Category Archives: Singapore

Gardens by the Bay

Some of you came by and left happy birthday wishes last week.  I was not able to immediately reply because I was in neighboring Singapore and was too skinflint to spring for the cost of wifi.  Nevertheless, thanks for the messages which I appreciated even though I don’t normally observe that day in any special manner.  ( I am still annoyed and have been for many years that I can no longer claim to be an ‘irresponsible’ teenager).

Anyway, I spent most of my birthday on the open road, driving to Singapore.  However, the point of this post is to share with you my experiences at one of Singapore’s more recent attractions, the Gardens by the Bay.

The place is located on reclaimed land within a stone throw away from the famous Marina Bay Sands Hotel (well, it’s a stone throw if Hercules was doing the throwing).  There you will find open gardens showcasing different types of flora to which admission is free and is a great place to walk around and get some serenity in the midst of bustling Singapore (avoid school holidays and public holidays though when the people throng through like sardine schools).

However, there are also the very spectacular Supertrees.  These are tall 25 -50 m structures shaped like trees with a spreading canopy but most special of all is that vegetation has been encouraged to grow on the structure creating a natural green and living wall.  At night, the Supertree Grove is lit up and twice a night a very beautiful light show is performed.  The Supertrees are also linked by a walkway that allows you to take in the Supertrees and the view of the gardens from several storeys up.  These Supertrees alone are probably worth making the trip to the Gardens.

However, there are two enormous greenhouse like domes; the Flower Dome and the Cloud Dome.  The former is basically a large climate controlled greenhouse for plants including arid desert plants and flowers.  When I was there, the focus was on orchids.

The Cloud Dome is a massive structure that  houses a huge man-made hill complete with waterfall.  The uniqueness is that the whole structure houses plants normally found in tropical cloud forests.  Apart from the spray from the waterfall, the dome creates its own mist cloud every few hours to keep the riot of vegetation happy.  It is quite the sight.  Walkways bring you in and out of the structure so that you can get views of it from a distance, up close, from above, by its side and from below and every other possible view.

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I hope you enjoyed the photos.  It is a great place although the price of admission to the two domes seemed a little bit steep and although the cloud forest dome was very stunning, I found the variety of plants there more limited than I had expected.  As for the Flower Dome, I have seen far more impressive floral displays elsewhere.

So, overall, I think it is worth a visit especially for the Supertrees.  For the rest, I hope they will work at improving it further.


Singapore Girl is Bringing Back the Romance

It’s strange but one of my earliest posts back in 2007 started to pick up visitors in the last month and has had so many hits that it has emerged from the obscurity of old posts and into my list of top ten of my blog’s most visited posts (It is currently in the eight position).  The post was on the Singapore Girl which was made the iconic symbol for Singapore Airlines by one of the most successful advertising campaigns ever.  For 25 years, Batey Ads ran and strategised the campaign that made Singapore Girl the personification of hospitality and sold the idea of the “romance” of air  travel.  I loved it.  For many years, I collected the beautifully shot photographs, adverts and calenders that featured the Singapore Girl.

However, in 2007, Singapore Airlines, changed over to another ad agency, TBWA.  Twenty-five years is a longtime to run with one advertising concept and despite Singapore Girl’s success, there was concern that Singapore Airlines should keep up with the times and try a new approach before Singapore Girl got stale.  Sure enough, for the last few years, Singapore Airlines did not feature the Singapore Girl prominently in their advertisements.  Sure, she might be present in the background but the focus was more on their new fleet of planes and the industry-leading facilities and services.

