Friday, April 29, 2005

Singapore Swing Part VIII

At the end of this post, we arrived at the dragon fountain after disembarking the aerial tram to Sentosa Island.

Singapore, a former British colony, was guarded by a garrison of British soldiers. One of their installations was on Sentosa Island and it is named Fort Siloso. The garrison has long since departed but Fort Siloso is maintained as a tourist attraction. One day I was walking near my hotel and came upon a group of impeccably dressed sailors in Navy whites: short pants, dress uniform shirts, and knee length socks with garters. The uniforms looked a bit unusual to me, and then it dawned on me; these are not American sailors, these are British sailors on liberty. Alas, I have no photo of them.

When I took the monorail to Fort Siloso I was properly greeted by this British gentleman:

He was standing in front of two impressive large caliber cannons:

The caption on a nearby marker reads:
These Japanese guns were found in Singapore's Mandai jungle by officer cadets of the Singapore Armed Forces Training Institute in 1966. It is not known why the guns were there but they were presumably installed by the Japanese during their Occupation of Singapore (1942-1945). The breech markings indicate that they were designed in 1914 as coastal artillery and manufactured in the Kure Arsenal in 1923. They were mounted here in 1976.
If you have seen the 1997 movie Paradise Road starring Glenn Close, you have a sense of the occupation period. Incidentally, the opening scene in Paradise Road is set in the Raffles Hotel in Singapore. The Raffles Hotel is a gorgeous nineteenth century hotel near the heart of the downtown business district. In fact, the Raffles Hotel is directly adjacent to the hotel in which I stayed, The Stamford.

Next in the Series: Part IX

Photos Copyright 2005 by Impacted Wisdom Truth

Wednesday, April 27, 2005

Singapore Swing Part VII

Adjacent to Singapore is Sentosa Island. It is a beautiful place, with a museum, zoo, golf courses, and beautiful beaches. There are two main ways to get to the island, one being a ferry and the other being an aerial tramway. I decided to try each one, and so I took the aerial tramway across and the ferry on the way back.

The four pictures below are taken from the tram. The last one is on Sentosa Island. The tram car had windows, so you will see reflections in some of the photos.

Looking forward toward the tram terminal on Sentosa Island. Note the ships at anchor in the far distance awaiting either to offload or to load cargo. Also note the cruise ships at anchor between the mainland and the island.

Looking out one side. This way is back toward the downtown business district.

Looking the other way, a nice view of the shipping channel:

Upon disembarking, one is immediately greeted by a water-breathing dragon. If memory serves, the mouth is animated and opens and closes. But do not quote me on that one.

Next in the Series: Part VIII

Photos Copyright 2005 by Impacted Wisdom Truth

Tuesday, April 26, 2005

Singapore Swing Part VI

As I related in this post, the local shopping mall was a dark place. Now, there was a US style shopping mall in the base of the hotel, but both it and the hotel were quite Western in style.

However, the "dark" shopping mall was more of a Singapore syle mall. Below is a photo I took of a Muslim family during one of my excursions to the "dark" mall. You can see in the background how unlit the interior is--and I brightened the photo so the family would be appropriately visible.

They were simply moving along, attending to their little girl, chatting amiably. The dour expression on the husband is misleading, as all were quite friendly to me. I guess he felt he should be properly stern for purposes of the photograph. Click on the photos for a larger version.

This last photo of The People of Singapore is of a stonemason/bricklayer gentleman. Behind him is a building comprised of small shops, one of which was a shop specializing in French perfumes. He was off working by himself this day.

Next in the Series: Part VII

Photos Copyright 2005 by Impacted Wisdom Truth

Monday, April 25, 2005

Singapore Swing Part V

There was a strange little shopping mall near my hotel. By "strange" I mean it was not at all like the shopping malls to which I am accustomed in the United States. Here we are used to wide open spaces, fountains, marble floors, and brass sculptures. This mall was dark with tiny shops with goods stacked floor to ceiling.

The shopkeepers are an invariably friendly lot, and not pushy. If you describe what you are looking for, a shopkeeper will instantly produce several options that will meet your needs—as if by sleight of hand. They are proud of what they have and want to sell it to you. And given the positive exchange rate to the US dollar, I was more than happy to pay their prices.

