Sunday, December 23, 2007

And Now for Something More Festive..

I have been crazy busy, but I thought it was time to post something a little more festive than my previous whine about inconsiderate real estate agents.

These are photos I took at one of the conservatories in the Christchurch Botanic Gardens yesterday. The staff have gone to quite an effort to make these displays. Poinsettias are out of season here, so trickery is involved in getting them to bloom so richly.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Bah Humbug!

I arrived home from work and Christmas shopping this evening to find a real estate agent's sign nailed to the corner of our fence. No, my husband hadn't put the house on the market in my absence. I had a fair idea of what was going on, but I had to inspect the sign more closely to check it out. It was, in fact, advertising a house for sale just up a private right of way which runs from the end of the cul de sac by our house.

It happened once before. We rang the estate agent to complain, obtained an apology for putting it there without our permission, but let it stay. After all, our beef was with the agent, not with the neighbours who were selling their house.

This time, I rang the day time phone number rather than the agent's cell phone. It costs money to ring a cell phone, whereas local calls to a landline are free. I got the answering service who had the agent call us back. My husband took the call.

Her explanation? Well, she was going to put the sign on the other side of the alley, and she was going to ask permission, but the neighbours said "the sign was there" (ie on our fence) "when we bought the place". "Yes" P said "and we complained then too, and were promised it wouldn't happen again". (Different agent, of course).

What is more, she gave some excuse about how the fence was along common property, ie the access lane. She seemed to think that this made the fence somewhat common property as well. That would be very nice. Maybe the neighbours would contribute funds to help us repair it, which it will be needing very soon. No? I didn't think so.

So, the sign is coming down. All she needed to do was ask nicely in the first place, maybe with a box of chocolates or packet of Christmas mince pies as a "thank you", and she would have no doubt been given permission. An arrow pointing up the lane to make it clear that it wasn't our house on the market would have helped, too. (The sign displayed the house number involved, but it wasn't all that obvious).

Our neighbours on the other side had their house on the market and it sold in a week. The house market is crazy around here, the estate agents are doing very nicely for not much work. Five minutes and a few dollars is surely not too much to ask?

Friday, December 14, 2007


I didn't really intend to take such a long blogger break in December, but one thing and another intervened. Once I stop posting regularly, it seems harder to get started again. with daily posts, I post the daily trivia, but none of that seems quite important enough for a weekly or less frequent post. Nothing for it but to jump in where I am.


A month ago our grapevine had large areas of curled up dead leaves where it had been caught by a late heavy frost in October. Now, I walk across the lawn and the brown grass crunches beneath my feet and blades snap off. The grape vine is covered in long curling tendrils coming across the yard to greet me.


Seen from my car - a blackbird swinging on a chain link fence, its long tail pivoting up and down for balance.

I went to check our electricity meter, having received an estimated bill (it saves on labour costs if they only read the meter once every two months). Inside the meter box were three small foil-wrapped Easter eggs. Where did those come from? I'd swear they weren't there the last time I looked a couple of months ago, so they strays missed in our Easter egg hunt. A mystery. What a shame they didn't seem quite edible any more.

Monday, December 03, 2007

Layers of History

The prompt over at read.write.poem this week was to "play with your parts". That is, to take three different parts of our lives - three towns, or three hobbies, or three jobs, or three people, and mix them up in one poem.

I have had some ideas but none of them have made them to a finished poem yet (or even a first draft). However, I realised that this poem which I wrote recently does mix up a number of different periods in history, so I thought it was at least partly relevant to the prompt to share it here.

And yes, it is a first draft, so suggestions will be considered.

The Crows at Stirling Castle

All afternoon the crows have been casting themselves
off the castle walls into the air. The tourists below
group in small knots around tartaned guides,
look down the steep cliffs but not up
to where the crows hover in dynamic stillness.
They are surfing the wind.

They are heedless of our attention,
they are heedless of the ox carts
that trundle up the steep slopes
with ale and salt herring,
of the bakers in the kitchen,
of the weavers in the tapestry workshop.

They hover above royal baptisms
and coronations, they scatter only briefly
when cannons hammer the castle walls.
A white feathered figure leaps to join them,
and plummets in a scatter of feathers
They disperse and regroup.

