Jan 29, 2009

Istana Open House 2009: How the Early Bird Catches the Worm

After years of following the same routine, I decided to try something new to break the monotony of Chinese New Year. This 初二 (second day of the lunar new month), I visited the Istana during its annual open house.

Usually closed to the public, the Istana grounds are open on five occasions – Chinese New Year, Deepavali, Hari Raya Puasa, Labour Day and National Day. Admission is free for citizens and permanent residents. Foreigners pay an entrance fee of $1 per person. For the first time in months, I feel proud to be a citizen.

The plan was to reach the Istana before its opening at 0830. However, the night before, back from Chinese New Year celebration, I was still finishing up my research and sending them for printing. As a result, I slept a little late and thanks to the nice weather, I got up at the time I should be on the road.

I arrived at the Istana Gate a little after 0900. There a queue – less than 10 people – had formed in front of a small booth. A lady volunteer was gesticulating to the approaching visitors, “citizens and permanent residents this side”, referring to her left (my right). Apparently the booth was a ticket booth and, as a citizen, I could skip it. However I couldn’t help but notice there were more people at the booth than skipping it. It was an ominous sign.

A male volunteer stood at the gate. I knew the ritual. Out came the pink card; I didn’t even stop for him. Up to this point, the card appeared to have magical powers. It was exhilarating too when a fellow civilian – not a police – checked your card.

Past the gate, another ritual greeted me. This should be no surprise. I laid my bag onto the conveyor belt and crossed the gate. Luckily, it did not beep.

Istana Main Gate
Istana Main Gate at 0914. They have hidden the tentage for the second ritual behind the gate, to the left of the photo, away from public sight.

Istana Main Gate SignIstana Main Gate Map
Notice and map after the main gate. The map shows you the public areas (shaded) and forbidden areas (presumably what’s not shaded). Looking at the sheer number of Men in Blue in the previous photo standing idly behind the main gate, do you expect any less in the Istana Domain?

I had great fun inside the Istana Domain, doing what I do best and trying not to get caught.

Two hours later, I decided I had enough of the voices that sounded so unsingaporean.

At 1130 I was out and WOW WHAT A SIGHT!

Istana Main GateIstana Main Gate
Left photo shows the queue waiting for their second ritual behind the gate. Right photo shows the queue outside the main gate. Remember the queue was less than 10 originally?

Istana Main Gate
The human snake outside the main gate. The last stretch must be the most demoralising. From just outside the gate, the queue turns right, all the way to Plaza Singapura before making a U-turn back to the gate.

I captured the whole spectacle from Istana Park across the road. The crowd outside was beyond my expectation. There was this indescribable feeling - I was finished, ready to go home and these people were still queuing under the midday sun. Should I pity them or laugh at their stupidity? It feels good to be an early bird, doesn't it?

Istana Main Gate
The spectacle from across the road. If you want to laugh, better do it here, away from the crowd.

Do you know how long the queue was? See below.

The Atrium
The Atrium@Orchard. You have to admire those who are last in the queue. Last in the game, but never lose sight of their goal.

Judging from the crowd, the Open House was overly successful. You have people who are dying to shake Nathan’s hand (I did not meet the President inside) and you have people – like me – who are curious about what’s inside. Or maybe it is the cheapest way to ‘escape the New Year’ (闭年).

Jan 20, 2009

How to be a Singaporean

Received it in my mailbox last week. Pretty hilarious, take a look. I wonder who is the unfortunate lady shouting 'excuse me' .. lol

(The whole thing is actually a film competition organized by NLB entitled 'Singapore In 5 Minutes'. Contestants are to capture unique components of Singapore film, theatre and music in a minute short film. More details here. Unfortunately, application has closed on 13 Jan.)

Saw it also on the January issue of golibrary while at the National Library. Here is the scan. Pardon the poor quality; I over-experimented with the GIF format.

Front Cover:


I guess it is more fun to enjoy the fruit of other people's labor. So here are some videos uploaded by National Library Board on youtube.

How to use an Elevator:

How to react to traffic accident:

Jan 17, 2009

Amazing Red Dot Quiz (1) - A Time Capsule in Singapore

I'm starting my own heritage quiz series, looking at the success the oldies have with theirs. It is never too late into the game.

The series will be entitled 'Amazing Red Dot Quiz'. Note the emphasis. Not Amazing Red Dot Quiz, but Amazing Red Dot Quiz. We know our little red dot is amazing, so I'm not stating the obvious.