I purchased a Phillips portable CD player (not the boom box type) for the equivalent of $150.00 US dollars. That was in January 1997, before the prices for such things tumbled here in the US. Of course, iPod players did not yet exist. So if you wanted to listen to your CDs on the go, you either lugged a boom box or bought such a portable CD player .

The CD player came with a home power adapter, car power adapter, earbud headphones, and two battery powered bookshelf speakers. I could not touch that in the US at that time for less than $230.00. The only disadvantage was that the home power adapter had Singapore-style round prongs on it. However, I have an international power conversion kit, so I can still use the power adapter here in the US.

Click Here and scroll down about one-third of the way down to see a picture that looks identical to the supplied adapter.

But the photo is not about buying consumer products. While walking to the mall entrance underneath the overhang, I happened upon a group of four boys that appeared to be in a rock band. I paused before them and asked to take their picture. With a shrug and a quick glance at each other, they assumed a pose.

But there are two dramas being played out here.

The two boys on the right are the bass player (I think that black case held a bass) and the acoustic guitar player. The John Lennon shirt, the cross, and the long hair on the bass player said to me he was dedicated to his music. The acoustic guitar player with the beret cap and striped shirt was also into the whole thing. The rock star “attitude” those two boys assumed amuses me to no end.

Yet look at the other two boys. Something else entirely is happening there. The boy in the blue shirt flung his left hand up in front of his face at the very last split second before I took the photo. The boy in the white shirt laughed at him, and the photo catches him at that slice of time just before.

So why this dichotomy? Why did the blue-shirted boy cover his face? I can only speculate, but I have a pretty good idea. For his protection I will keep it to myself.

Of course, the blue-shirt boy did not have to be in the photo, and I would not have put up any argument if he declined to be in it. He posed at first, then changed his mind and suddenly covered his face.

Two boys acting cool, one acting paranoid, and one amused. It's a nice little drama, even if it is only a snap of four boys walking down a mall sidewalk.

Next in the Series: Part VI

Photos Copyright 2005 by Impacted Wisdom Truth

Saturday, April 23, 2005

Singapore Swing Part IV

Pictures of buildings and scenary are an interesting part of any place, but what is truly unique is a nation's people. I found Singaporeans to be a friendly lot, and they were not shy about letting this stranger photograph them.

The next several photos I will post are the people of Singapore. All I had to do was walk about and ask if I could take their picture--and I was never once refused.

I awakened one morning and thought I would go for a walk and get a pastry at a small French-style shop near my hotel. You see that pastry shop in the background of this photo, named Delifrance. They had tarts, sandwiches, and all manner of other delightful treats. I especially took a liking to their blueberry tarts--thin flaky crust with a blueberry filling, and nothing like I have yet found here in the U.S.

As I exited the deli, I was greeted by the sight of four girls walking down the street together. They obviously had been friends for a long time, and were chatting and laughing together on their way somewhere, probably shopping. I asked if I could take a picture with them, and they agreed without question. I held out my camera to one of the girls. She seemed disappointed to not be in the picture but agreed to take it anyway. That made me feel both happy and a little sad at the same time.

Singapore is a diverse place, as you can see from the photo. The girl on my right is Indian, the girl to my left is Muslim, and the girl to my far left is Chinese. I thought about cropping this wide-angle photo, but decided not to because it sets the scene in context. Though there was a French style pastry shop there, you can see that there is also an American fast food place, Long John Silvers (of all things) right next door. Looking back on it, I am surprised to recall that the Muslim girl, though wearing the modest head covering, was also wearing bright red lipstick and blue eye shadow.

Next in the Series: Part V

Photo Copyright 2005 by Impacted Wisdom Truth

Thursday, April 21, 2005

Singapore Swing Part III

The lofty perch of my 38th floor balcony is the vantage point for the picture at the bottom of this post. The church is St. Andrews, which is affiliated with the Church of England. Singapore is a former British colony and Christianity is certainly not absent, though not dominant. Click here to see additional pictures of St. Andrews (not taken by me). Click the "Next Section" box at the bottom of the linked page to see additional photos.

The picture below (the one I did take) shows the landscaping that makes the church grounds an island of green in a sea of concrete. The church is 19th Century and stands in stark contrast to the modern buildings in the immediate vicinity. It is difficult to see from such a faraway shot, but a black wrought-iron fence surrounds the entire property. Note how gleamingly white the church is compared to the buildings in the background--and the photo does not do it justice. In person the white is even more spectacular. I was told that the paint on the church is made with crushed eggshells--an actual eggshell white. It reflected the morning sun brilliantly.

