Thursday, June 29, 2006

Superman Returns

The wife and I got to watch Superman Returns tonight, courtesy of free tickets her mom won and passed to us. Apparently everyone at this screening had won free tickets courtesy of Calvin Klein, so we had to sit through every single Calvin Klein ad there was before the movie started - a small price to pay for a free movie!

I have to say it brought back good memories: the original Superman was perhaps the first movie I remember watching (the other one was The Deer Hunter - which I remember being particularly disturbed by, what with the Russian Roulette and all). I would have been 5.

It's not the same, of course - it's now "truth, justice and all those things" rather than the American way, and if this new Superman seems more ... hesitant, and less certain of his heroism than Christopher Reeves', it's because we live in an age that's less certain of heroism.

But it was wonderful to sit in that cinema and hear the triumphant soundtrack again, which surely must be one of the great movie anthems of our time. Come to think of it, both those first movies from my childhood had one thing in common - great music by someone called John Williams, though confusingly it was two different people with the same name.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Supermen

On the one hand, it's good that Superman is finally returning.

On the other hand, it's just not right to see so many people wearing superman t-shirts. Little children wearing superman t-shirts are one thing. Grown up men wearing superman t-shirts are another. Middle-aged balding with a superman t-shirt is a bit much. Old men wearing superman t-shirts are quite ... up, up and way, way away.

Friday, June 23, 2006

Toys

When I pulled out my GPS to mark the dive sites in the Maldives, the dive instructor (nice Swedish lady) took one look at it and mumbled "... toys ...".

But of course, I love my toys - and I can now indulge in toys for my inner geek:

solio and tread case

The latest: the Solio solar-powered charger for my iPod. There's not much else to say about it - it's solar-powered and it charges my iPod, which is two of my favourite things at one go. Once I get the right connector, it'll charge my handphone as well. Too bad it can't charge my iBook as well. Ironically, I have also found that despite the sunniness of Singapore, the fact that I work in a shaded air-conditioned building means that I have to look around for sunny patches to position the thing. It takes quite long to charge, and I suspect it charges slower than an iPod eats batteries - however, since my iPod survives for a few days on a full charge (my rate of use is quite low - just the evening commute really), the Solio should be more than adequate for daily use.

For double the karmic bonus, of course, I had to get the Tread case for the Solio, made from the finest Columbian extruded polyvinyl Columbian car tires. Sorry, ex-tires. Now re-purposed for environmentally friendly duties: all the geeky goodness with half the fat guilt.

Desaru

I'd never been to Desaru till last week. Over the years I've heard it mentioned and talked about, but Desaru remained firmly off my physical and mental map until last week's planning retreat, which was held there, in a hotel that looked as if it had seen distinctly better days.

The Beach at Desaru

The beach is long, deserted, and quiet.

And the World Cup made its presence felt, even here.

the world cup at desaru

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Street Stickers

Graffiti Stickers

Orchard road is full of these stickers now, on lamp-posts, traffic lights, utility boxes. They're like the ones I saw in Birmingham more than 10 years ago - some are posters and bills in miniature, some advertise events and venues, some obviously part of a viral marketing campaign. I remember thinking then that you don't see this sort of thing in Singapore. Well, now you do.

I came home every summer to see trends and fashions from the previous year in the UK appearing on our streets. We were moving one step behind, always following. I don't think much has changed.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Twinkle and the World Cup


twinkle and the world cup, originally uploaded by Wahj.

Yes, it's World Cup fever, and even our cats can't resist joining in.

Here, Twinkle commits blatant handball in the match between the Netherlands and Ivory Coast. She's lucky the ref didn't see her.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Acrobats in the Shopping Mall


blue dancers, originally uploaded by Wahj.