I was wondering why there was this sudden surge of interest in my old Singapore Girl post and when I investigated, I found that TBWA has done a turn around and has created a new television advertisement which returns to the Singapore Girl and once again sells the “romance of travel”.  The funny thing was when I watched the ad, I felt that I had lost that sense of romance.  In recent years, because of my work, I have done a fair bit of traveling around different parts of the world.  Partly because these trips were work related and maybe partly due to the stress of airport security measures these days, I think I have lost that sense of romance in air travel and replaced it with a sense of hum-dum jaded tiredness.  Maybe, with the return of Singapore Girl, I should refresh my mind and remember the thrill of flying and the romance of traveling that I had when I was younger.  At the same time, remember and be thankful again that I have had the privilege of air travel when many in the world have not had the opportunity.

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Mad Dogs and Sun Stroked Squirrels

from “”
“In tropical climes there are certain times of day
When all the citizens retire, to tear their clothes off and perspire.
It’s one of those rules that the biggest fools obey,
Because the sun is far too sultry and one must avoid its ultry-violet ray —
Papalaka-papalaka-papalaka-boo. (That’s natives)
The natives grieve when the white men leave their huts,
Because they’re obviously, absolutely nuts —
Mad dogs and Englishmen go out in the midday sun.”  
(Noel Coward; 1931)

Mad dogs and Englishmen and so it would seem, stupid, sun stroked, squirrels.

Hi guys, sorry for the short absence.  I was recuperating.  Last Tuesday, I popped down to the neighboring island republic of Singapore and I had a few hours to kill.  So I decided to do a tour of the Marina Bay area including the Theaters on the Bay, Merlion Park, and along the Singapore River all the way to the Clarke Quay.  Basically a number of boat tours are available covering the same area but this skinflint squirrel was happy to walk the entire distance to save paying the USD 29 tour fees besides the entire distance could not have been more than about 4 inches as seen on the tourist map!

And so, in the company of a few mad dogs and a scattering of similarly mad tourists, I went out in the mid-day sun without even a hat or an umbrella.  I had a bottle of water in my backpack but somehow I failed to use it.  Three hours later,  overheated, exhausted and sweat soaked, I managed to stagger into an air-conditioned food court.  I thirstily and rapidly quaffed three large cups of icy cool sweetened  liquids.

That was another mistake.  Suddenly my core body temperature plummeted due to the cold drinks and the action of the air-conditioning on my sweat soaked clothing.  I began shivering and had to go back out it the sun to feel warm.

Basically, I got sun stroked and my body’s temperature regulation system was placed out of whack.  My head throbbed, my muscles ached, I developed a really bad cough and a mouth ulcer and I have been ill for the last few days.

The moral of the story is …..that mad dogs and Englishmen are bad influences on innocent squirrels.

Muddy Waters

The river to Taman Negara (National Park) used to be clear. Today, it is “kopi susu” .
Many urban Malaysians believe that the natural color of Malaysian rivers is, in the local parlance, “kopi susu”. That is to say, the water is the color and consistancy of coffee with milk. This is in fact the color of many rivers in Malaysia today. It surprises them when I show photographs of rivers which are clean and clear and find it hard to believe that those were Malaysian rivers. While such rivers still exist today, they are really the minority.It was not always so. About 50 years ago, almost all the rivers were clean and clear. During that period, massive land clearing for urban development, agriculture and cash crop plantations, (especially in the 1960-1970s) resulted in extensive soil erosion and siltation of rivers. Similarly, uncontrolled or poorly managed logging in many watersheds also contributed to the problem. Regretably, it is only in recent times that more effort has been made to manage river basins more sustainably and reduce the negative impacts of development. The result is a whole generation have forgotten the sight of naturally clean, clear waters in their rivers. It’s sad.

Neighbouring Singapore invested a lot of time, money and resources to cleaning up their main river and have succeeded. The river is no longer the color of coffee with milk and fish and river life has returned. Where it once was important in trade and transport, it is now earning its living as a tourist destination. It is a beacon of hope and an example that it is not too late to save rivers if appropriate action is taken with determination.