Taking the cue from Victor who cheats in his quiz to prevent cheating - just look at his blinking rock - I'm going to (digitally) manipulate the quiz photo to make the quiz more 'challenging'. Like Victor, I hope you guys will be taking up the challenge.

The first quiz is on this interesting time capsule in Singapore. Where is it? What does it say?

Note the 'gone' letters are not my doing. They were already gone when I took the photo. What I did was to add noise so the smaller letters disappeared. The smaller letters contain an interesting piece of information.


Update on Jan 25, 2009.

From the comments, the oldies took up the challenge and overcame it. By hook or by crook, they have gotten it right. Since Seen This Scene That revealed the 'lost letters', I shall end this quiz. This is how the photo looks like originally, without the noise:

Time Capsule

PY is right about the capsule as "near the National Museum of Singapore". How near is near? Look at the photo to find out.

Time Capsule

Time Capsule reads:

30 DECEMBER 1984







Jan 13, 2009

A Street Directory on your Handphone

When I bought the latest Street Directory many many weeks ago, it came with an unexpected surprise.

No lah, they didn't give away free mobile. That would be the sun rising from the west.

The Street Directory was more than a book. The whole package consisted of the street directory ($12.90), a consumer guide ($7.00) and a CD ($30.00). I think I paid only $12.90, so the guide and CD were supposedly free.

The gem was the CD itself. There was a digital street directory software for the PC - nay, nothing to rave about, just an electronic version of the paper book. There was also another version for Pocket PC, PDA and SmartPhone. Oh!

If you're like me without the luxury of a mount, a street directory for your mobile will come in useful and I mean indispensable. Out there, you wouldn't want to bring a big street directory along. You rather save the space in your bag for food, water and insect repellant. Of course you don't want to get lost.

Image from Know Your Mobile - Plan a route using Maps on the Nokia N95. I don't own the newer Nokias with GPS maps, can't comment on their usefulness. For you lucky owners out there, maybe you can enlighten me on the state of the art.

The mobile street directory is truly a no-frills version, no more than a collection of map images with basic search function. Such software may be passe with the advent of GPS-driven navigation software, but its simplicity may be a boon rather than a bane in everyday usage.

Let's have a quick look at the search function. You can search by Places of Interest, Road and by using the free-form search.

Example of searching by Places of Interest. Select POI -> Bus Interchange -> Ang Mo Kio.

Example of searching by Road. Select Road -> A -> Abbotsingh Road.

Example of free-form search. Select Search -> (type any text). Ignore the Chinese 'pinyin' input. There is no Chinese search functionality. I have been sms-ing my Mainlander subordinate too much.

There is also a bookmark function which is quite neat. You can do research before the trip and save the result as a bookmark.

Bookmark function. You can go to a saved bookmark, add current location as a bookmark or simply remove the current bookmark.

The maps are actually images of the paper version. You can do directional scrolling on this 'map of Singapore', unlike on a book where you have to manually flip the pages.

Unlike Google Map, this is not a true map software. You cannot zoom, for starters. Neither can you drop placemarks. The software has no online component, so you cannot share your work with others. Of course there is no GPS functionality. If you are the kind who is hopelessly lost on the street, this is not for you.

To me, the software is a replacement for the paper street directory. It is good enough for my usual heritage exploration. At least I know the bus stop location, street layout and surrounding landmarks. If I'm on a wild trail, I prefer using my superbly lousy navigation and bashing skills.

Finding direction the old fashioned way is also nostalgic. Before we have in-car GPS navigators, the human navigator sits beside the driver with a map on the lap. If it comes to the "uh-oh-I-think-we-are-lost" situation, the back passengers are activated to look for landmarks as well.

This is a rather compelling reason for me to continue using the mobile street directory. You cannot afford to be complacent since you are an active participant in the navigation. The participatory role makes you more aware of your surrounding - the buildings, the roads, the streets, the river - our heritage.

Jan 8, 2009

Marina Bay Countdown 2009 .. How I Found the Best Place for Fireworks (Video)

The clock is slowly ticking.

2345 and I'm still wandering. Now I'm standing at the driveway of Clifford Pier. The entrance is right in front, but the staff are guarding the door. They accept a group arriving hastily but reject all others.

The grim truth hit me: there is no way in. My last bastion of hope is gone.


If you're lazy like me, you probably joined the big squeezing party without knowing the ground zero for fireworks. So you camped at the only spot left best spot and hoped for a good view of the fireworks. But are all public viewing locations equal?

The countdown website lists seven vantage points to view fireworks, excluding the Float @ Marina Bay where tickets are needed.

The website does not tell us the ground zero, however. It should be near the Esplanade and Float, but the wallpapers at their download gallery hint anywhere but that.