Walking around Orchard Road last Sunday waiting for the wife, I wandered into a shopping mall into the middle of an acrobatics show. The dancers were suspended up in the airspace of the atrium, and I had a rare chance to catch some wonderful shots of them in mid-air by climbing up a few stories.

blue acrobat sequence

The show certainly wow-ed the kids who were sitting on the floor, necks craned upwards to stare at the gympasts.

acrobats 6

There were also more traditional (terrestrial) acrobatics on the stage below. Typically though, as all the former acrobats were female, all the performers here were male - traditional gender stereotypes, with the women all airy, weightless, floating grace, and the men doing sweaty earthbound handstands, vaults and somersaults.

Friday, June 16, 2006

Bus Adventures

I took the bus for the first time in a long time yesterday, coming back with my mother from a visit to my aunt. On the last leg of a 3 bus journey, it was crowded enough that both of us had to stand. My mom's fairly elderly. A lady gave up her seat to my mom, despite the fact that she herself was carrying a fair amount of groceries and probably could've used the seat. Her son, sitting opposite, promptly stood up and gave up his seat for his mom.

This is why it's so important for parents to practice more than they preach - because children learn from what you do, not what you say. That young man learned more about what living in a civic society involves from watching his mother than any textbook, lesson, or lecture could ever teach him.

Sunday, June 11, 2006

Maldives Part 5: Odds and Ends

As I write this, the rain is pouring down in Singapore with near-apocalyptic fervour. The contrast from the sunny Maldives we left not 24 hours ago could not be greater.

Some "spare change left" over from our Maldives trip:

The Garbage Boat

On such a small island as Kurumba, everything necessary for life has to be imported - including water. The corresponding necessity is that all garbage has to leave the island somehow, and this is how: the garbage boat. Apparently one of the islands is a dedicated landfill/incineration site, and this is where the garbage gets shipped. We may think we live on a small island, but this is really small.

Pruning the Coconut Tree

The word "kurumba" apparently means "coconut", and the island is certainly full of them. The resort staff were pruning them over the past few days (you might have noticed the garbage boat in the previous picture was loaded with a goodly amount of coconut fronds), by climbing up them with a machete and chopping away. Quite dizzying to watch.

Other odds and ends I will remember from this trip:
- the dive instructor on one dive reminding us to swim away from the reef into deeper blue water when we surfaced (so that the boat could reach us), and that we should surface in buddy pairs. She said "Remember: two by two, into the blue". I, of course, immediately heard "two by two, hands of blue".
- waiting in the departure lounge at Malé International Airport, with the Trinidad and Tobagos vs Sweden game on and everyone watching it, and having the ground staff remind us we had to board ... and actually thinking we could maybe finish watching the game before boarding the flight.
- discovering the distinctive tiny incisor marks of rat teeth on our hand soap in the bathroom ... and resolving to keep the bathroom door locked at at times!

Maldives Part 4: The Tropical Island Resort Bit

We didn't go to the Maldives just for diving. There's also the whole "getting away for a week to a tropical island in the sun" thing (although we left what is technically also a tropical island in the sun), and I know most people are probably more interested in this part of the story than the diving.

So here:

On the Beach

The deckchair on the beach just outside our room. Says it all, doesn't it?

And, for extra geeky points, here:



- courtesy of the ever wonderful Google Earth, the exact location of that deckchair.

Thursday, June 08, 2006

Maldives Part 3: Diving


Once we decided on the Maldives as a holiday destination, I thought it would be good to try and complete my scuba diver certification while on holiday. A few enquiries showed that I could complete my written theory tests in Singapore, and so I started my dive lessons at Kurumba from the first day.

The picture above (courtesy of Google Earth) maps out an overview of the dive sites I went to. The resort is in the middle, with Euro Divers (the company I dove with) marked out.

Southwest of Kurumba is Gundolhi, where we saw two sea turtles - one who swam away from us twice (we caught up with him: he must have thought we were stalking him or something) and one resting under a little overhang, who gazed at us with haughtily from the corner of his eye. You could almost imagine him sending thoughtwaves at us: "Go away. Go away."

