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Return of the Haze

The haze is back in Singapore and no one is happy about it. World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) put up these bus stop ads to remind us why. What a great way to inspire us to check the ingredients in the products and foods we buy and purchase less palm oil.

Image

Check out my original post about the haze here: http://texasonthames.com/2013/06/18/the-sky-is-burning/

You may remember that last year I was a little clueless when it came to Chinese New Year. I ended up ringing in the year of the snake with a last minute trip to Kuala Lumpur. My friend, Giselle, was barely more than a stranger to me at the time yet invited me along with her and her husband anyway.

Doesn’t that seem the nature of life here in Singapore? You meet someone and a week later you are hauling your bag on to a bus and settling down next to them for an adventure. Sometimes you part ways at the end and keep in touch as a formality on Facebook. In other cases, as is the case of Giselle, I was happy to make a friend to keep.

Our agenda was relaxed with a few things in mind, including Thean Hou Temple in its full New Year glory.

Thean Hou Temple

Thean Hou Temple

Thean Hou Temple

Heh, this sign made me laugh. By the end of day 1 we had made a game out of trying to get a taxi that would use it’s meter. We took turns approaching taxis and the one who got a driver that would use the meter won the round. Generally one out of every 4 taxi drivers would oblige.

taxi

Giselle studied art, so a trip to the Islamic Arts Museum was in order. The architecture of the building was a highlight.

Islamic Arts Museum

Onto the charming and chaotic Batu caves!

Batu Caves

atbatucaves

inbatucaves

And of course, a trip to KL would not be complete without a view of the Petronas Towers.

petronastowers

Although there are quite a few sights to see in KL, one draw of the city is their affordable 4 and 5 star hotels. Might as well spend some time enjoying the facilities and take things slow. My travelling companions booked early and were able to get a deal at a top hotel. I, on the other hand, was last minute and had to go a bit more budget. With a pool like this, I didn’t feel a bit bad about the extra money saved.

Hotel

Impiana KLCC rooftop pool

2014 introduces the year of the horse. Once again, I found myself without plans. This time due to tentative work-related commitments. While husband and myself contemplated last minute bookings, we opted in the end for a staycation spent with new and old friends in similar situations. Sometimes its just nice to not rush around.

One thing remains the same between CNY of the snake and the horse: so.many.mandarins.

Sign of the times

I was in the US recently taking on some new work. Two things really struck me about being back in the US. The first was ERMAHGAWD, WINTER. Apparently I forgot what that felt like. The second thing was how the political atmosphere had changed. Marriage equality, healthcare, guns. It’s all happening. I submit this picture I took while entering the office as evidence.

Dear America, don't bring your guns to work

Dear America, don’t bring your guns to work

So strange to see these signs around, and even stranger that other people didn’t think they were strange. Or maybe 3+ years abroad has made me the strange one. Now there’s a philosophical question for you.

Gillman Barracks

I had heard there was an art scene in Singapore, but I had yet to run into it and hence, yet to believe it.

Afterall, Singapore is the country that jailed Samantha Lo, Sticker Lady. It wasn’t the arrest of Samantha Lo itself that surprised me, It was what I interpreted as a lack of understanding of her art form in the local community. I had heard people make statements that they were bewildered by her actions. Art? No, she’s just crazy, was the common comment.

I was relieved to know that I was wrong. There is more-than-just-relevant art in Singapore and it doesn’t take much scratching below the surface to find it. In fact, I saw it Friday night at the Gillman Barracks.

I was tempted to check out the series of art galleries when I heard one was housing Ai Wei Wei’s first solo exhibition in Southeast Asia. Husband and I went to his sunflower seeds exhibition at the Tate Modern  in January 2011 and I was curious to find out what else this famous Chinese contemporary artist and dissident had up his sleeve.

His piece at Michael Janssen gallery focused on the ongoing tainted milk formula problems in his home country. I could feel his disappointment, the frustration associated with wanting your country to be more, to be better than it is. I think we all have those moments, but compound that with 81 days spent in jail held by your own government without any official charges being filed and you either come out with your soul crushed or more vigor than ever.

What I found profoundly different from his sunflower seed installation at Tate Modern was how accessible his work felt in Singapore. The sunflower seeds at the Tate were designed to be interactive, but ultimately had to be placed off limits due to safety issues. The dust created from walking on the seeds was creating a health hazard. But here were the milk canisters. Right there. I could have kicked them if I wanted to. (I didn’t)

Ai Wei Wei's Baby Formula at the Michael Janssen gallery

Ai Wei Wei’s Baby Formula at the Michael Janssen gallery

We moved on to check out some of the other galleries. As a part of the Gillman Barracks first anniversary, the galleries were open late. We weren’t sure which one to check out next, so we followed the path of free wine.

Andy sips wine and contemplates art at the Gillman Barrack galleries

Andy sips wine and contemplates art at the Gillman Barrack galleries

More

Anthropos: Navigating Human Depth in Thai and Singapore Contemporary Art Curated by Loredana Pazzini-Paraccian

Anthropos at Sundaram Tagore Gallery Singapore

The studios began to close, but we were lucky to stumble upon a small street party where up and coming Singaporean musician Charlie Lim was performing solo.

