Friday, September 23, 2011

The Shoeman of Bukit Batok

Quirky things happen all around us but at times we just don't open our eyes wide enough to notice it.
But lately I did notice a peculiar activity going on just below my apartment.

Each morning, an old man carts a large box containing numerous pairs of footwear.
Meticulously, he lays it all out on the lawn and suns the shoes till evening when he returns to collect them back.

The footwear seem to be of all types from sneakers, to cleats, to boots, sandals and pumps, to dress shoes.
And it appears to be different each day.

What is he doing? Where does he get these from? and why sun them every day and for the whole day long? Won't they dry out and crack under the burning heat?
I have yet to reach that stage of curiosity to approach him.

Till then, here's a short clip of him whom I shall call The Shoeman of Bukit Batok.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Dealing with mid life crisis.

I guess I am at that age when we "senior citizens" start showing symptoms of a mid life crisis!
No, I haven't considered buying a flashy red Mercedes yet, but lately I was thinking hard about buying a top end Nikon. Whatever for I don't know, but it's been nagging me. I am really doing all right with my point & shoot Olympus.

Another symptom is nostalgia.
I keep thinking about my younger days and start reminiscing. sigh, sigh.
I guess it must be a crisis after all.

Today I dug out some of my old, ancient, vintage kodachromes.
It's sad to see these fading fast and so I decided to digitized as much as I can.
For posterity.
My grandchildren will get a blast from it, if my son ever decides to make the jump.

I saved all these into a folder called "OMG! hahahaha."
That's because I know that will be the reaction from anyone who sees it.

Here's a sample.

That's me on the right with my M16.
We were having field training somewhere in Tampines long before the area became a public housing estate.  Hey! during my time we were still under the Israeli instructors and army life was a real torture.

If I come across any more gems, I'll see if it is fit to be published, who knows.
OMG! ha ha ha ha ha.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Teaching an old dog to speak american

For the past 192 years, Singapore has been using the British manner of English, or what we would say, "the Queen's English" or "BBC English". This has served us well, being the only nation in SE Asia, to have English as the main medium for official communication and work.

Last week, our elder statesman LKY, again stirred the hornet's nest by proposing that "it is inevitable.. to teach and recognize American English". The jury is still out on his call.

Inevitable or not, the American pervasiveness in all things today cannot be dismissed easily. On the Internet, English is really americanized. And my own belief is that sooner rather than later, American English will supersede all forms of communication, be it via the Internet, the airwaves or the media.

Thus, I tend to agree on this point with the ex-minster, who has been known at least to have some foresight now and then. Therefore, from today on, I will also try and convert to using the American form in my blogs.

Switching from british english to american english is not just simply a change in the form of the words.
It is not as easy as you think! 
Saying gas instead of petrol, elevators instead of lifts, apartments instead of flats does not make your thoughts american. It involves not only spelling but also the nuances of syntax and grammer. Phrases in british english are different from american english.

Though the lines dividing these are getting blurred as worldwide communication become much easier, there are subtle differences that can tell that I was not raised speaking or writing american english.
This is the dead giveaway, for which, I hope you will forgive as I progressively take this journey of learning new tricks.

There are grammatical differences in the way the british and the americans structure their sentences, although you may not have noticed. For example, collective nouns are used differently, we say "Manchester are the winners of the match", the American will phrase it as "Manchester is the winner of the game".

Thus, it will take a long time before all the subtleties are ironed out and my blog will be 'americanized'
From young I have been schooled in british english and it will take a great conscious effort to cross the Atlantic. My sister Jen had already made the transition decades ago, and hopefully can help point out whenever I unconsciously lapsed back into the Queen's English.

The other reason why I decided to make the switch is simply because all the tools on my Mac are in American English. The spell check, the keyboard, the nomenclature of working with the system are all easier, rather than having to correct the american spelling back to british spelling. Make sense doesn't it?

So from now on, you'll see me type learned instead of learnt, center instead of centre and dropping the u from honor, etc, etc. (is et cetra typically british?) The change will only apply in my written blogs. I'll start with spelling and eventually get around to the phrases.

If you think it's just a change of spelling, I'd suggest you read this primer from wikipedia regarding the differences in American and British English.

God help us all!

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Reminder of my old army days

I was on my way to Kampong Glam for a photo shoot when I stopped by Alexandra Village for a bite.
Across the street, I noticed a building that immediately brought back memories of my old army days.
Are you old enough to remember this building?

This building, now abandoned and defunct, was the old SAF Reservist Association clubhouse, or commonly called SAFRA.

In my time (1975-1977), all soldiers were automatically members of SAFRA. You had no option and monthly dues were automatically deducted from your allowance. Servicemen were not paid a 'salary' but  were given an allowance. In my days, it was $90!

After your full-time service, all matters pertaining to the Reserves were dealt through SAFRA.
You applied for deferment or exit permits and any other matters with regards to your reserve status.
It was all manual as computerization had not arrived yet.
And of course, most important over all other matters, was your monthly entitlement of duty-free beer!

This clubhouse at Redhill was the pioneer servicemen's club with enrichment classes, games (tombolo, if you know what that is), sports and the very first rock climbing wall, which can still be seen in the photo above.

There is a signboard hanging outside the fence stating " New Hotel Development Soon"
Wonder if they will refurbish or tear down this old building?