In Malaysia, the Sepang River was once considered the most polluted river. It received a substantial amount of untreated effluent from unregulated pig and poultry farms. The net result was a river that was so black it looked like a tarred highway in photographs. Then, a disease outbreak occured (Nipah Virus) and the farms were closed down and relocated. The river has had more than ten years to heal and today it is almost back to being naturally clear.

The blackwater Sepang River is almost clear again
I hope that more Malaysians realise what they have lost and are losing and act to help place river rehabilitation and protection onto the national psyche and agenda.All this talk of muddy waters has brought to mind a very old Christian song by the British composer, Adrian Snell. I haven’t heard any song from Adrian for more than 25 years. Recently, a friend imported a CD and tried to introduce me to his music. I recognised Adrian Snell immediately and I was reminded of the following song that meant so much to me in my early Christian walk. Wish I could sing it for you but I hope you will appreciate the words. Our souls too need to be renewed.

Lord Jesus, You are everything that I will ever need,
Despite my sin, you took me in and gave your gift of peace.
On the muddy waters of my soul,
You poured the living stream,
That washed away my sorrow and my pain.
But the stream became a river,
Till the muddy waters cleared
And the beauty of your face was mirrored there.

Singapore Girl in Blue

Here’s a little insight into my thought processes; What shall I post? –> My last post was “Feeling blue” –> Okay, I’m still not quite out of the blues. –> Need to project a more positive attitude. –> Blue doesn’t have to be bad or sad. –> What is blue and positive? –> Blue accentuated photography (like in previous post) can be beautiful. –> What photo series is both blue and beautiful? Something I like. –> Singapore Girl.

“Singapore Girl — You’re a great way to fly”. This advertisement campaign started in 1972 at the very inception of Singapore International Airlines or SIA. It has been one of the most successful branding exercises in Asia and after 35 years, one of the longest running advertising campaigns. Wonderfully taken and quality photographs of beautiful girls in kebaya with warm, welcoming smiles against fantastic and sometimes fantastical backgrounds were a regular theme and blue was a prominent colour. It won many fans, who like me, collected their postcards and calenders just to admire the photography. “Singapore Girl” would come to mean more than that though and become an icon of both an airline and a country.

The Singapore Girl
The personalization of the Singapore Airlines brand is the mixed male and female cabin crew, where especially the flight stewardesses commonly referred to as Singapore Girls have become very well-known. SIA engaged French haute-couture designer Pierre Balmain at the inauguration of the airline in 1972. He designed a special version of the Malay sarong kebaya as the uniform which later became one of the most recognized signatures of the airline. A very designated and visual part of the entire brand experience.

The Singapore Girl strategy turned out to be a very powerful idea and has become a successful brand icon with an almost mythical status and aura around her. The Singapore Girl encapsulates Asian values and hospitality, and could be described as caring, warm, gentle, elegant and serene. It is a brilliant personification of SIA’s commitment to service and quality excellence. The icon has become so strong that Madame Tussaud’s Museum in London started to display the Singapore Girl in 1994 as the first commercial figure ever.

Singapore Airlines also runs one of the most comprehensive and rigorous training programs for cabin and flight crew in the industry to make sure the SIA brand experience is fully and consistently delivered.

The social status of the Singapore Girl has also reached near-celebrity in Asia. This has allowed Singapore Airlines to be highly selective in the recruiting process for talent which has added further to the strength of the brand icon and the myth around it. “

(Extracted from

Last month, SIA announced that it was possibly bringing to an end their 35 year relationship with Batey Ads and invited other ad agencies to submit proposals and make bids for the future. This sparked speculation that the “Singapore Girl” may fade into history.

Critics say that “Singapore Girl” has gone on too long, that it is sexist and dated. The image projected of the “sub-servient Asian woman stereotype” is offensive according to several women’s groups.

Supporters, of which there are many, counter by saying that it is actually a celebration of womanhood and represents qualities of warmth and hospitality. They also note the success of the campaign and urge SIA “not to fix what ain’t broke”. When news of the possible change of ad agency was announced, more than 3000 emails from around the world was sent within two days in support of continuing the “Singapore Girl”.