It is not “murder, murder” that they cry
as dark cloaked figures conspire in corners.
The crows have their own business to attend to,
hanging motionless in the updrafts
above the cliffs.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Poetic Fruits

At read.write.poem this week we were asked to write poems about food, and more particularly, Jill discussed writing about fruit.

I was going through the photos of our trip and came across a bunch of photos of blackberries which combined with a column on language in our Saturday newspaper to inspire this poem (bear in mind, it is a first draft only):


In country lanes we pause in the rush
from one castle to another, and gather
We ignore scratches to reach
for the juiciest branches,
learn to judge which are ripe and sweet.

The Hopi, they say, see the world differently
– see “wave” and “flame” and “meteor”
as verbs. Let us celebrate
the impermanence of blackberries.
Consider “blackberry” as a verb,
meaning “to ripen” “to gather water
and sunshine” “to fall into reaching hands”
“to stain lips and fingers purple"


"DNF" stands for "did not finish" in orienteering. Which was what I did on Sunday, both with orienteering and with NaBloPoMo. Yes, this post (and the one before it that I just posted) are my first since Saturday, so I didn't manage a post a day for November.

I should have had plenty of time on Sunday evening to entertain or bore you with my orienteering exploits, depending on your tastes. The event was held about an hour's drive away from Christchurch, across the Canterbury Plains to the foothills of the Southern Alps. We were in a valley with a marshy bottom with many side creeks feeding into the main stream, surrounded by slopes covered in pine forest.

I've had trouble on this map before, for some reason. Sunday was about my worst performance yet, though. The first three controls were well apart from each other, which gives more room for errors in navigation. And I made plenty of those. Usually I'm out for an hour and a half or under, but it was more than an hour when I was searching for the fourth control, and my legs were running out of steam trying to cope with the very rough ground. So I decided that I would head up the valley where the fourth control was located, to a path above it, from where I could easily get to the forest road which curves around above the valley, and walk back.

I never did find the fourth control. Nor did I find the path, which is apparently rather indistinct. Instead I climbed higher than I planned, and had an even longer walk back from further along the forest road. In the open. In the sun. It was 28 degrees on Sunday (in the eighties if you are American), which is unseasonally hot for November in New Zealand where it is officially still spring. It took me about another hour to walk back. And by the time I had driven an hour or so back home, across the plains with the hot northwesterly wind blowing, I had a headache coming on, which grew worse and stayed with me for the rest of the day. So, I napped, had a bath and washed my hair, emerged long enough to cook dinner, napped some more, managed to do the dishes, and went to bed early. No blog post.

Which is a bit of a relief, as I was running out of things to post about, and my posts were getting a bit lame. Now, I can post when I have something to say.

I really need to work on my navigation skills. I think my problems with this map occur for two reasons - firstly, I tend to rely too much on a network of paths for navigating from, and this map doesn't really have any - and secondly, all the little side streams tend to look very much like each other.

Well, there is always next year!

Haiku: Boulders, Rocks, Stones and Pebbles

Haiku for One Deep Breath:

a granite landscape
in the cleft of a boulder
a tree shelters

these fallen stones
a roof open to the sky
the hearth grows cold

And a bonus photo, which I love but haven't come up with a haiku for yet:

Feel free to leave a haiku in response to the last photo.

All photos were taken in Scotland during September.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

As I Was Going to Strawberry Fair...

When I decide to play catch up with all the chores waiting to be done I always seem to end up with less done than when I do nothing. That's not really true, of course, it's just that when I stop ignoring all the jobs waiting to be done, I'm very aware of what's still not done at the end of the day.

This weekend I decided to get busy with the garden, the laundry, the poem submissions waiting to go out, and some piled up administration for a magazine that I work for (unpaid), among other things.

I did take a little time out to take some photographs in the garden. As we were away all September, which is the first flush of spring growth here, it has rather got away on me.

This is the edge of the lawn I was trying to cut:

I handled the edges by digging them with a spade rather than using the mower. (Oh yes - buttercups and daisies - hence the "Strawberry Fair" reference in the title of the post)

The grape vine will soon need pruning - it produces much more prolifically if properly pruned (a sentence with an abundance of "pr" words)

Poppies growing in the front border - I planted them in about May or June and they have done well, even though the weeds are thick around them.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Happy (Insert Holiday of your Choice...)