Friday, September 9, 2011

Penitenziagite !

I just finished my 3rd reading of Umberto Eco's novel The Name of the Rose.
This time it took me all of 20 days to get through this tome.
Just 1 day short of the loan period from the National Library.
It was one of the  most difficult  book I have ever read, but I loved every passage of it.

 I was introduced to this novel by a franciscan friar, Fr Alban, back in early 1990s, but in truth, I gave up half way through the book because it was too difficult to comprehend. My first attempt ended up in utter failure.

It was not till almost 8 years later that I managed to read through the entire book. By this time,  a movie starring Sean Connery had been  made, based loosely on this book. I watched the movie and was totally enamored by it and that made me resolve to re-read the book.

I remembered that it was still difficult to digest but at least now I understood the gist of the novel which helped to move the pages along.

The book is vastly different but superior to the movie. 
While the movie is an excellent whodunit, it really does not do justice to the book. I'll elaborate on this a little further down after I tell you of the novel.

The 2nd time I re-read the book I skimmed over a lot of difficult passages. Perhaps I had actually wanted to make a comparison between the movie and the actual novel. But I did remember that the novel was so enthralling that from then on I kept it listed as my all time favorite.

Now, after 20 years from my initial attempt, I again decided to re-read this great book but at a slower pace to get a deeper insight and to grasp the finer nuances of Eco's writing.  

While the movie portrays a medieval murder mystery, the focus of the book is not on the murders but more of the discourses of philosophy, logic, church practices during the middle ages,  politics of the Holy Roman Empire, the dreaded working of the Holy Inquisition and the great debate about the poverty of Christ.

There are beautiful discussions of literature and books, and how the medieval monks so lovingly sought to keep alive knowledge through books. These discourses between the protagonist of the novel, Bro William, and the other characters are intertwined with the investigation of the murders at the abbey.
At the end, when the monastery burned, Eco's writing keeps you spellbound with pages and pages just about the great fire. That's how good a book it is!

The novel is sprinkled generously throughout with extremely difficult words that needs explanation.
Words like enthymeme, palimsests, semiotics, syllogism, aedificium.
Also many phrases are in Latin, the language of the church in the middle ages. Whew!

My 3rd reading of this book now comes with hindsight, having over the years since read more and knowing better the history of the church, the middle ages, of popes and anti-popes, and a bit of the history of the franciscans. (I worked in a franciscan parish church as a full time administrator years back)

I would recommend this book to you if you are somewhat interested in the history of the middle ages, literature or debates about religious practices. If not, it's better to watch the movie.

The movie itself is excellent, but it departs a lot from the book and take a very liberal re-telling of the novel.
In fact, the producers at the beginning disclaim this disconnect by calling the movie "A Palimpsest of Umberto Eco's Novel"

The main thrust of the movie is about the murders that occur at a monastery, where a debate between the Pope's representatives and the Franciscan friars over the poverty of the church was about to take place.
The protagonist, Bro William of Baskerville, attempts to solve the mysterious murders.
Being erudite but striving to keep his humility as a friar, Bro William gets entangled with the superstitious Inquisitor Bernardo Gui (a real person in history).

I shall not spoil your interest by telling you the story but it may suffice to know that the book ends completely different from the movie.

If you wish to watch the movie, it's actually available on Youtube, but I can't guarantee when it will be pulled for copyright reasons. There are 2 copies of the book at the Clementi branch of the National Library.

You can follow the movie via the Youtube link above.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Why it's called Novena

To many people in Singapore, Novena means either the MRT station at Thomson Road,  the shopping malls that grew around it or simply that upper class district of Newton and its surrounding area.

The name Novena actually derives from a religious practice centered at the Church of St Alphonsus at Thomson Road. The Redemptorist friars have been conducting Catholic devotional prayer sessions every Saturday for the past 7 decades without fail. The prayer sessions are directed through Saint Mary, the mother of Jesus, under the title Mary, Mother of Perpetual Help.

This devotional prayer session is called a novena.

The novena consists of a series of repetitive prayers conducted over 9 days or 9 weeks culminating in a special 'feast' in honor of the saint to whom the devotion is made. Novena is Latin meaning nine.

This is in line with the Catholic theology of "the communion of saints". The belief that the Catholic church comprises members both present and past. Living members seek the intercession of past members (esp saints) whom they believe are now in heaven to pray, petition and intercede on their behalf.

These novenas have attracted so much devotees over the past decades, to the extent that most people do not recall the name of the church but know it simply as the Novena Church.

From this devotional practice, the term novena spread from the church to its surrounding, and thus, we now have Novena MRT Station, Novena Square, Novena Medical Center, and with many roads and condominiums there named after Novena.

Coming back to the origin, the Novena to Mary, Mother of Perpetual Help, runs over 9 weeks and culminates in a big procession in September each year.

This year the novena procession was held on Sunday 4th September.
It was so crowded that I could only take pictures of the event from where I stood.

My own poor estimate of the crowd today
would be about 20,000 people this year

Procession of the icon of Mary, Mother of Perpetual Help

This was taken about 2 hours before the start.
Already packed to the brim. (kneeling room only! ha ha)
Devotees even spilled over across Thomson Road
despite being divided by 2 lanes of  busy road traffic !

Click on the above pictures for detailed view