Just northeast of Kurumba is Banana Reef, which was our last dive yesterday. We stepped off the boat into what I thought was black water, or a black bottom: it was a school of fish so dense that they obscured everything. At the end of the dive, we ascended through another school of fish: when they swam over us, they blotted out the sun and made us all look up and wonder what happened. While we made our 3 minute safety stop, the fish slowly got used to us and swam a bit closer, at points almost wrapping around us, like a living curtain

Coral Gardens was a lovely site for (you guessed it) corals. This was our first dive with Nitrox, which felt no different to me from normal air (but I don't exactly have a wide base of experience). K and I both took the Enriched Air Diver course at Euro Divers so we had to make two dives with Enriched Air to qualify. Close by are the Maagiri Caves - deep overhangs really, but packed full with schools of small fish, so it looked like they were spilling out like smoke. Maagiri Thila had a "family" of Lionfish, which I kept my distance from, amazingly beautiful as they were. At Back Faru, we saw 3 sea turtles, and a white-tipped reef shark lying on the bottom. I'm not even mentioning moray eels, because they were so thick on the ground at all sites that we stopped counting.

Post-script: We had our last dive yesterday, to allow for a 24 hour gap between our last dive and the flight. We almost went to Manta Point instead of Banana Reef, but didn't: the dive group that went out this afternoon did go to Manta Point in the end, and saw Manta Rays! Sigh.

Maldives Part 2: Tornadoes and Rainbows


Tornado, originally uploaded by Wahj.

The two things that stand out, meterologically, about this Maldives trip.

The first was a rainbow we saw after one of the afternoon dives (think it was on the 6th). We had a brief shower at 4-ish, and the sun was shining brightly, so I was scanning the sky for a rainbow. The dive instructor asked me what I was looking for, and I explained to him that a rainbow, under these conditions, was inevitable - visible sun low in the sky, and rain had to cause a rainbow I was walking away when he called after me and pointed out the rainbow that did, eventually, appear after all.

The second was this little tornado. It's hard to see it from the photograph - the handphone camera has its limits, and I've enhanced the bit of the photo where the tornado for higher contrast. In real life, the tornado was very clear indeed, hovering over one of the nearby islands. We're more used to seeing waterspouts in this region, but since the twister-bit never touched land or sea, and never drew water up, I suppose "tornado" might be a more accurate descriptor than "waterspout".

Maldives, Part 1: Arrival

Things you don't want to hear from your pilot just before a flight:

"Ladies and gentlemen, this is your Captain speaking. On behalf of the crew, I'd like to welcome you to Singapore Airlines flight ... er .... flight ... SQ ... [rustling sound of paper] ... SQ .... SQ ... 452, flight SQ 452 to the Maldives"

Not the most confidence-inspiring thing when your pilot can't remember the name of his flight. Nevertheless, the flight itself went fine. Arriving at the airport, the wife and I had plenty of time to admire the script used in Maldivian writing ...


...because we stood almost an hour in the queue. Nevertheless, once that was done with, we speedily got on our boat (the first time I've been on a boat transfer where the boat has cushy leather seats in an airconditioned interior) and arrived at Kurumba.


Once we got to Kurumba, we discovered that the next day was World Environment Day, to be marked by tree planting (something very familiar to Singaporeans) and reef cleaning, with resort guests invited to participate. We both signed up for it, with the wife joining the scuba divers and me joining the snorklers cleaning the lagoon, since I only just started my scuba course that very day (more about the diving in another post).

For the first 15 minutes, I despaired of finding any rubbish to clean up at all. That lagoon was clean - and any foreign matter that was there had already been grown-over so much by the marine life that it was better to leave it where it was. I swam round scouring the bottom with my eyes finding nothing except sea cucumbers, and some very irritated fish.

About 20 minutes in, a consolation prize floated right into my face - a small piece of torn plastic. Aha - now I could return to shore with my head held high, with proof that I actually cleaned up something, rather than, say, just snorkling around in a beautiful tropical lagoon having fun.

The real jackpot came a few minutes later though, in the form of a shoe. An entire, whole, heavy-duty workman's shoe drifting along the bottom. Jackpot. Real trash - something worthy to be cleaned-up.