By now Thanksgiving must be over in the United States, even though for most of our Friday it is Thursday there. I hope all of my blog friends are happily tucked up in bed digesting their turkey (or tofurkey or festive meal of your choice).

We don't celebrate Thanksgiving here, but today was my daughter #2's birthday - a quarter of a century as daughter #1 put it - so we had a family roast lamb dinner, followed by cake. Unfortunately my favourite chocolate cake recipe has been letting me down lately, for some reason it won't rise properly, so we had a very heavy soggy cake, but it still tasted delicious. Lots of conversation with silly banter and laughter even though if I wrote the conversation down (which I didn't), I suspect I would look at it afterwards and think "Why did we laugh at that?"

Then the two girls wanted me to give them lifts home, so I dropped daughter #1 at her house, and took daughter #2 to a friend's house, then both girls into town where they were going to continue the celebration by going to a strip club. And then I headed home and came to a police road block. Oh crap! I thought. Even though I had only had a glass and a half of wine and was fairly sure I was OK. Which I was. Passed the breath test with no problems. It's a good thing I didn't have any of the whisky that we gave the birthday girl to sample (a very fine whisky brought back from the smallest distillery in Scotland). (Which was, of course, why she wanted a lift to her friend's house, where she had left her scooter, and why the girls wanted a lift into town, and why they were planning to get a taxi home afterwards).

Driving after a glass and a half of wine - about three times as much wine as my usual quota with dinner - is about as wild as my life gets. Which doesn't seem much qualification for being a writer, even a writer of blog posts. But I promised a post a day in November, so this is what you get.

And since everyone seems to be noting what they are thankful for, today I am thankful for family, and birthdays, since getting older is way better than the alternative.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Ageing Beauty

In Inverness we needed to change travellers' cheques and I took a walk to the bank. On the way I passed a garden with this flower in it:

I absolutely love this photo. When I showed it to my daughter she said "dead flower". I guess technically it is, but I never saw it as such - rather, as a flower whose age and imperfections had added to the beauty of its shapes.

Rather like me, I hope. Ageing and imperfect, but still living and learning!

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Poetry and Compost

Early in the year P brought home two big plastic compost bins which now live in the back corner behind the garage. All year I have been filling them up with kitchen scraps, grass clippings, weeds and tree prunings. Just when I think they are full up, the contents settle down into a rich mulch, leaving room for more.

I was following a link from Chiefbiscuit's blog to the Academy of American Poets. I noticed that one of the poets recently added to the site was Albert Goldbarth. I discovered Albert Goldbarth on Poetry Daily some years back. What I enjoyed about many of his poems is the rich layering. His own experiences are in his poems, but he has a way of seamlessly linking to the events of the past or the material of science - the way in which the Egyptians bury their dead, a seemingly trivial event from the American Revolution, the Nazca lines in Peru, bits and pieces of science fiction novels. The style of his poems doesn't always appeal to me, but the rich content does. His poems remind me of my compost heap - full of eggshells, and potato peelings, and lawn clippings, which gradually meld together to make something rich and nourishing, that is more than its component parts.

For you really need a mixture to make good compost. If you have too much of one thing it will be too wet, or too dry. On top of a layer of rotten vegetables I add the grass clippings, and if it looks wet, I find some well dried out leaves, or twiggy material, to let the air in. I'm not sure if I've done it right. I'm not investigating too closely yet, because there are bees bumbling in and out of the air holes near the bottom. I don't want to get stung by stirring it up too soon. Maybe it's the same with the materials of poetry. I gather all sorts of bits and pieces, to fill my mind, but it doesn't seem to work if I try to force a poem too soon. Suddenly one day, something comes into my mind and I realise that batch of "compost" is ready.

