched to God in prayer, the semazen is the point of contact between God and the earth, the channel through which divine blessings flow. Revolving from right to left as he silently prays, the semazen embraces all creation.”

With the musicians and singers performing the dancers began their graceful whirling, turning on the spot with the right foot spinning their bodies as the left remained firmly in place. With heads leaning to one side the dancers remained perfectly poised and balanced despite having their eyes shut the entire time. Their hands rose slowly along their torsos until reaching above their heads, they slowly lowered the arms again to achieve a horizontal position, one hand cupped upwards, the other down.
It was a very unusual yet spell binding event to watch, one which on the one hand was completely outside our world of experience and so made us feel like complete strangers, yet which was so engaging and transfixing that you couldn’t help being drawn into it. The repetitive ceremony, the ‘salutes’ (bows) offered throughout, the flowing white clothes and haunting music all serve to transfix the audience. Above all the message conveyed through the ritual is one that embraces all people regardless of race or religion and touches a chord in any human soul.

“Come, come again, whoever you are, come!
Heathen, fire worshipper, or the idolatrous, come!
Come even if you have broken your penitence a hundred times,
Ours is the portal of hope, come as you are”

"These worlds by Mevlana Celaleddin-i Rumi, maybe said to encapsulate his original Sufi doctrine of unlimited tolerance, positive reasoning, goodness, charity and awareness through love.”

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Dance Festival

Singapore is in the midst of its annual Dance Festival (actually they call it Da:ns but my spell checker hates that). During last years Festival we went to the ballet Carmen which was fantastic, so this year I thought it would be good to attend at least a couple of events.

The first event we attended was ‘Stars of Russian Ballet’, a ballet gala with Prima Ballerina of the Marinsky (Kirov) Ballet, Ulyana Lopatkina. Reviews of Ulyana have praised her “diamante brilliance” and “divine” portrayals. She is said to possess a “perfect ethereal figure” and has won many international awards. This gala was an interesting event, a mixture of classical and contemporary dance. In all eleven pieces were presented by Ulyana and her fellow dancers Anastasia Lomatchenkova, Evguenia Obraztsova and Yekaterina Osmolkina, plus the male lead dancers Ivan Kozlov, Anton Ploom, Vladimir Shkliarov and Alexandre Klimov.
It was a great night out, although as before the contemporary pieces left me cold. Although I like watching dance (having absolutely no natural talent in this area myself watching is as adventurous as I will get) I never buy tickets to modern dance performances, and the pieces showcased in the ballet gala reminded me why. The first modern piece was quite interesting, even sometimes a little humorous. However the final piece was sheer torture! Discordant violins which made it feel like your ears were bleeding screeched while on a blackened stage, two dancers dressed also head to toe in black danced in and out of pools of light with tortured moves and grim faces.
I have absolutely no doubt whatsoever that it required an enormous degree of technical skill and months of practice to perfect but frankly, it’s just not me. In contrast the Pas de Deux from Romeo and Juliet was fabulous, and ‘The Dying Swan’ performed by Ulyana literally brought tears to your eyes, it was so beautifully and emotionally rendered.
Next on the agenda was the Whirling Dervishes from Istanbul – an entirely different experience! More on that later.

By the way, for this performance we were seated right at the top of the theatre hall in the Circle, at the very back row hard up against the back wall. As we walked to our seats I thought “oh no!” but actually the acoustics were fine and the view was uninterrupted. The Esplanade venue is not so large that you are too far away from the stage, even right at the back. I would not hesitate to sit there again so if you’re trying to get tickets to a show and these are the only seats available, don’t worry, you’ll still have an excellent view and enjoy the show.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Practising For Life On The Streets

This is a photo taken of our youngest, Carl, fast asleep on his bedroom floor last night. Now Carl has a perfectly comfy kiddies bed, the bright red Ikea variety with yellow and orange cats and dogs and a cute little horizontal bar to stop him falling out and tumbling all of 40 cm to the floor and thereby impeding his progress to becoming one of this centuries Great Thinkers. However, he prefers to camp out each night either in his doorway or in the middle of the floor, forgoeing the luxury of a mattress and sheets.

Last night he went to all the trouble of stripping off his pyjamas and then pulling his floor rug up on top of himself. We're thinking of getting rid of his bed and providing him with old newspapers and cardboard boxes instead. Next week I'm teaching him to drink whiskey from a brown paper bag.

At least he took his pillow with him. I told you, the kid has brains.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007


Hands up those of you who have heard of Freecycle. This is a green movment, purportedly begun in Arizona a few years ago, designed to help people recycle their property by giving it away instead of chucking it into landfills. I think it's a brilliant idea, and since I've just signed up to the Singapore version, I'll let you know how it pans out.