In fact, the left wallpaper has the fireworks firing up from Marina Bay Sands. Is that a rehearsal for the Integrated Resort opening?

The prelude has me standing helplessly at Clifford Pier watching the privileged entering, It was the same story at One Fullerton where the privileged were already inside. Dejected, but not to give up, I backtracked and dug in at the B02 bus-stop below Change Alley.

B02 Bus Stop Viewing Position

Oh boy, I believe I found the best location that night! My line of sight was about perpendicular to the line of fireworks and the distance to ground zero was just right for the fireworks to fit into my camera. And most importantly, the place was not too crowded or cordoned off.

Take a look at my video. You be the judge.

Jan 1, 2009

Marina Bay Countdown 2009 .. How I Squeezed and got Squeezed

I'm not a sucker for crowded event, but last night I made my way to Marina Bay for Countdown 2009.

After an enjoyable steamboat session with my subordinate and ex-subordinates colleagues from the Mainland, we trooped to the Bay area.

We stopped for photo-shoot along the way. My Mainland subordinate colleague touched down less than a week ago, so he was trying to capture some night shots of our city. This was my attempt on Raffles Hotel.

Raffles Hotel

As we turned left into Bras Basah Road from Beach Road, I could see pockets of people making their way to Suntec City. We saw the 'chopstick' across the junction. I'm not sure whether Mainlanders understand sook-ching, so I told him that is a memorial for massacre victims and I added - "like Nanking Massacre".

We took the CityLink to the Esplanade and the first sign of what was to come greeted me. The police closed the underground entrance to the building. So everybody was made to exit on the side of Esplanade Park, across the road from the Esplanade.

Since our main purpose was to enjoy the fireworks and not the crowd, we continued along Esplanade Drive to find a suitable spot. The whole Esplanade Bridge was infested abound with people.

Esplanade Drive

The police had blocked access to the road before the bridge. There was no way to get to the Esplanade side and once you're on the bridge, there's no way to cross-over to the other side.

Esplanade Drive was closed from 8pm to 2am for the countdown event. I was on the bridge around 11pm.

Esplanade Drive

The bridge was infested crowded all right, but looking back on what happened last night after the bridge, it wasn't too bad. At least we could still move.

Many people settled down on the bridge. They might had thought the bridge was the best location for the fireworks. Or they might had given up.

Esplanade Drive

I thought the crowd situation at Merlion Park or One Fullerton would be better, given the countdown epicentre was at Marina Bay Floating platform.

Bleah, what a miscalculation.

The monster was after the Esplanade Bridge. Just before Esplanade Drive and Fullerton Drive converge, there's a pedestrian crossing. Two human streams - from Esplanade Bridge and The Fullerton Hotel - flowed, or tried to flow, into Marina Bay One Fullerton.

It was a terrifying sight and experience. The human stream became stagnant here. You couldn't advance or retreat. In the distance a policeman was gesticulating wildly for people to move back from One Fullerton.

Moments before crowd moment stopped completely, I was actually relishing the experience of squeezing people and getting squeezed. There was no violent shoving. In fact I do not remember any skin contact or anybody breathing on my neck. It helped that a girl was constantly in front - and not some burly male dripping with sweat.

Fullerton Drive

When moment got frozen, I imagined having to countdown from this uncomfortable position in the middle of the road. Unforgettable, but no thanks. Luckily the gesticulating policeman was successful. The group in front was persuaded to return.

Amazingly, when they turned back, our moment resumed! We were on the One Fullerton side in no time. Those people were foreign nationals and I suppose you can find them at construction sites. I'm inclined to blame them for the inconvenience. Even my Mainlander subordinate colleague was surprised at their number in Singapore.

One Fullerton was another public viewing location for the fireworks and the whole area had been cordoned off by the police, who thought it unwise to allow more people into the area. Standing outside, I looked at the crowd behind the cordon and in the restaurants.

My eyes were green with envy.


After the fireworks display, there was an exodus to the MRT station. I was like huh, why's everybody so pragmatic? There was no public celebration, nobody's dancing and before 12:10am, the exodus had began. The fireworks was 7 minutes long and everybody was there just for the fireworks.

Train service was extended into the wee-hours. At 12:20am, I was in Raffles Place Station together with other, ahem, revelers.

Raffles Place MRT

It was then I witnessed the true operational capability of our SMRT. You didn't know they can be that efficient until you witnessed the countdown for their train. Trains were practically queuing up to ferry the revelers home.

You feel cheated during normal peak hours, don't you?

Raffles Place MRT