I want to help the process along though. Adding the whole reach of space and time to my poetry helps avoid the overuse of "I" that January talked about in her blog recently. So today I bought myself a big scrapbook, to collect bits and pieces for my compost. I have an article on the breeding habits of manta rays that intrigued me. And another on how the fifth star of the Southern Cross, which is on the Australian flag but not the New Zealand one (ours has only four), can no longer be seen from Sydney. I'm sure I'll find more to add to the collection - all those interesting things that I mean to keep, and then forget. It's time to start my poetry compost.

Note: It's not that I think that "I" is overused, really. I just want a broader range of subject matter - the link to January's post will link to a very interesting discussion on the use of "I", if you are interested.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Some Random Thoughts on "Found Poetry"

I've been thinking a bit about "found poetry" lately - that is, poetry whose words are lifted from some other source. The poet's job is to rearrange the words.

There's quite a bit of variation in the form. The first example I was ever shown was a poem called "Parents" by Julius Lester, in which the entire content is lifted straight from a news article in the New York Times - all the poet did was to add line breaks. If you have good eyesight you can read a copy of the poem here.

Here is another example which appears to have been lifted from a newspaper article, without alteration apart from line breaks, though I may be wrong about that.

Is this really poetry? It seems to be the literary equivalent of Marcel Duchamp's toilet exhibited as a piece of art. It all depends on the context - and it takes a keen eye for language to spot and arrange these newspaper pieces as poems. (Personally, I find them more artistic than the toilet, but perhaps that's because I write rather than sculpt).

Still, you can't lift just any piece of language and call it a poem. You can't for instance, "find" a Wordsworth poem, rearrange the line breaks and call it your own. Nor turn a piece of creative prose into a poem. It seems to be a requirement that the words you are lifting were not originally intended as creative literature - the further from literary intent, the better. I wonder, even with the newspaper articles, if the poet risks being pursued for breach of copyright.

The more common form of found poetry is to take pieces of text from other sources and combine them in a collage effect. I've done this in poetry workshops, and it's a lot of fun. The first one I wrote (I don't think I still have it) consisted of about a dozen lines, each from a different poem, combined. Collage artists combine images from different sources all the time. Again, it's not without problems. Apparently you can't clip an image of say, Mickey Mouse, out of a magazine, and use it in an artwork that is displayed publicly, without being pursued by Walt Disney for breach of copyright. So, I suspect that there may be similar pitfalls to creating found poetry - again, it may be safer to use text from other sources such as nonfiction articles, textbooks etc.

A more recent poem I created used the subject lines of spam e-mails I had received. I suspect no one is going to pursue me for breach of copyright over that. I thought I was being terribly original, but of course I wasn't . I recently found a "Spamtoum" in New Zealand poet James Brown's collection "The Year of the Bicycle". I was a bit disappointed as I felt my chances of having mine accepted in any journal had just dropped, as the editor would think I had copied James Brown - James seems to claim some originality for the idea, but a little googling revealed that there have been online competitions for poems created from spam as early as 2000.

I'd be interested to hear other's opinions on the validity of found poetry as an art form - and on possible copyright problems.

And as a bonus, though I've posted the spam poem in an earlier post, I'll repeat it here to save the trouble of clicking:

Here is the Incredible News
someone is interested in you
it is a world of love
this is a limited time offer

become the man that women desire
Dave did it, so can you
nail fungus is a thing of the past
passion should last forever

peel your hardboiled eggs in seconds
Spot’s got nothing on Dave
elevate mood and improve sleep
stop e-mails like this one

stir up your morning
fresh roasted gourmet coffee
the aroma will put a smile on your face
energy never tasted so good

tired of running to the Post Office?
Elvis endorses Google’s g-mail
please scan for errors by March 25
what’s Bill Gates got to do with it?

Monday, November 19, 2007

My British American Sentences

At read.write.poem this week we were invited to write American sentences, a poetic form of seventeen syllables invented by Allen Ginsberg. I have been writing one a day based on my trip to Britain in September, hence the title of the post.

For an extra, check out yesterday's post which is my favourite of those I have written so far, but doesn't have anything to do with the trip.

Hindu lady checks passports; Spaniard at the Hertz counter - welcome to Britain.

At Stonehenge we maintain a respectful distance, watched over by crows.

In Bath we read curses offered to Sulis two thousand years before.

