chrishansenhome: (Cartoon)
I take a lot of my strength from my husband, HWMBO, who is Singaporean. Travelling to Singapore and having many Singaporean friends and acquaintances, both online and in meatspace, enriches my life immensely. Last night, looking at the Gospel for tomorrow, taking in the presentation of Jesus in the temple and the Nunc Dimittis of Simeon, I had a brainwave.

February 2, 2014 The Presentation of the Lord
Sermon delivered at St. John the Evangelist, 10AM.
First Reading: Malachi 3:1-4;
Epistle: Hebrews 2:14-18; Gospel: Luke 2:22-40
“…he would not see death until he had set eyes on the Christ…”

In the name of God, the one, the Undivided Trinity. AMEN.

One of the great advantages of being in a multi-racial home is that each partner gets to experience two or more cultures within the four walls of their house.

I have been partners with Tan, whom some of you know, for 16 years now, and have been to Singapore, his original home, many times. I have many Singaporean friends, not only those whom I have met in person, but a goodly number whom I only know online but who are my friends nonetheless.

The rest of the sermon for those who want to read it is behind the cut )
chrishansenhome: (Cartoon)

It's been a while, but I need to keep a record of my visit to the Antipodes. This is my longest trip ever (7 weeks away from home and HWMBO) and it may be my last longhaul trip (although I hope not).

I arrived in Singapore on March 9, having spent 13 hours on a BA plane in Premium Economy. It wasn't cramped, but the holstered remote control was loose. so I couldn't watch the screen as every time I shifted it turned the set off. The food was meh. Keep these facts in your mind for the moment.

I was met by my friends Choo Beng and BK, at whose place I stayed for that week while I was getting over jetlag. He even sacrificed his own bedroom for me, and slept in his TV room, which was formerly his spare bedroom. I hope to be back in April.

During that week I went out to dinner with many people. A gang dinner with the aforementioned two plus Leslie and Louie and Edwin. Dinner with Sashawoody and Sgboy01 from Twitter, Kevin my good friend for many years, Alex Au and Roy Tan, the last two gay activists in Singapore for many years. I will be seeing others when I get back on April 13.

So on Saturday Leslie and I went to Sei Ling's place to have lunch with her and her husband and adorable family. Her husband then drove me to the airport, where I was to take Qantas to Brisbane on my way to Auckland.

Now those of you who have flown Qantas in the past may be aware of this, but their Premium Economy beats BA's all to hell. The cabin attendant came by with dinner, placed a white linen napkin over the tray table, and asked, "Mr Hansen, what would you like, beef or fish?" My only response was to say, "How did you know my name?" He just smiled. The food was good, and I had no one sitting next to me, which was good.

When we got to Brisbane my first sight of Australia was limited to a very dry airport. I had to clear security again, and then waited for a regular economy flight to Auckland. Again, no one sat next to me and the flight went relatively quickly.

Getting into New Zealand is relatively difficult compared to other places I've been. They are very cautious about bringing food into the country as it could spread diseases that the local flora and fauna have never seen. After queueing for Immigration, I got my bags and then joined another long-ass queue for Customs control. They then directed me to the X-ray machines. I was already frazzled but tried not to show it. Some Aussie cricketers tried to muscle in ahead of me but I wouldn't allow it.

Then to the taxi rank, where I caught a cab into Auckland. Now, here's tip No. 1: unless you are quite tired or quite wealthy, do not take a cab into the city from Auckland Airport. It takes around 45 minutes and costs NZ$90. I only had NZ$100 on me so I gave him a NZ$5 tip and had $5 left (assume all amounts subsequent to this are NZ$).

The hotel is a 3-star but somewhat run-down at the heels. The staff are Eastern Europeans for the most part and are very nice. I got to my room and had a mini-meltdown. I lay down on the bed and passed out for a few hours, then tried to find my blood glucose meter. Tore my bags apart then found it under one of them. I thought I had left it in Singapore.

Once I awoke, I decided to go looking for a cash machine, and walked down the hill and found one. More on the hills later. The ATM spat out my card saying "Invalid card". I was horrified and terrified at the same time. Didn't know what else to do so went back to the hotel, collected my thoughts, and went downstairs for dinner. Having a foreign ATM eat your card 12,000 miles from home must be the worst nightmare of every tourist.

I didn't sleep very well. The plumbing makes a very loud whistling sound in my room when flushed from above. It sounds different at different times, perhaps depending on from which floor the flush originates. This continued at intervals all night. I don't expect that this will be fixable except by moving rooms, so I will just endure it. Later note: it's the aircon. Turning that off fixed the sounds.