In itself the idea is really simple. A fairly basic web page allows you to post a brief description of your unwanted junk (hey, one persons trash is anothers' treasure, right?) and anyone who is intrested can contact you directly by email to claim it. The stuff has to be absolutely free - no transport charges, commissions, or fees at all. How you pick up the stuff is up to you to arrange once you've made contact with the offerer.

I have signed up after reading an article in a recent edition of The Straits Times, as no doubt thousands of other people will do too. After all, who hasn't had a moment of angst wondering what to do with those piles of unwanted clothes which are in fabulous condition but just don't fit or suit your taste any more? Or those CDs which you listened to ten times a day when you were a student but which have lain collecting dust for the past 10 years in a cupboard? And what about the PILES of stuff that accumulates when you have kids - clothes, toys, books - and which they quickly out grow? We (should) all feel a pang of guilt about just chucking stuff away in this consumerist, materialistic society. So I'm hoping Freecycle will prove a worthy antidote to this.

Apparently there are Freecycle groups all around the world, so check out this link: and see what your local one has to offer, or consider what you can offer your fellow citizens. I truly believe an uncluttered living environment goes a long way towards achieving an uncluttered mind, although there may be the temptation to fill up those newly cleaned out cupboards with treasures you find on the list...

Don't forget it's good for getting rid of stuff you don't want, and for asking for things you do want, all absolutely free.

I'll let you know how my request for a pet carry cage for Charlie goes.

Thursday, October 11, 2007


Soldiers seem to be everywhere in Singapore. Not the fully kitted up and armed variety, but national servicemen in their camouflage pants and shiny black boots. In Singapore National Service is the name given to the compulsory conscription which every male citizen and 2nd generation Permanent Resident has to undergo once they reach 18 years of age. The tour of duty lasts between two years, during which the conscripts will serve in the Singapore Armed Forces, Police Force, or Civil Defence Force (fire fighters, ambulance crew, etc). After their tour is completed the men are known as ‘Operationally Ready National Servicemen’, the equivalent of a reservist in other countries. Each and every one of them must report for refresher training for a week each until they reach the age of forty or fifty, depending on rank. When you consider that, it’s quite a commitment and a big chunk out of a mans life.
Before moving to Singapore I had never really thought about conscription much apart from it being something that used to happen decades ago. In New Zealand conscription was in place until about the 1950s I think: my Dad’s brother was conscripted although Dad wasn’t. Now that we’ve been here a while and seen the sheer numbers involved, it has been quite thought provoking. On the one hand some argue that removing these young men from the workforce at a time with very low unemployment when they could be making significantly more money in the commercial sector has a stifling effect on the economy. The governments view is somewhat more pragmatic: if you don’t understand the risks that Singapore faces from its very close and sometimes hostile neighbours, take a look at a map. This country is literally squeezed between Malaysia and Singapore, both hugely populous nations where unrest and strife frequently flairs up and terrorism is a real threat. There is no denying the inherent risks which Singapore faces simply by fact of its location.
Another very important reason that the authorities stick with conscription is that it promotes, in a degree that no other activity could, a sense of national unity. This is a very multi-cultural country made up largely of Chinese, Malay and Indian people. There are four national languages (English, Mandarin, Tamil, Bahasa Malay) and each culture has its own language and traditions. The idea is that these differences are broken down amid the camaraderie of serving together in an NS unit and learning to fight for and defend a common nation. As they say here, ‘Many Cultures: One Nation’. Indeed having spoken to a few locals about their NS experience their responses were very positive and they are proud of what they have achieved. At a time in their lives when New Zealand males would be out drinking too much beer, driving fast cars and generally helping to keep the road toll high, these guys are learning how to handle heavy arms and the intricacies of tactical warfare.
With two young boys ourselves we’ve visited many of the National Service and Armed Forces museums and events that have taken place over the last year or so, and believe me, there are a lot. Our kids just LOVE anything to do with soldiers, running around ‘bang banging’ anything that moves and gazing in wide eyed wonder at the tanks, jet fighters and personnel carriers on display a the recently opened National Army Museum. We can’t help but speculate what it must be like to wave your 18 year old son goodbye when he is conscripted, and know that for the next twenty years, he will be in the firing line if his country needs him.
There is a silver lining to the whole conscription issue here. The other day I was reading the Straits Times and came upon a story about a man who suffered a massive heart attack in his car while waiting at the traffic lights. He crashed without doing any damage but his heart had stopped and he wasn’t breathing when three passer-bys pulled him out from behind the wheel. His rescuers were all strangers to each other but, being men, each had done National Service and having been re-trained every year, each knew the latest CPR and resuscitation techniques. They were able to get his heart started and get him breathing again, working like a team until the ambulance personnel arrived to take over. The patient made a full recovery and was pictured shaking the hands of the strangers who had very literally dragged him back from death on the side of the road.
It’s very reassuring to know that every man above 20 here can do that and is able to help out his fellow citizens in a time of need.