Turtle-shaped soup tureen gleaming copper; on the wall a row of small skulls

The only red squirrels we see are those silhouetted on road signs.

In a box at the archives I find my greatgrandfather, young again.

(My greatgrandfather, found at Stirling Archives)

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Lazy Sunday Afternoon

I had all sorts of lists of things to do this weekend, and I did get some of it done. Today, however, besides working in the garden for a while, punctuated by visits to Michele's meet and greet, I took a nap.

At least the garden is looking a bit tidier. And the compost bin is full to bursting, so I'm not sure what to do with the rest of the weed pile. Still, the compost has a habit of shrinking while my back is turned, so perhaps in a few days I'll be able to squeeze more in.

The wonderful new site read.write.poem is promoting American sentences this week. This is a poetic form invented by Allen Ginsberg, a sort of "Western haiku" - seventeen syllables, but linear.

I'm working on a set about our trip to the UK to post later in the week, but in the meantime here is one for today:

Five adult children, and I'm still finding Matchbox toys in the garden.

And a random photo for the day, from our trip (just because I like blue and orange together):

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Quilts in the Library

Today I made a visit to our local library to see the quilts which are on display this month. they are made by members of the Refugee and Migrant Quilt Group which is run to teach new immigrants sewing skills and also give them an opportunity to socialise and practise English in an informal setting.

Some of these women had never used a sewing machine before joining the group. The quilts display all levels of sewing skills from extreme beginner to very competent, but they are all exuberant and colourful (and there's really no need to examine the stitching too closely). The cards that are displayed with the quilts tell a little about the maker and almost all express the pleasure they get from learning new skills and making new friends.

The women are from a wide range of countries: Taiwan, Malaysia, Japan, Iran, Somalia, France and Lithuania are those that I recall.

This pattern was a popular one - there were several quilts in different colours. It's a great pattern for unifying a diverse collection of scrap fabrics.

The maker of this beautiful quilt was the exception to most - she had made many quilts by hand in Japan before coming to New Zealand.

No doubt she is able to pass on her skills, as well as practising English. The group is very popular and the members are only allowed to stay in the group two years, I believe, before leaving to make room for others. But some of them continue on as helpers.

I just had to take some pictures of our beautiful library. The green of the furniture merges with the green of the trees outside at this time of year.

The library is only a few years old and won a number of architectural awards. It is designed to be environmentally friendly.

The moat is more than just decorative - it is an important part of the passive air conditioning system and helps to keep the building cool in summer. It also, I gather, helps collect rainwater, which is used to flush the toilets.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Seven Random Things

...about Britain

Of course we expected to see castles, crowded motorways, stone circles, and all the other things that are mentioned in the tourist literature, but these are some of the little things that took me by surprise (although some of them are fairly obvious, with hindsight):

1. Molehills

2. Road signs directing football traffic. In one town, the signs even directed "home traffic" and "away traffic" in opposite directions. I guess they have them enter the stadium at opposite ends and try to keep them apart to save fights.

3. No personalised plates on cars. At least, I thought there were no personalised plates until I met my cousin , and she turned up with a plate that said A13 and then the last three letters were her first name. Apparently the plates have to stick to a fairly strict format, which takes most of the fun out of it. No HIHOAG or REDQT or MYTAXI or K9DOC or D8LESS

4. Cottages that weren't. When I think of a "cottage", I imagine a wee one storeyed one or two bedroomed house set in a garden. In Britain the villages are very compact, with houses nestled right up to each other, and with their front doorsteps right on the footpath. They are labelled "cottage" even though they are usually two storeys high.
It took me a while to realise that they do actually have gardens - they have quite big long backyards, you just don't see them from the street.

5. Which is probably the reason for no 5 - blooming baskets everywhere. We do have hanging baskets in New Zealand, but not nearly as many, probably because we tend to grow things in the ground more. In the cities in the UK, spare dirt is at a premium, hence the hanging baskets. Being late summer, they were probably at their best when we visited.

6. Jet trails. I expected more traffic on the ground, but it didn't occur to me that there would also be more traffic in the sky. I've never seen so many jet trails in one place.