What would be your advice to Singapore Airlines?

Romance at the Speed of Light

Recently, Dave, managed to dig up an old advertisement poster where the Canadian Government tried to encourage women to go west and get married with statements like “anything in skirts stands a chance”. It of course reminded me of how different things are today. Women, for one would not stand for this kind of malarkey. We have all grown more mature as a global culture and are better educated on issues like etiquette, equality, respect and commitment. Yeah, right (sarcasm).In today’s mad rush of living, is there time for love, romance and family? Many people are finding it hard to cope. Some caring governments are once again entering the fray to help out and surely the award for the most “caring” government goes to Singapore.

Singaporean professionals are too busy spending more hours than there are in a day, just to achieve the minimum 5 C’s required to enter the dating game. How are the poor dears ever going to find a match and get married? The super-caring Singapore Government has been in a huff and a puff over the fact that fewer citizens were getting married and many of them later in life. Even when married, the couples were not productive. According to statistics for 2002, Singaporean women give birth to 1.37 babies in a lifetime, down from 1.87 in 1990. Since a replacement level of 2.1 is required to keep a country’s natural population stable, Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong elevated baby-making to a national priority. The concern was that the declining fertility rate would lead to economic crisis, increased security risk and political instability.

With admirable determination, the Singaporeans took action on bachelors and bachelorettes. In 1984, the Working Committee on Marriage and Procreation was formed with the task of increasing the birth-rate. Figuring that Singaporeans respond well to financial incentives, they introduced the “baby bonus’ incentives. I do not have figures to show how successful this program was.

This did not solve the issue of fewer and later marriages. Thus the Social Development Unit or SDU was formed which came out with 70 recommendations for increasing baby production. SDU was to succeed where earlier efforts failed because they would tackle issues like dating and matchmaking because as was said earlier, hardworking Singaporeans do not have time for such distractions. SDU’s efforts have earned them the nickname of Single, Desperate and Ugly.

Not swayed by such popular opinion, SDU went on to implement their plan which included compulsory dating courses in the first year of Universit, the “Love Boat Cruises” and the “Love Plane Flights” which include on-board lectures on seduction. The latter two, were subsidized holidays for singles and I believe, if any couple ended up getting married, the fare for the holiday was reimbursed.

Nowadays, Single, Desperate and Ugly hides behind their campaign brand of “Romancing Singapore” which organizes state-sponsored matchmaking events like speed dating (e.g. meet 6 guys/gals in 60 minutes), rock climbing for couples (an opportunity to get sweaty), love boat river race and midnight walks, just to name a few.

SDU produced an official eight-page guidebook called “When Boy Meets Girl! The Chemistry Guide” which teaches busy engineers and IT nerds how to court a girl, where to go, and what to do on a date.
Don’t you hate it when
the chemistry’s all wrong?
Singapore even has its own celebrity love guru, Dr. Wei, who also is known as Dr. Love. Dr. Love runs love cruises, Baby Planing Camps and was planning in 2004 to do an “edutainment” reality TV show called “Dr. Love’s Super Baby-Making Show”. This never materialized, perhaps because it went too far for “prudish” officials, despite Dr. Love’s assurance that it would be done very clinically. Hmmm, very romantic indeed.And has all this government plotting worked? In 2003, Durex did a sexual habits survey amongst 34 nations and Singapore ranked last for the second consecutive time. With Singaporeans reported having sex less than 8 times per month on average or 96 times per year. For the curious, it was the Hungarians, fortified with spicy paprika that took first place with 152 rolls in the hay per year.

Alas, so sad to see the fine efforts of Single Desperate and Ugly produce such poor results. Perhaps the expert readers in the blogosphere can give some advice on how we can avoid a movie entitled, “The Last of the Singaporeans”.

“I am a Satire, yes?”