The problem started there: for the snorklers cleaning the lagoon, the single trash bag had been given to a nice German lady in a kayak. She was supposed to roam around the lagoon, and we were supposed to deposit our rubbish with her. I lost track of her while running my search pattern, and once I started looking for her, I realised she was off on the other side of the lagoon. Failing to establish eye contact, I spent the next 5 minutes with a shoe in one hand, a small piece of torn plastic in the other, finning like mad towards a kayak that seemed to be always moving away from me. My quota of exercise for the day.

We got a t-shirt each (picture above), and spiffy certificates (which I'm using as a mousepad right now) with our names on it, proving to the world how environmentally conscious we were.

Report from the Maldives

Maldivian beach

We've been in the Maldives 4 days now. It's as lovely as they say it is. I'll let these two photos, one of the beach and the other of the many ponds around the resort, tell their own stories.

Constellation

The resort is lovely, and the staff are as friendly as the prices are high. If you're wondering why I haven't blogged for so long, it's because Internet access here costs USD$20.

Per day.

Anyway, more to come in while - stories of pilots who forgot their flight numbers, of diving and sea turtles, of tornadoes and rainbows, and snorkling around the lagoon with a shoe in one hand trying to catch up with a German lady in a kayak.

Sunday, June 04, 2006

You Are Here

We'll be here for the next week - a nice little island (atoll?) in the Maldives, so small you can walk around it in 5 minutes (says the father in law, who's been there before). In Google Earth (courtesy of which the picture above) the perimeter of the island comes up to a nice 1.4 km. So yes, one of the first things I'm going to do when I get there is walk around it.

According to their website, they have high-speed internet access, so I'll try and upload pictures along the way. There's packing to be done, so I'll post again in a while, and let the picture above do the talking.

Face-off


face off, originally uploaded by Wahj.

On the left: the stray cat that lives downstairs
On the right: someone's pet cat that was roaming around (he had a collar, and I think he's one of the children of the stray we called Radar, but that's another story. Radar's not been seen since 2002)

They may look relaxed in the photo, but what happened was that these two met, hissed, snapped at each other, and finally settled down on the corridor in an impasse, neither giving way to each other. There was real tension in the air, but cats do this very well, lying down in deceptively sphinx-like calm while they keep a wary eye on the other one.

Watching the two of them, I had an internal Attenborough monologue running all the time - I could hear his wheezy, slightly breathless voice going "and so - as the sun sets over the Serengeti - we see - these two magnificent specimens - have settled down - to watch each other - warily". It's a sign of which generation I come from that it's Attenborough's, rather than Steve Irwin's voice that I hear.

Saturday, June 03, 2006

Haunted eyes


haunted eyes, originally uploaded by Wahj.

I seem to be photographing into a lot of stray cats recently.

This little fella was wandering amongst the tables at a coffeeshop near the Ubi Driving Centre. He had such a haunted look in his(her?) eyes.

When I pointed the camera at him, he just froze - there was so much fear and anxiety in him. What you see is him frozen solid with fear, and he remained like that the whole time my camera was pointed at him.

I took several shots of him just standing there looking straight into the camera with that look that tells you everything about the kind of life he's had living on the streets. You can't see it (because I've desaturated the photo), but he has almost the exact colouring of Iffy - black with hints of brown under the fur, and a white flash on the muzzle.

Thursday, June 01, 2006

A proud mother


A proud mother, originally uploaded by Wahj.

I came across this stray cat and her lovely kitten yesterday in a school I was visiting.

She was remarkably patient and trusting with the humans swarming around the box and coo-ing at her baby - most mother cats (feral cats at least) are understandably suspicious of humans, and protective of their little ones. The fact that she was well looked after, with food and shelter, probably explains her relaxed and friendly attitude towards humans. The kitten was extremely cute, though she (he?) was the only one there - hopefully the others were adopted by some of the students and re-homed.