7. Laundry detergent. I was surprised to find there was no cold water laundry detergent, and no cold water setting on the washing machines. Instead, consumers are advised to save power by washing at 30 degrees C. Most people in New Zealand wash in cold water to save power (but we make up for it by spending far too much on heating, because our houses aren't well insulated or double glazed, unless they are very new).

Thursday, November 15, 2007

I Want that Job!

About two and a half weeks ago I signed up for a Ning account, as it is the "home" for NaBloPoMo. I had a little trouble - the autofill on my computer included my last name without my noticing, and I don't want to display that on the web. Try as I might, I couldn't find out how to change the settings, so I decided to set everything to "private", e-mail Ning asking them to deactivate it, and start again with a new ID, password etc.

According to the website e-mails are dealt with within two business days. So, yesterday I received confirmation that the account had been deactivated. Two business days in two and a half weeks? It sounds as if someone doesn't work very hard.

(And I really wanted the account deleted. I'm not sure that I trust that word "deactivated". It sounds as if it is still there, somewhere).

Actually, anyone I know in America tells me that we have far more holidays than they do. We are having a long weekend here this weekend, we get Friday off. Yay! Every province in New Zealand has a public holiday for the provincial anniversary day. Canterbury's is 16th December. Except that we don't have a holiday then. Some time in the 1950's the holiday was moved to coincide with Show Day, so that we can all have a day off to go to the A&P show and admire the tractors. Earlier in the week, the fashionistas sneak off work for a day and go to the races (Cup Day) where they compete for "best dressed" and drink too much champagne. A few people even watch the horses.

Of course, being spring, the weather is rather wild. Autumn is much more settled. There was even snow in parts of the country this week, and we're only a month off the longest day of the year.

I still have about a gazillion photos from our trip that I haven't posted yet, so I will post them at random. This one is a peculiar fungus that took my fancy in Glen Nevis, near Fort William in Scotland:

Wednesday, November 14, 2007


The photo below wasn't very successful as a photo. It was taken from a moving car, late in the afternoon, when the light was less than I realised.

It did, however, inspire a poem. The other inspiration was the first line (in italics) which was taken from a poem by Jeffrey Harrison, The Same River, which was the poem for Sunday 9 September at Poetry Daily


Yes, yes, you can’t step into the same
river twice
, and I can’t cross
the same bridge as my ancestors,
but all the same, this bridge is one of the things
that has changed least since you lived here,
linking the village with the quarry, on narrow roads
meant for horses. On both sides now
the stone houses, clean and prosperous looking,
country retreats for the middle classes,
and cars pulling up at the inn, in the twilight.
There were weavers and washerwomen once.
Where are their rough cottages? Pulled down,
or renovated, made large enough for small families
to sleep one to a bedroom. Your seventeen children
one by one left their shared beds
to trudge over this bridge to distant cities
in the hope of work. Look, here are photos
I took from the car window. Have I captured
your ghosts? I see only a blur. We are moving
too fast.

And here is the bridge:

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Day 31: The Last Day

As it was our last day in Singapore, we packed up our luggage and left it at the front desk of the hotel before setting out for a last look at the city. We still had a number of vouchers for free entry to various attractions. One of these was a half-hour river cruise. That's where we were headed first.

Singapore Airlines operates a hop-on hop-off bus around the city, which is only $3 for the day on presentation of a boarding pass, or free with the particular package deal we had booked. So it was time to figure out the timetable and route. We found a stop a couple of blocks from our hotel and waited for the bus which took us to within a couple of blocks of the departure point for the river cruise.

On the way along the waterfront from the bus stop we admired the colourful lanterns:

Apparently it was the time of the autumn festival - although since Singapore is almost on the Equator, I'm not sure how they figure out when autumn is. Perhaps the festivals are celebrated at the same time of year as in China. It was a pity we couldn't come back and see these at night. Maybe if we had known they were there on the first night - but the free bus only operates to 7 p.m, so we would have had to find some other means of transport.

The river cruises are conducted in these traditional river boats:

though if you look closely you will see the modern air conditioner (and the boats are operated by modern motors).

The river boat operator is an elderly Chinese man

but he just drives the boat. The commentary issues from the loudspeakers which you can see in front of him, and it is recorded in an American voice, quite a young-sounding one.