This morning I had breakfast downstairs, again putting it on my tab, and asked the front desk person about ATMs. He wasn't very enlightening (for whatever reason) so I walked down the hill again and found another ATM further down which happily gave me $300. I was now a happier bunny.

I decided to walk to the Sky Tower, which is the tallest freestanding tower in the Southern Hemisphere. Went to the top, looked around and took some happy snaps, then bought two discounted T-shirts and some postcards and stamps. Will get to filling them out shortly. Bringing pages of preprinted labels was inspired.

Subway is ubiquitous in the downtown area, so I bought one just to see how it compared to a London one. It's about the same except you get a choice of cheeses and they don't offer sweetcorn as a topping option. Brought it back to the hotel and could only eat half, surprisingly. So the other half will be dinner.

After resting my feet I decided to go out and get some Diet Coke and munchies for this evening. I walked left rather than right. Auckland is built on hills, and they are steep. STEEP! I managed to walk up the hill, went to a grocery (called, confusingly, a "dairy" here) and bought the soda, some crisps, and some Oreos. Walked back down the hill and availed myself of the occasional park bench placed by the sidewalk for the travel-weary. I would note for posterity that those guys and gals who were wearing shorts or berms had the most well-developed calves I've ever seen. Must be from walking up and down those hills. Seriously, this place has hills steeper than San Francisco.

I took pics but they're on my phone and I can't connect to the Internets on it for various reasons I won't bore you with but have to do with the room charges for WiFi. So I may wait a while (perhaps until I get back to Sg) and post them in one fell swoop.

Tomorrow I shall get a 2-day ticket for the tourist bus and use it to get around the various sights. Must be fully packed Wednesday night as I shall be taking the train to Wellington Thursday morning and hope to take lots of pics from that, as it's said to be very scenic. I fly to Sydney on Palm Sunday and then to Melbourne on Easter Day.

Dinner time!

Posted via LiveJournal app for iPad.

chrishansenhome: (Default)
I'm off! I shall be in Singapore beginning Saturday afternoon, then on to New Zealand the next week. Auckland for 3 days, then a train trip to Wellington, where I'll be for four days. The week after to Sydney with a day-trip to Canberra, then after another week Melbourne, with a side trip of one night to Hobart, Tasmania for the Museum of Old and New Art. There was an article in The New Yorker about it, and after reading that I couldn't imagine being that near to it and not visiting. After nine days in Melbourne, train to Adelaide, where I'll be staying for four days. Then back to Singapore, with a four-day long weekend in Bali. Then home to London, arriving back home on April 26th.

If you're in any of these cities and want to meet up, please leave a comment below. I'm hoping that my feet hold out, and that I get back safe and sound.

Cheers! to you all!
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I checked the mailbox today and noted a letter from the last pension provider from whom I was expecting a lump-sum. I was expecting around £3,000 as a lump sum to me, and around £9,000 to my pension company. Imagine my surprise when I opened it and found that they were depositing £12,000 in my bank account as a tax-free lump sum, and £46 to my pension company.

I immediately called the pension company and, after following it up, they called back and said that, indeed, the £12,000 was a tax-free lump-sum due to me. However, if I want only 1/4 of that, then I should send them back a cheque for £9,000. What a bunch of twits. So this will push back my beginning to receive my pension for quite a while—probably about two weeks or so. I will be calling the contact at the pension company to enquire tomorrow morning. And I now have to look out for a deposit of £12,000 into my bank account.

I got the pension call as I was exiting Kensington High Street Tube station to walk to Trailfinders. They have a good reputation for long-haul complicated holidays, and mine will be both. I landed with a good-looking guy named Ross, who patiently worked his way through my wants and came up with a good approximation of what I wanted. He had lived in Auckland, NZ, Sydney, and Melbourne, and knew Wellington, so I ended up with two train journeys: Auckland to Wellington, and Melbourne to Adelaide. The rest of the long-haul flights are Premium Economy with a couple of exceptions. The accommodations are three-star. The eye-watering total so far, without living expenses and sundries, is £5,639 (US$9,169). I was thinking of £4,000 (around US$6,000).

Now I can easily pay this with my pension payout. And I am certain that I won't be spending lavishly (although a £8 pint of beer in Australia is the norm—not that I drink beer, but it's indicative. Usual price here is around £3). There's more.

I shall have to enquire about travel insurance. I can get normal travel insurance, but it won't cover pre-existing conditions (none of them do) and all my conditions are pre-existing. I shall have to call Diabetes UK and see whether they have any ideas about possibilities for insurance.

