30 December 2007

What Games Are Our Children Playing Nowadays?

Just below the HDB block where I am living, there is a playground. There are the usual playground equipment for climbing and swinging, as well as kiddy rides.

As can be expected, many young children can be found playing there during the late afternoon when the weather is cooler.

I usually have to pass by this playground on the way to the neighbourhood market or food centre.

Yesterday, I was cycling to the market when I saw a little box on the ramp (arrowed):

It looked quite new. At first I thought it was a box of toothbrushes which someone had dropped. I took a closer look:

Even closer:

Closer still:

Alamak! The immediate thoughts that ran through my mind were: What was a pregnancy test kit doing near a children's playground? Could it have been used by an underaged but over-developed girl who also frequented the playground for other more innocuous games?

I looked around and found this thermometer-like thingy on the grass patch nearby:

I checked the results:

What a relief! She was not pregnant. However, she might not be so lucky next time.

But wait a minute! What if she was a married woman trying to get pregnant? If that is the case, I offer her my sincere apologies even though I am in no way responsible for the test results, whether positive or negative. Whatever the case, how could the user discard the used test kit so carelessly? What if an innocent child picks it up and thinking that it is a thermometer, puts it in his/her mouth? Yucks!!!

Stories about unwed teenage mums abound in Singapore. (Read one here.) In this age of the Internet, bored young girls can find attention in chatrooms where there are no shortage of predators.

So parents, please pay more attention to the games that your children play, lest they end up carrying the baby, literally.

Don't laugh, okay? It has happened here more than once before - the parents didn't know that their unwed daughter was pregnant even AFTER she had given birth!

On that solemn note, Happy New Year everyone!

25 December 2007

Second Best Christmas Gift Ever

I blogged about a funny sms I received before.

On Christmas eve at about 12.20 pm, I received this SMS:

My reply was:

Still not knowing what I meant, she responded:

I think she meant "What no show?" because the SITEX IT show was over. So I replied:

This time she got it:

I responded and couldn't resist doing some advertising:

The advertising worked! She promised to check my blog out:

Celine, are you reading this? My colleague said that I should have asked for your address first so that I could just gatecrash the party. Then it would have been my second best Christmas gift ever. (My first is here.) Haha.

24 December 2007

The Best Christmas Gift Ever

This story happened long long ago
A tale exactly 16 years old
A boy was born into this world
At Mount Elizabeth Hospital

He was a healthy full-term baby
But the birth wasn't easy
Especially for the first-time mother
From morn till dusk lasted the labour

The doctor was summoned
His Christmas dinner he must have abandoned
Braved the Orchard traffic jams to Mount Elizabeth
Just so he could attend to the childbirth

She pushed and dad tried to urge
Yet the baby refused to emerge
The pain was so unbearable
She was given an epidural

The doctor used forceps, biceps and suction pump
Still the baby remained firmly within the "hump"
The doctor finally made the decision
To deliver by Caesarian section

It was a move that couldn't be delayed
Although this was never said
It turned out to be a right decision
The reason was clear only after the incision

Round the baby's ankle twirled the umblical cord
The baby's life was saved, thank God
He weighed more than 7-pound
More importantly, his health was sound

Words could not describe the parents' joy
When holding for the first time their boy
It was a feeling of ecstasy
Almost one of fantasy

The boy grew up to be quite smart
His good academic results warmed the heart
So did his good behaviour
And his moral character

It is the best Christmas gift ever
For which the parents are grateful forever
Wishing you many more Happy Birthdays
We will love you, always

From: Dad, Mum and ZQ

23 December 2007

My PC Is Back!

I finally got my PC back yesterday. It had spent a total of 12 days at the HP Customer Service Centre.

I arrived at the centre at 2.55 pm but had to contend with a large crowd:

Some of them were sending in their equipment for servicing while some of them were like me, there to collect their equipment.

While waiting, I spotted a coffee machine which served complimentary drinks:

Ho sei liao, I thought to myself as I could make the wait worth the while by drinking as many free cups of coffee as I could. But alas, all clean paper cups had been used up and I was too lazy to go wash one. So I reluctantly gave up this privilege.

After a 35-minute wait, my number flashed on the monitor and I collected my equipment at the counter.

But the girl at the counter had a surprise for me:

Inside the box was this item:

Wah so thoughtful of HP. Next time during the long wait for my PC to be repaired by HP, I can squeeze my ball.

Have A Merry Christmas And A Happy New Year.

19 December 2007

HP Customer Service - Some Rights And Some Wrongs

Two years ago, I signed a 24-month MaxOnLine contract at Sitex and got a free Compaq Presario PC. Well, it was not exactly free because I opted for better specifications, a bigger 19-inch LCD monitor, as well as a 3-year extended warranty.

That turned out to be a smart move because near to the end of the first year, the PC's automated SMART (pardon the pun but it stands for Self-Monitoring, Analysis, and Reporting Technology) reported that the hard disk was in danger of imminent failure. It further advised that important files should be backed-up and the hard disk be replaced as soon as possible.

As first-year service was on-site, I called the HP Customer Service Hotline and a service personnel was sent to my home within one or two days. The service was impressive and efficient. Ever since the replacement of the hard disk, the SMART message did not appear again.

However, two weeks ago, my PC gave this occasional error message on boot up:

Whenever that happened, the PC would shut down automatically.

As the PC was already 2 years' old, I had to "carry it in" for service. This I did on Mon 10 Dec 2007:

The service centre was quite crowded and there was an estimated queueing time of more than half-an-hour. Luckily there was a very thoughtful "quick drop" service so I deposited my PC there. I asked the counter staff how long it would take to repair my PC. She said that it would take 3 to 5 working days. She also said that HP would call me once the repair was done.

Hmm... so far so good. And to top it all, HP even gave customers who drove a complimentary parking ticket:

But alas! My good impression of their service did not last very long.

On Thu 13 Dec 2007, I called them to find out if my PC was ready for collection. "Not yet, we are still investigating" came the reply.

Alright, it was only 3 days. Maybe it was a complicated problem. So I called them again 2 days later. This time, I was put on hold and made to listen to music for almost 10 minutes until the line was cut-off. I called them again and another staff answered the call. She again put me on hold for a long time.

It seemed like the longer the wait, the shorter my temper became. I hung up and called a third time. This time I lost my temper and almost shouted into the phone, "Don't put me on hold again! Both times I waited until the line was cut off!"

"Sir, but it was a different person who took your call", came the not-too-apologetic reply. "You can call the desktop service department directly at this number xxxxxxxx."

"Why didn't your colleagues give me this number earlier?" I asked angrily.

I called the number given and to my surprise, I received a voice message saying "We are sorry, we are closed for the day. Our operating hours are from 9am to 12.30pm on Saturdays..." I looked at my watch and it was 12.40pm. Dammit.

I called the Hotline again immediately and spoke to the same guy who answered my call earlier.

"Oh ya, they are already closed. I will ask them to call you first thing on Monday morning," he said nonchalantly.

Monday came and no call was received by late morning so I called them again.

I said, "What's taking you so long to repair a simple fan fault? If I sent my PC to Sim Lim Square for repair, I would have got it back within half an hour."

"Sorry, we have a lot of repair jobs at this time. I will ask them to expedite the repair of your PC."

I called them again today and demanded to know the repair status of my PC. Again they promised to get the engineer to call me.

Thank goodness, this time an engineer named Bryan (or Brian?) did call me back. He explained that he tried switching on the PC for about 10 times but never encountered the said problem at all. I said that I encountered the problem about 50 percent of the time and have a photo (first photo above) to prove it. He said that he was not doubting my account but only called to clarify the matter. He said it was not necessary to see the photo and he would replace the CPU fan for me as a precautionary measure. But the next day was Hari Raya Haji and they were not working, so I guess I could expect to wait a few days more.

Sigh, 10 days on and I am still without my PC. This partially explains why I have been blogging infrequently during this period. I am using a 7-year-old slow and archaic Pentium III PC to blog this entry.

This bad service experience certainly negated all the good service previously provided by HP. And to make matters worse, I recently re-contracted my MaxOnLine for 28 months and they would be giving me a Compaq Presario laptop for $299. However, I will have another long wait until after Feb 2008 to get it because the stocks have run out due to "overwhelming response". I do not intend to take up extended warranty for the laptop as I now know that the word "extended" applies more to the waiting period for repairs than to the warranty itself.

HP, in a tie-up with Starhub, has been "giving away" many "free" PCs and desktops. It is inevitable that some of these hardware would need service and repair within the warranty period. Obviously, HP's service centre has not been beefed up to cope with the increased demand. It should rectify this critical situation as soon as possible. If not, its service level and reputation would surely suffer.

Could HP be biting off more than it could chew? Currently, it should not claim to have a turnaround time of "3 to 5 working days" for service and repair jobs, at least not in my case.

09 December 2007

Meeting An Old Friend 27 Years Later

In late November, I visited Taiwan with my family. We booked the 7-day tour only 10 days before departure. As such, we paid a premium price. For 4 adults and 1 child, we paid a total of $8,130.00 to the tour agency. However, as promised, we did get 5-star hotel accommodation throughout the tour and business-class seats on the return trip. Taking that into consideration and that it was super-peak holiday season, I guess that the tour price was fairly reasonable.

This was in fact my third visit to the island - my previous 2 visits were in 1980 and 1981, both official trips. During the first visit, I stayed for 3 months together with 3 other colleagues. A 55-year-old man was our mentor. I shall name him MX here.

The very handsome 55-year-old MX

Since we left Taiwan, MX had never failed to send us Christmas cards every year. Of course, we returned his gesture of friendship by sending him Chinese New Year cards yearly as well.

I longed to meet him again on this trip. I got his latest postal address but the phone number that I had was very old. I tried calling him several times about a week before my departure - there was ringing each time but nobody ever answered. I feared the worst.

I decided to write him a letter 4 days before departure, hoping that the letter would reach him before I did. I was very much relieved when indeed he called me one day before my departure. He told me that his phone number had been changed. He would end a meeting early on 25 Nov just to meet up with me. How nice of him!

That night, I skipped the dinner with the tour group. I called MX at around 7 pm to confirm our appointment. Then I took a cab from Parkview Hotel (美伦饭店) in Hualien to his place. The fare for the 10-minute ride was about NT180 each way but I paid the cab drivers NT200 (about S$9.20). The cab driver was not very sure of the way there at first but eventually he found the place after some help over the radio from a colleague.

It was drizzling at that time (and for almost two whole days during that period because of the typhoon). When I arrived, MX was waiting for me below his 5-storey block here:

It was a grey-coloured building which did not look all too new. Here is a photo of the very retro-looking mailboxes:

It was not equipped with a lift. We had to climb the narrow stairway to his unit on the 4th floor.

Despite his age of 82, MX did not show any signs of it. (It must have been the benefit of repeatedly climbing 4 flights of stairs daily that contributed to his health. I am not joking, he even walks faster than me. I will not be surprised at all if he could outlive me.) To keep healthy, MX woke up early each day to do morning exercises. He even proudly showed me his scooter which he still rode (and it's a "Sport" model, don't pray pray okay?):

The apartment in which MX lived alone was simply furnished. There were some unsightly brown stains on the wallpaper which obviously had seen better days. MX's daughter, the elder of two children, was married and residing near New York. His son was also married and stayed in Taipei. The families each had two children, making MX a grandfather of 4.

There were photos of the two families taken with MX displayed in the cabinet. With MX's permission, I took photos of the 2 families.

Luckily, I had the foresight to bring along my camera stand and managed to take a snapshop with MX:

I presented MX with 2 copies of the stamp book which I co-authored. MX could not read English but he said that he could look at the pictures:

I also gave him 2 pre-1985 one-dollar coins (the ones with the large stone-lion design), 2 fish-design 20-cent coins and a Singapu-lah book (新加坡啦) comic satirical book which he promised he would read:

He told me that his apartment was once broken into and the thief stole the Singapore coin sets which we gave him previously. I asked him what was the meeting which he ended early in order to meet me. He said that it was a party meeting and that he was still active in party politics. He was pro-Mah Ying Jiu (马英九).

After that, we went to a restaurant nearby to have steamboat set dinner. The waitress served each of us a large plate filled with raw vegetables and mixed food:

"那就够了" (That would be enough), I told the waitress in Mandarin. Much to my bewilderment, she insisted that we each ordered a meat. It seemed like it was needed to complete the set. So I ordered sliced fish and MX had sliced pork.

We ate and talked about the good old times like what had changed and who had passed on. Dinner ended at almost 10 pm and we walked back to his apartment in the rain. I called the same cab company to send a cab over to pick me up in 10 minutes. I shook hands with MX and gave him a hug. He said that he would like to visit Singapore sometime. I told him not to let us wait too long.

I didn't tell him this but I certainly hope that I don't have to wait another 27 years for our next meeting.

03 December 2007

GD Is Back!

To all readers of this blog (but especially to Etel, otherwise known as Elaine or my GNE), GD is back from holiday in Taiwan.

23 November 2007

Alisan Here I Come

Hi Guys and Gals,

I will be going for a Taiwan tour from 24 - 30 November 2007, so I may not have the opportunity to update my blog and go visit yours for a week or two.

Meanwhile, please take care.

But wait a minute... Alisan is NOT on the itinerary. Dammit!

20 November 2007

Memories Of The Queen Street Market

Do you know where most housewives did their marketing in Singapore 40 years ago? No, not in supermarkets or even modern wet markets. Although there were one or two famous supermarkets in town, most people couldn't afford to shop in them. Yes, they went to a street market instead. Do you know what a typical street market was like then? Read on to find out.

Long before we have modern wet markets like the one in Toa Payoh Lorong 8 as shown in the photo above, we used to have open-air wet markets in some streets. In fact, the term "wet market" was probably coined because the ground of a street market was always wet, as you can see from some of the photos below. The water on the ground didn't come from the rain - it probably came from water splashed by the many fruit and vegetable vendors on their wares to keep them looking fresh or from melting ice used to keep seafood from going bad.

I remember two thriving street markets in the 1960s. One was in Queen Street very near where I lived. This area was also known as 小坡 or "xiu bo" in Cantonese, meaning "small town":

The above map from the 1961 edition of Singapore Street Directory shows the location of the Queen Street Market in the 1960s. (Coloured additions to the map are my own. The red arrow in the map shows the direction from which the above photo was taken.)

Below are more photos of Queen Street market:

The other street market was in Smith Street in Chinatown, otherwise known as 大坡 or "dai bo" in Cantonese, meaning "big town":

I remember this market well as my paternal aunt used to stay on the 4th storey of the SIT block which is visible in the background of the above photo. Sometimes, this market had live animals for sale, e.g. snakes, monitor lizards, turtles, tortoises, etc. No doubt, these animals were destined for the dinner table. They say that the Chinese eat anything that moves with its back facing the sky and anything that has four legs, except tables and chairs.

On some mornings, my mother would allow me to tag along for marketing. She would bring along a rattan basket that looked like this one:

Not that she deliberately wanted to save the environment by bringing her own bag, it's just that plastic bags had not been invented yet. Most items bought from the market, like fish and vegetables, were wrapped in old newspapers - very environmentally-friendly indeed, and done voluntarily without any campaign or exhortation from any government agency.

The market, which operated only in the morning, was always crowded. My mum would bring along a large enamel mug and buy 50 cents worth of prawn mee soup. The stall that sold prawn mee was just a tricycle which carried a large aluminium pot of soup placed on a stove of lighted charcoal. Fifty cents would buy almost a mugful of prawn mee which was enough as breakfast for two persons, especially after the mee had expanded due to being soaked in the dark soup for some time. (It is amazing that after all these years, this prawn mee stall is still operating in the food centre in Block 270 nearby. I recognised the old stallowner when he made his appearance at the stall a few years ago.)

I would often beg my mum to buy a kati of fresh cockles which I loved to eat raw. Luckily, the cockles then didn't give me hepatitis. She would always oblige as I was a well-behaved boy one kati of cockles cost a mere 15 cents.

I remember a stall that sold all sorts of dried goods (arrowed in one of the above photos). There was also an Indian woman who sold curry, chilli and spice paste which she displayed as 3 large orange, red and yellow lumps on a banana leaf placed in a large flat rattan tray. Then there was the fishmonger called "Ah Sum" who sold all kinds of seafood. Sometimes, he had live snakehead fish which were placed in large wooden trays on the floor:

The snakehead is a really hardy fish. It could wriggle across land and survive several days out of water! To kill it, you have to hit its head violently with something hard, e.g. a stone pestle. The Chinese believe that eating the snakehead would help a person heal his surgical wound.

One of the pre-war shophouses that lined the street was Ban Hup Hong Bakery. It sold traditional bread loaves, the kind with burnt crust on the top which should be cut away with a knife. However, I don't know why but most kids of my age then just loved to eat the crust. Luckily that didn't give me cancer.

Traditional loaves

The bakery also sold french loaves. I think a small one sold for 15 cents while a large one was 25 cents. There were no fanciful types of bread that "talked" to you, saying, "Buy me! Buy me!". I always re-used the translucent wrapping paper for tracing maps or for making my own kites.

French loaves

Below is a photo of the bakery, courtesy of the National Archives. (Er... try to ignore the unhappy incident in the foreground and concentrate on the bakery on the right of the photo.)

Sadly, only one landmark of the area remains today (see photo below) - St Anthony's Convent School. Even so, it is no longer known by that name. Not too long ago, the building was used as one of the campuses of the Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts. Now, it looks like the building is not in use. But this situation is probably only temporary - that is until the next tenant comes along - one who would certainly use the premises for a purpose that would befit its status as a conservation building.

As is customary with some bloggers, I end this entry with a "no-prize" quiz question:

Who was Queen Street named after? (The answer will be revealed in one of my subsequent posts in a fortnight's time.)

Photo Credits:

1. Old black-and-white photos of Queen Street and Smith Street in this entry are by courtesy of the National Archives of Singapore.

2. Old colour photos of Queen Street in this entry are used with permission from Mr Derek Tait, author of the books "Sampans, Banyans and Rambutans" and "Memories of Singapore and Malaya".