So here is the picture that I took from my balcony. Click the picture for a larger one.

Next in the Series: Part IV

Photo (except from are Copyright 2005 by Impacted Wisdom Truth

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

Singapore Swing Part II

This photo is a view from the top of the former Westin Stamford, now called Swissotel The Stamford. Westin sold the hotel a few years ago to Swissotel. At the time I stayed there it was the tallest hotel in the world (perhaps it still it, I do not know). I highly recommend this hotel to anyone traveling to Singapore.

On the seventieth (70th) floor was a restaurant called the Compass Rose. It has since been remodeled and renamed Jaan. The one thing that has not changed is the view. This photo has been slightly enhanced to add contrast. It was taken on a foggy day and the original photo is much less clear than this enhanced version.

As a hotel guest I was allowed to go to the head of the long line to the elevators for the seafood buffet lunch. Everything in Singapore (at least for travelers) is quite expensive. The lunch buffet cost $45.00 (Sing $), and drinks are extra. A glass of 7-Up was $5.00 each. However, what a lunch it was! The buffet had sushi, grilled fish, shrimp, prawns, scallops, lobster, and crab, but to name a few things. The dessert table alone would have shamed any buffet in Las Vegas.

Next in the Series: Part III

Photo Copyright 2005 by Impacted Wisdom Truth

Monday, April 18, 2005

Singapore Swing

Back in January of 1997 I made a business trip to Singapore for a former employer. My task was to install a SAM unit at a Seagate facility, and train the employees on its use. Seagate is a computer hard drive manufacturer. A SAM unit is a Static Attitude Measurement system that is used in quality control. It measures the static attitude of a head gimbal assembly, the part of a hard drive that reads and writes to the hard disc.

I spent Sunday to Thursday in Singapore, and it was one of the most enjoyable treks of my life. Here I begin by posting installment one in a series of photos taken, in roughly chronological order. I took my camera of course, not knowing if I would ever return to Singapore again. As of this posting I have not returned but it is on my list of trips to complete.

Some of the photos I took (or had taken by a friendly passerby) make me laugh today. Not because the photos themselves are funny, but for the fact that I took them at all. My intent was to document the whole trip, start to finish. If I am accused of being a typical googly-eyed tourist, I plead guilty as charged.

The first photo in Singapore was taken just as I got off the plane. I asked my stewardess to be in the photo with me, and this adorable girl kindly agreed. She is wearing that trademark uniform of a Singapore Airlines stewardess.

Next in the Series: Part II

Photo Copyright 2005 by Impacted Wisdom Truth

Wednesday, April 13, 2005

Gnat and the Headphones of Doom

My favorite humorist/writer is James Lileks, who writes a column called the Backfence for The Minneapolis Star Tribune, and he writes for Newhouse News Service. He has authored several books on US pop culture, such as The Gallery of Regrettable Food and Interior Desecrations.

He also has a fun website, featuring such collections as The Institute of Official Cheer and Bleatophany. Bleatophany is a collection of songs he created on his home computer, often incorporating sound bites from Star Trek episodes. James is one creative individual. He is married to his attorney wife and they have a 4 1/2 year old daughter named Natalie, whom he affectionately calls Gnat.

I go to his website on weekdays to read his weekday feature, called The Bleat. Lately he has taken to calling it the "semi regular sporadic" because deadline pressures are impinging on his time available to write for The Bleat. Often Gnat is the topic of his Bleat entries, and his stories of the joy and love in which he is raising his Gnat are some of the most heartwarming stuff I have read. Today's entry left me nearly breathless with laughter. Below is James' entry for today:
April 13 update: All work, no play, etc: I was sent a sign. In the middle of today’s huge print & edit session the doorbell rang. The dog barked. UPS. A box from Amazon, with all the movies I intend to watch after the book’s done – and Doom 3. I’d promised myself I would play it when the book was done. Well . . .no. Stick to the goals.

But. By the end of the night I’d finished printing everything I could print. Sure, I could work on the last few pages, but I’d been going since the early AM, and the day’s work had included two columns for my day jobs. Surely it wouldn’t hurt to see what the game was like.