After the river cruise, we walked along further to the next bus stop, and got on the bus again to go up to Orchard Road.

This is traditionally "the" area for shopping in Singapore. Actually, I felt that it wasn't quite up there with the ethnic areas - Chinatown and Little India - for souvenirs, or some of the big new malls, like Suntec City, for more western goods. The very expensive shops that sell labels like Gucci etc are in Orchard Road, but that was well out of our price range. Other buildings seemed to have quite a few empty shops.

We went to the headquarters of the main Apple retailer, but again P was unsuccesful in finding what he was after. Then we looked around the shops a little, found some lunch, and went to the next bus stop to ride back to our hotel.

We walked a block or two to the hotel, past the Singapore Art Museum:

where this installation was out front:

And then it was time to catch the free shuttle from the hotel to the airport, where eventually we boarded our flight back to New Zealand. This was another overnight flight, so it was the next morning - the 2nd October - when we arrived back.

Unfortunately we had stowed our cameras in the overhead locker, and although P had a window seat, there was another passenger on the aisle, so it wasn't very convenient to try and get them when we arrived back over New Zealand. We hadn't anticipated that we would take a different route back. The flight to Singapore crossed Australia diagonally and left the coast around Darwin. The return flight headed almost due south towards Adelaide before heading east to New Zealand. We crossed the South Island and turned northwards to Christchurch. The skies were clear and we had magnificent views of much of the South Island. Without our cameras all we could do was sit back and appreciate them!

And so we arrived back, and there was nothing more to do but loads and loads of laundry, before heading back to work the next day...

Monday, November 12, 2007

Day 30: Singapore, Part 3

After our morning tour we had about two and a half hours spare before our late afternoon and evening tour. We had been given a voucher for a "free" lunch (more on that later), along with a list of restaurants where we could use it. The two nearest were both at the Suntec City Shopping Mall, where there was also an Apple Computer store which might stock the doodacky P was after, so that's where we headed.

Just across from our hotel was the Chijmes restaurant complex.

Chijmes stands for "Convent of the Holy Infant Jesus" as the building was originally a convent. This complex is where we had dinner the night before.

A couple of blocks along the street, we passed Raffles Hotel, on the other side from the imposing frontage we had seen on our morning tour. There is a shopping arcade on this side, and we walked along under the verandah to take advantage of the cooling fans, peeked into the courtyard:

and accidentally walked right through the bar of the hotel. No-one seemed to mind, though we had heard you had to be suitably dressed to enter Raffles (no sandals, etc). In fact a large proportion of the patrons were wearing sandals.

This gentleman was the doorman/porter, I think.

And this is the entrance to Suntec City, a very large shopping mall based on about four towers.

It turned out that our "free" lunch vouchers actually meant that $7 each was deducted from the bill. Given that it was lunch, not dinner, we chose noodle dishes which were just over $7 each, but then we ordered drinks, of course, and when the bill came there were additions for the "complimentary" refreshing towelettes, and for the little dish of crispy bits of something that we were given at the start of the meal, so the bill came to about $15 total, after the vouchers were deducted. Not quite a free lunch.

P didn't find what he was looking for, but was advised to try their main shop near the Orchard Road shopping area. And then it was time to head back to the hotel to meet the afternoon bus.

The bus took us to Mt Faber where there is a cable car station. The cable car goes to Sentosa Island which is a resort island.

Sentosa has a number of very classy hotels, but also various attractions such as Underwater World, golf courses, a dolphin lagoon etc. We went first to Underwater World, which has an acrylic tunnel with a moving walkway through it - the first in the world, I believe, was in New Zealand at Kelly Tarlton's Underwater World in Auckland, which we went to when it first opened just over twenty years ago. I gather they are now quite common at aquariums (aquaria?) world wide.

It was Sunday afternoon and therefore very crowded with tour groups, and noisy. Chattering ladies in saris, teenage Asian girls posing in cute poses for photos on their friends' cell phones etc. I would have liked to have some quiet reflective time in front of the jellyfish, which were mesmerisingly beautiful:

However as usual we had to rush on, and the flashing of cameras detracted from any peaceful atmosphere.