Charlie Lim at the Gillman Barrack's 1st anniversary party

Charlie Lim at the Gillman Barrack’s 1st anniversary party

Gillman Barracks street party

Gillman Barracks street party

We contemplated food at the Naked Finn, but the lines encouraged us to go elsewhere. The food looked fantastic, so it will be something to look forward to on our next visit.

Ai Wei Wei’s exhibit continues until October 6, 2013 at the Micheal Janssen Gallery,

address: 9 Lock Road, #02-21, Singapore 108937

opening hours:
Tue to Sat 12pm-7pm

Sun 12pm-6pm
Closed on Mondays & Public holidays

Apropos of Bukowski

Hi. Been busy.

Please enjoy this Charles Bukowski poem I recently discovered and love.

I hope you enjoy the space.

xx

no help for that / Charles Bukowski

there is a place in the heart that

 will never be filled

a space

and even during the

 best moments

 and

 the greatest

 times

we will know it

we will know it

 more than

 ever

there is a place in the heart that

 will never be filled

and

we will wait

 and

 wait

in that

 space.

~ You Get So Alone At Times That It Just Makes Sense, 1986

Monkey Versus Swan

I am practicing yoga in one of the gazebos at the Singapore Botanical Gardens with Monique in the morning. We are just transitioning into cobra pose when I hear her say “Is that a… monkey?”

I quickly become alert to my surroundings. “WHERE?” It took me several months to spot my first monkey in Singapore, but since then they seem to pop up more frequently.

Monkey versus swans at the Singapore Botanical Gardens

Monkey versus swan at the Singapore Botanical Gardens

This one was trudging it’s hand through the sand and muck looking for food. Obviously, the swans did not approve. I felt honored to witness such a show down and was fascinated, alongside many others.

Monique didn’t share my sentiment. “It’s scary to me that they are so happy to encroach upon human space,” she said.

Monique had previously lived near Bukit Timah Nature Reserve, where they are known to be a problem. They steal food, break things and even sneak into people’s homes. Being fed by curious humans only serves to exacerbate the problem as they get used to human food and start to associate things like plastic bags with food sources.

The Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority of Singapore is carrying out what they call “monkey control operations.” Monkeys that encroach on land occupied by humans are relocated or euthanized. Sadly, euthanization is more  common due to the tribal nature of monkeys. Tribes are usually wary of strangers and not likely to accept newcomers.

Animal rights groups are making a case for electric fencing to keep the monkeys at bay, but I wonder if Singaporeans are willing to accept this extra cost and responsibility, unless of course it’s instated by the government.

But to someone who isn’t from an area with these creatures roaming freely, the sight of a monkey is quite exciting and new. I see it on my friend’s faces and remember it in myself when I saw my first monkey on a trip to India five years ago. To someone who has seen monkeys before, seeing them interact with other animals like this is still quite cool. Um, that is unless you’ve had them go through your trash, like Monique.

My life has become The Nature Channel.

Editor’s note: read more about monkey problems in Singapore here and here.

Wash your hands

The other day I noticed this odd sign in the office I sometimes work from. It has detailed instructions on how to wash your hands. I mean, I get it if you want to put up a sign reminding people to do it, but are there really people out there that don’t know how?

I apologize for the blurriness, but have you ever tried to discretely take a photo in a busy office bathroom?

An expat friend of mine and I send each other photos of things we think are unusual in Singapore, so naturally this was immediately sent to her. She replied with one of her own. No tutorial but a less than gentle hand washing reminder from an angry cartoon.

Have you???

Have you???

The next day I’m in the hawker market ordering a juice. I am waiting for the juice lady to finish dealing with the trash. She has her fist happily plunging ahead into a bag full of waste for a full 3-4 minutes of my waiting time, before she comes to serve me. I order my juice and patiently wait for her to a.) wash her hands and b.) prepare my juice.

You would guess it, she never took care of part a. She did not even bother to change or remove her glove. When I asked her if she was going to wash her hands, she pretended to not understand me, alienating me with a funny look on her face. What was the strange foreigner asking of her?? Surely it was too difficult and taxing! Let’s intimidate her by furrowing our brow and pretending not to understand why she might be upset or flailing about across the counter. Another lady, a nice one who communicates well in Singlish, had to tell her what was going on. Her hands. The germs. The glove. The trash. My juice.

She leaves halfway through making the juice and another lady takes over. What to do now? Take the juice half way made by trash glove lady or walk away thirsty?

I did not get a juice that day. I also did not get diphtheria, so you win some you lose some.

The takeaway to this post seems to be two-fold.

1.) The wash your hand signs in the bathroom may not be so silly after all. Perhaps it’s not a ritual everyone is accustomed to.

2.) Do not buy juice from the juice stand at Lau Pa Sat.

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