I know I’ve mentioned this before, ad nauseum, but one of the moments in gaming I’ll never forget was in ’94, when the first Doom came out. Second level. The warehouse. Flickering lights. Monsters panting in the darkness. If you played the game, you know what I mean. Compared to modern games it’s practically a Muybridge strip, but at the time it was pretty cool, and genuinely unnerving.

Well. This is worse. And by worse I mean better. It’s the same old story, those careless scientists opening up portals to Hell again – will they ever learn? What’s the point? Do they think they can get monopolize the tourist traffic? It’s just like Half-Life, inasmuch as you spent the first part of the game walking deep down into the complex, then something goes Horribly Wrong, and you have to fight your way out. Been there fragged that. What sets it apart are the graphics, the claustrophobic design, the darkness, the audio. Pretty harrowing, if you’re in the mood to be harrowed.

And I was. I turned all the lights off. I put on the headphones. I was down in a dark corridor, hearing the screams of the Marines on the communications systems, the bangs on the wall, the groan of bending metal; I had my shotgun. I stepped towards the stairs, looking up at the shadows swinging on the wall, expecting to see some hellspawn feasting on the entrails of a scientist, when the door opened and out came the zombies. I fell back, crouched, pressed into a recess, waiting, waiting, waiting –

All the while, unbeknownst to me, Gnat had entered my room. She came up behind me and grabbed my headphones and ripped them off my head, and ladies and gentlemen: I jumped 20 feet and cried out the Name of Our Savior with such force that plaster wafted from the beams above.

So is Doom 3 scary?

Why yes. Yes, it is.
James' story brought to mind one of my own from the mid 1970s when I was about thirteen years old. Except the culprit was one of our family cats; his name was Ralph.

Our family home at that time was just south of Battle Creek, Michigan, and it had a furnished basement. It was a combination party room/family room with shag carpeting (red), fake rock paneling (it was the ‘70s), one of those inverted-funnel shaped stand-alone fireplaces, a full bar (black slate Formica) with fridge and sink, comfortable chairs (black, with faux fur covering), a couch (green vinyl), and a television set.

The house did not have air conditioning, and during the summer the basement was a good fifteen degrees cooler than the upstairs. There was a thermal change layer one could feel when reaching the third or fourth step from the bottom of the stairs, a feeling of coolness that first greeted one’s legs when descending the steps. I spent many hours in the summer reclining on the couch in that cool basement watching TV. In addition to the furnished area there was a furnace room with a small workshop. The furnace room/workshop was, of course, unfurnished.

The basement ceiling was one of interlocking tiles, but not the aluminum-frame drop ceiling type. We had to remove a ceiling tile occasionally, getting access to such things such as TV antenna cables and our telephone-wiring junction. My dad had removed one such basement ceiling tile to route an extra telephone line to somewhere inside the house. The tiles were a pain to remove and replace, so dad had left out the tile he had removed because he had not yet completed the job. The absent tile, fatefully, was right above the couch where I laid while watching TV.

Ralph the cat liked to go mousing in the space under the upstairs floor but above the basement ceiling, meaning he was actually walking on top of the interlocking tiles of the basement ceiling—silently and out of sight. He could gain access to the ceiling space via an open ceiling area in the basement workshop by jumping up on stuff piled in the workshop.

So there I was one night, reclining on the couch, watching an intense television program. It was a TV miniseries that aired in 1976 called Sybil, which starred Sally Field as a young woman with multiple personalities. During one particularly intense episode, Sybil was experiencing some kind of flashback. Prominent in that flashback sequence were multiple close-ups of a snarling, hissing cat, filmed through a fisheye lens and looking directly at the camera. It was very intense and quite scary.

I was totally engrossed in that nightmarish cat scene on the TV. My heart was pounding, and…MEOOOROWWW!!! Ralph suddenly stuck his head through that empty tile space above the couch and let out a loud whelp. I think I levitated a full twelve inches off that couch. DANG that cat scared me. He was mousing above the ceiling as I was watching TV. Apparently he heard the cat from the TV, and followed the sound to the open space where the ceiling tile had been removed...directly above me.

James is a far better writer than me, and could have probably written that with a lot more zip. But there you have it.

Here is Ralph, The Scare Cat:

Photo Copyright 2005 by Impacted Wisdom Truth

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