Monday, October 08, 2007

Chinese Autumn Moon Festival

We are in the throes of the busy festival season here in Singapore. Depending on your nationality and religion you may have just finished celebrating the Chinese Autumn Moon Festival, or still be in the throes of Hari Raya.
For those not in the know, Hari Raya is one of the most significant Muslim celebrations, marking the culmination of Ramadan. The Arab quarter, known as Kamplon Glam, is decorated with lights and there are street stalls selling yummy treats in the evenings.
Last year we hadn’t been here very long and didn’t realise that taking part in the Chinese Moon Festival could mean more than just stuffing down delicious moon cakes filled with lotus seeds and red bean paste. The celebration always falls on the 15th day of the eights lunar month when the moon is believed to be at its fullest. Chinatown is lit up at night and there are large open air markets selling mooncakes, pomelos, tea and festive treats. To enjoy the fun we all headed down to the Chinese gardens to enjoy the huge lantern display in the evening.

Traditionally the kids carry paper lanterns illuminated with candles. Both Niels and Carl thought that was great until Carl saw someone else’s go up in flames and decided it was too dangerous for kids, and insisted I carry his lantern. Wise boy.

The theme this year was ‘under the sea’, and there were literally hundreds of lanterns – wire frames covered with colourful silk-like material and it up from within. Some even moved, with seals balancing spinning balls on their noses, prehistoric dinosaurs swinging their heads to the crowds and mystical figures waving to the throngs.
It was a fantastic display and I highly recommend it for any one who is visiting in September next year.

Following are a few pics to give you a taste of what happened.
The Chinese Garden is anyway one of our favourite destinations for a couple of hours out with the kids.
I’ve blogged about it before here: can also add that there is a large adventure playground, suitable for kids 6 years and over, located nearby.
Just remember to take lots of water, sunblock and hats because it’s always hot and quite exposed to the sun there.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Cool Pool Toy

OK this may not be truly blog-worthy but I found a really cool pool toy the other day. Called a Crazy Coil, it's a long inflatable tube with a permanent curl. Good for hours of fun, and the kids love trying to sit on it and getting chucked off when it rolls over. The only downside is that it takes quite a bit of space to store so is cluttering up our back balcony most of the time, but still, loads of fun.
As we swim every day we are big fans of the multitude of inflatable toys on the market (and no, no sheep here) and this would be one of the more unusual ones we've had.

The Crazy Coil retails for about Sing$36. I picked this one up at Ocean Paradise in Tanglin Mall.

Monday, October 01, 2007

Marking The Corners

We are about to tackle Phase Two of Carl’s toilet training adventure – elimination of the night-time nappy. Originally we thought we’d do this a lot sooner but frankly, it’s been so blissful not having to deal with nappy issues since he became day-time toilet trained that we were a bit apprehensive about upsetting the equilibrium. However the time has come. In the evenings once he’s had his bath, brushed his teeth and is all soft and warm and snuggly and ready for bed I pop on his nappy then his pj’s (usually the ones with little monkeys eating bananas all over because he is, in fact, our little monkey).
However recently I’ve noticed that as he plonks himself down on his well-padded butt to rummage through the bookshelf for a book to read, he presses a hand to his groin to check that I really did put a nappy on, looks at me and asks “I’ve got a nappy, right?” then he gets this suspiciously blissful, distant look on his face. As his eyes almost cross with pleasure I realise that the little blighter is peeing. Now I know that his genes are stacked against him in trying to discourage this kind of behaviour. After all: he is a MALE.
Before those Y chromosome handicapped readers among you start protesting, consider this. Men love to pee on things. Like some feral instinct, this need to pee on the scenery as if marking their territory is deep seated inside most blokes. Don’t believe me? Try going camping with a guy. I guarantee the first thing he’ll do is whip out the Jolly Roger and christen the nearest tree with it. I’m not just slandering hubby here, I’ve seen countless guys do this. And you don’t see women peeing on in alleys or outside pubs, do you? (To be fair, Singaporean men don’t seem to do this but that may have more to do with the spotlessly clean state of the place and perhaps the potentially horrendous penalties involved if caught). So when Carl sighs with the sheer delight of being able to relieve his bladder without even having to walk a few steps to one of the five toilets in this apartment, I know getting rid of the night-time nappy is going to be an uphill struggle.
Then again, it’s not like we often get seven hours uninterrupted sleep, so maybe we can wait another couple of months.