At our next stop we were actually given a little free time. A number of the options involved extra admission fees. Instead we chose just to wander around a little and take in the views:

The large bare area in the photo above is a construction site, I gather they are building yet another resort on the island at this point.

and then we all went to ascend inside the Merlion:

this is a statue of a beast half lion and half mermaid. There is a viewing platform inside the mouth, and another viewing level at eye level (the statue's eyes, not ours). There is also an audiovisual show, and we were given a gold token to put inside a machine, and receive a card which could be exchanged at the gift shop - I still haven't figured out a use for the item we got in exchange!

The last stop on the tour was a sound and light show.

This was presented by a team of youths acting out a story line with the most banal imaginable plot, in very overblown style somewhat in the anime tradition - but the visual effects were quite spectacular. The photo is from the beginning of the show, before the more spectacular moving effects really got going. I didn't take too many photos as I didn't think they would come out, but P managed quite a few on his digital SLR. (A tripod was one of the things I really missed having on the trip. It didn't occur to me till we got back that I could have changed the ISO setting on my camera to take photos in low light).

We then went to the parking area nearby, where we boarded another bus that took us back to our hotel. We were dropped off at a different entrance than usual, and spotted an area where there were many food stalls around a courtyard of open air tables under umbrellas. So we decided to eat there. It was by far the cheapest food we found the whole trip, and obviously aimed at locals as English translation of the menus was minimal. However we found a stall where the meals were priced by the number of selections: eg "1 meat, 2 vegetables" or "2 meat, 2 vegetables", and by pointing - "I'll have that one, and that one" - we were quite adequately fed for under $10 for the two of us - in fact, we paid about the same as we paid for our "free" lunch.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

The Eleventh Hour

We were reminded at church this morning that the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month is the traditional time to remember the sacrifices of those who have fought and died in past wars. And in my garden I have poppies blooming - known as "soldier poppies" - the sort that bloomed in the fields of Flanders among the battlefields and war graves.

The plaque below is in Coventry Cathedral, in the ruins of the old cathedral which was bombed out during World War II. Every Friday there is a service of peace and reconciliation held there.

And on a lighter note, I have been watching Amazing Race Asia on TV for the last couple of weeks. It appears that an Asian production team have bought the rights. There is an Asian presenter (who seems to have studied Phil's wording and intonation), and teams from various different Asian countries, racing around the world, not for a million dollars but for a hundred thousand.

So far, it seems to be a bit bland. The reason? There has been very little evidence of the yelling, bitching, manipulating and back-stabbing that goes on in the American version. And when one team were penalised for coming last by having no money for the next leg of the race, every other team left money for them on the windscreen of their car. That has never happened in the US version.

It would be simplistic to say that Asians are more peaceful than Westerners, given the bitter sectarian conflicts that are going on in many Asian countries. There just seems to be a different dynamic, that Westerners don't quite appreciate. Which is why, in my opinion, Western intervention in Asian conflicts seems doomed to failure.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Day 30: Singapore, Part 2

Even though the next stop on our tour was Chinatown, the first sight from the bus as we approached was this very ornate Hindu temple:

Note the vending machine selling a certain American drink - an incongruous modern addition to the traditional temple!

We were given twenty minutes or so to wander around the area, and some chose to visit the inside of the temple, however we felt we would see more by just exploring the sights of the streets.

These photos were taken in the open area where we reboarded the bus. Apparently it was a popular waiting/meeting spot:

The bus then took us to the premises of Singapore Gemstones where we were shown the machines, though no one was working since it was Sunday, and then went upstairs to the showrooms. In the first room there were many three dimensional pictures built up of small pieces of various semi-precious stones:

The pictures were beautifully crafted but not really to my taste.

The next room had jewellery and watches - we didn't buy anything but admired the workmanship.

And then it was time for our final stop at the Singapore Botanic Gardens. They are green and lushly tropical. We had free entrance to the orchid gardens, which are normally charged for (the rest of the gardens are free), so that's where we spent our time. Within the orchid gardens, the Cool House was a very popular destination - a welcome relief from the tropical heat and humidity.

Epiphytic orchids from the Cool House:

There was also a carnivorous plant display in the Cool House: