Sunday, May 27, 2007

The Battle Box

The Battle Box is an underground military operations complex that was part of the Malaya command headquarters during World War II. It's located in Fort Canning park, which is up the hill from the fire station in my previous blog entry.

Some of the posters on the walls have been recreated from the era. This was one of my favourites.

The figures are all animatronic. The Battle Box has been recreated as it was the day Singapore surrendered to the Japanese. The switchboard operator was a very busy man. There is still chalk writing on the door of this room dating to the day the British left.

Leaning on the table is a figurine of General Percival, who commanded the Allied forces in Malaya at the time. The meeting depicted in this room is a discussion that leads up to the decision to surrender. An act Winston Churchill called "the worst disaster and largest capitulation in British history." In the meeting shown here Percival suggests alternatives, including a counter attack and the officers on his staff convince him that it would be futile.

Our guide, Dias, seen here on the left, was 7 years old when Singapore fell to the Japanese. He remembers hiding under the stairs with his brother and sister for three weeks before the surrender. The allied forces had no air or naval support by this time and the Japanese could bomb Singapore almost at will. He believes Percival's decision to surrender when he did saved the lives of himself and his family. Of Winston Churchill and his comments Dias says "That fat cigar smoking prime minister should have come here to fight. Percival had no planes, he had no ships, he could not win." Over the next 3 years, before the liberation, Dias learned Japanese in school, where it was compulsory.

This Japanese surrender flag was taken by British troops at Fort Canning. It features a Japanese character ('YAMAKA') that relates to an ordnance unit. Some of the text on the flag includes:
- This flag was removed by J. Fell (Ginger) from Fort Canning Singapore on Sept 9th 1945
- Bob (Smiler) Jolley Liverpool [followed by a beer mug]
- J. Smith Newcastle
- Cpl. R.E.M. Murrow Sunderland
- Cpl. Hobson Good Old BFD Northern

There's also an Irish harp design in the top right corner.

If you ever find yourself with a few spare hours to kill in Singapore, The Battle Box is well worth a visit.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

More Singapore

Here's the view from the nausea inducing 20 degree sloping floor of the bar on the 71st level of the Swissotel in Singapore.

And here's the view from the perfectly flat floor of Equinox restaurant on the 69th level of the Swissotel, where only the terrible food and the ridiculous prices induce nausea. Believe me, you are paying for the view. The lights towards the bottom right are Clarke Quay, which used to be a bunch of warehouses but now they've all been converted to bars and restaurants, including a Hooters. Even though Hooters serves fried crap with little or no flavour, its food is better than the food served at Equinox. The lights in the bottom left are Boat Quay, which contains lots and lots of riverside dining choices offering food at a 20th the price of Equinox and about 75 times the taste and quality.

I had expected Singapore to be all modern skyscrapers, and there are a lot of them, but many lovely old buildings have been preserved, including the Central Fire Station, which is still in use. The communications tower behind it is in Fort Canning Park, which is a nice place to spend a morning, in addition to being home to The Battle Box, subject of an upcoming blog post.
By far my favourite building in Singapore though was the Old Hill Street Police Station, which is right next door to the fire station and is the current home of the Ministry of the Arts. The different colours on all the storm shutters really look fantastic in the sun.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Friendly Advice

I'm a live and let live kind of guy. You go your way, I'll go mine. You want to get all out of control, that's okay, I'm not responsible for your actions, only my own. But trust me, if you are in my garden, you do not want to position yourself in such a way as to block the sunlight from my peppers, stunting their growth and causing them to lean precariously to one side.
This tree's lower branches had to learn that the hard way.

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

How To Speak Thai

Nikki and I both learned enough Thai to get by while we were out there. Thai is a complicated language and is hard to represent using the roman alphabet, but in our case we only cared about speaking it, as I'm sure you do, so the phrases below are presented phonetically.

I had intended to learn a new expression every day, but after learning 4 I realised that I now had all I needed. You too can be as competent a Thai speaker as Nikki and I with these simple phrases. To be polite in Thai, each sentence ends with "Krap" if you're male or "Kaa" if you're female. If you want to be rude you can just cut the "Krap".

The fourth Thai phrase we learned was how to say "hello". Some of you may think this silly, surely it should be the first Thai phrase you learn, well, you're wrong, there are three far more important phrases.

The first Thai phrase we learned, was "Kop Koon Krap" for me and "Kop Koon Kaa" for Nikki. This means "Thank you". Thank you is more important than hello because you use it more often. You may say "hello" when you first walk into a pub, but you'll say "thank you" many times throughout the evening.

The second phrase we learned was "Ka Roo Na Song Sing Krap", which was definitely the most important phrase we learned. Again, Nikki needed to use "Kaa" on the end. Let me break this one down for you:

"Ka Roo Na" - Please
"Song" - Two
"Sing" - Singha beers

This phrase works like a charm. Upon hearing it, bored waiters and waitresses tired of foreigners drinking all their beer suddenly become friendly and outgoing.

Now, the third phrase wasn't one we used very much, so you don't really need to learn it as long as you're happy to repeat yourself. Waitresses would bring us beer and say "Kop Koon Kaa" and I would feel that saying "Kop Koon Krap" back was not sufficient, so we learned "Ma Pen Raa Krap", which means "You're Welcome".

Finally, it was time to learn "hello", so we could announce ourselves when walking into a pub. Hello is "Sa Wat Dee Krap", or, as you know by now if you're a girl "Sa Wat Dee Kaa". This pretty much completed our education. Now we could walk into a pub, say hello, order beer, thank the wait staff for taking our order and then respond to them for thanking us for drinking it, that, my friends, is what I call fluency.

You now know all the Thai you're ever going to need for a successful holiday to that wonderful country. Ma Pen Raa Krap.

Monday, May 14, 2007


It's good to be home. The house was in one piece, except for the computer. It appears to have blown a fuse in its power supply, but is hopefully terminal enough that Nikki will have to let me buy a whole new one.

The garden was a little overgrown. The herbs are mostly all looking big healthy and the tomato plant has gone absolutely bonkers...two of them were nice and red , so I picked them, there are about a dozen others on there that should come ready over the next few weeks:I am bizarrely proud of these two guys.

Friday, May 11, 2007

May 11th

As any Aberdeen fan knows, May 11th is a magical day, it's a double fantastic day for me though, because it is also Nikki's birthday. We're back in Singapore, I've booked us for dinner at Equinox, on the 70th floor of the Swissotel, Nikki loved the necklace I gave her this morning. Everything's shaping up for a great day, except, well, here are some of the google searches I've run since I came to this computer:

swollen nose
swollen forehead nose
sinus infection swelling
tropical disease "swollen nose"
swelling forehead nose tropics
swelling forehead spread nose

Yeah, something is weird. Nikki had this small swelling in her forehead yesterday and a bit of a cold. No pain, no fever, we joked that it looked like she'd had botox, by last night it had shrunk a bit, this morning, maybe a bit more. We had a lazy morning. I went out for chocolate croissants, we watched one of the pirated DVD's we bought in Bangkok and then Nikki realised her glasses were a bit tight...the swelling has spread down her nose and she looks...well, she looks normal, except for her nose, which looks like the nose of a boxer who's gone 10 rounds a few times too many, it's very weird. Still no pain or fever. The internet is no help as ever. She's trying a hot bath at the moment. That usually solves everything, if not we may have to resort to drastic measures and try a hot cup of tea. Failing that we'll just get so hammered tonight that we don't care that everyone's staring at her nose and assuming I'm an abusive husband. Bizarrely, this won't be the first time I've experienced that. When she had her wisdom teeth taken out last year she ended up with huge bruises on each side of her face that lingered for weeks and migrated around her face. That was fantastic. This should be an interesting evening. Oh and you're definitely not getting pictures of this. Not unless I can take a picture of her nose without her noticing and post it here without her ever finding out.

Tuesday, May 8, 2007


Still no pictures, sorry. I've no excuse this time other than that I didn't bring my portable hard drive with me to the place where the computers are and I'm not going to go back for it because Nikki's having a nap and I don't want to wake her up.

We're in Phuket now, flying back to Singapore tomorrow night, before heading home on Saturday. Bangkok was great fun, but the Sofitel Central Plaza charged 20 bhat a minute for internet access. To give you an idea of how extortionate that is, the going rate at most internet cafe's is 1 or 2 bhat per minute. Even here at the Kata Thani I bought an hour for 200 bhat, which is still too high, but not ridiculously so.

Bad news on the post card front for any of you whose address we don't have memorised, which in my case is everyone except my Mum, Auntie Cena, and Christine (and even then I'm not sure of Christine or Auntie Cena's postcode), Nikki forgot to print off the address list, so you're not getting a postcard, sorry. Alex and Fi, I know it's BFPO53, but that's about it. Iain and Vikki, Stonehaven, probably won't do the trick and Jen and Thomas, near Dallas, really isn't going to work. Once again, sorry. I accept full responsibility, I only asked her to do it 3 times. In fact now that I think about it, what do you all have in common? That's right, you've moved in the last few years. So it's your fault, not mine, I can't possibly be expected to remember your addresses when you keep moving around.

So anyway, in holiday related news, we were sitting in a bar eating spicy prawns the other night and the woman changed the channel to a football match that was about 7 minutes in - HEA 0-0 ABE read the banner at the top...Now, I haven't seen an Aberdeen match live all season and they were playing in their white away colours, so I wasn't really sure it was them until Jamie Langfield let a soft dribbler, that he really should have saved, trickle under his hand and into the net. "Fantastic" I said to Nikki, "it's Aberdeen". So we had a lot of Singha and watched Aberdeen conspire to miss one chance after another as everyone else in the bar ignored the proceedings. Ignored them that is until Aberdeen equalised with about a minute left at which point I jumped up and shouted "Yes!" scaring the life out of the 3 or 4 Thai waitresses on my left and the 10 or 12 Russian diners on my right and drawing the attention of the entire bar. So sorry to anyone who was in, I think it was called, Oyster, on Sunday night in Kata. That was me.

Tuesday, May 1, 2007

No Pics Today

Sorry. Met my cousin David yesterday, who had parked his container ship in Singapore for a few hours with the express purpose of forcing Nikki and I to drink lots of 660ml bottles of Tiger Beer. As a result I forgot to download my new set of pictures to Nikki's laptop and create a blog entry before she went to work. David got back on board to drive his ship round the corner to Malaysia last night where he'll park it up again today (sorry for all the nautical terms, I hope I'm not confusing you all, I've been reading a lot of Patrick O'Brien recently) before showing his replacement what he's broken this trip and taking a taxi back to Singapore to fly home this evening. Hopefully he'll have time to meet up for a couple of glasses of mineral water and maybe a garden salad before he goes.

Nikki took me on the MRT yesterday, which is Singapore's underground system. It's great. Really clean. Very cheap. Very fast. Even the escalators down to the platforms travel about 6 times faster than normal. They have this great system where you buy your ticket and get a plastic card. The two fares I paid yesterday were SG$2.30 and SG$2.50, but the clever part is, if you keep hold of your card at the end of a journey and pop it back in a machine, you get SG$1 back. The cards look like they're reusable, possibly from the same machine shortly after they've been deposited. No-one chucks their tickets away like they do outside every other underground station I've ever seen and the cards are recycled over and over. Brilliant.