Now, I may be able to stay with friends in Adelaide, and that will save around £400. But otherwise I'll be in the soup.

Here's the first pass at the itinerary:

Arriving Singapore Saturday 9 March 17:05.
Leave Singapore Saturday 16 March 21:30, arrive Auckland (via Brisbane) Sunday 17 March 14:35
Leave Auckland Thurs 21 March, arrive Wellington the same day
Leave Wellington Sunday 24 March 15:25, arrive Sydney same day 17:05
Leave Sydney Sunday 31 March 12:00, arrive Melbourne same day 13:35
Leave Melbourne Tuesday 9 April 08:05 on The Overland train, arrive in Adelaide same day 18:00
Leave Adelaide Saturday 13 April 15:00, arrive Singapore same day 21:00
Leave Singapore 25 April 22:55, arrive London Friday 26th April 05:00

So, a week in Singapore, 4 days in Auckland, 3 days in Wellington, a week in Sydney, 9 days in Melbourne, 4 days in Adelaide, and 12 more days in Singapore.

Any LJ friends who are in any of those places are welcome to get in touch, as I'd love to meet friends from all over. And if anyone has any suggestions on interesting things to do while I'm in any of those places, please feel free!

After giving it some thought, I expect to have spent, when all is over, around £10,000 (around US$16,000). But this is a once-in-a-lifetime trip, and I'll have more left over when I'm done. I doubt I'll be in that area again, so I need to make the best of it. I hope I'll enjoy it, stay healthy during it, and return home with a lot of experiences.

More when I know more.
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On your 47th anniversary of independence, I congratulate everyone living on the Little Red Dot.
chrishansenhome: (Default)
I came across a website devoted to train travel in Singapore, Malaysia, and Thailand. Near the end of a very long web page there is a section marked "London to Singapore overland".
  • London to Moscow by train

  • Moscow to Beijing by Trans-Siberian Railway

  • Beijing to Hanoi by train

  • Hanoi to Saigon by train

  • Saigon-Phnom Penh by bus

  • Phnom Penh-Battambang by train or bus, bus to frontier, train to Bangkok

  • Bangkok to Singapore by train
To do this would take several thousand pounds and 3-1/2 weeks (at least). But, I want! This sounds like the most fantastic trip imaginable.

Alas, it's unlikely I will ever be able to do this. However, the trip of a lifetime would be fantastic. Do go to the website if you're a train or transport buff.
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The last time I was in Singapore this building was still being put up. It's a casino, and is the venue for the infinity swimming pool on the top pediment of the three buildings. Follow the first link for a beautiful picture of the building in twilight.

I want to visit Singapore yet again, that beautiful city where HWMBO grew up.
chrishansenhome: (Default)
I've had massages in traditional studios using traditional methods. However, this Singaporean masseur uses innovative methods to soothe his patients' aches and pains.

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Was looking at a story about the Singapore MRT when the suggested linked stories at the bottom of the screen came up.

So, are they, or aren't they?
chrishansenhome: (Default)
Disclaimer: I admire Singapore and follow events there fairly closely. But not being Singaporean, any observations below are my opinions only and may be challenged by those with a better or closer knowledge of my favourite Asian country.

Singapore has a low birthrate at the moment, and a current average marriage age that is relatively high. The Singapore government, always thinking of the future (but often getting it wrong) is going to promote new and innovative ways of getting Singaporeans to marry and stay married.

When HWMBO was growing up in Singapore, there was a government-sponsored social club into which all young Singaporeans were enrolled, designed to urge them to pair up and eventually get married. This club was the object of much derision among many young Singaporeans and I believe it has gone out of existence (but may be wrong).

As for a history of misplaced Singaporean futureology, one might point to Lee Kwan Yew's fear of overpopulation on the relatively small island of Singapore which led to a policy of encouraging one child only several decades ago. This has been replaced by a policy of encouraging Singaporeans to marry early and breed often, since the island nation has a shortage of native talent for its industrial and financial organisations. This has led to a surge in immigration, both temporary and permanent, and this surge has also produced discontent in the average native Singaporean.

This discontent at rising immigration is not confined to Singapore, of course, but the Singaporean version has some fascinating characteristics. Many immigrants to Singapore are from the People's Republic of China, and some native Singaporean Chinese feel threatened by this influx of Chinese (forgetting, like some modern Irish Americans, that they themselves are the children or grandchildren of immigrants) and point out how "common" the immigrants are. A reluctance on the part of the immigrants to learn English (Singapore's lingua franca) is also a source of irritation. Overcrowding on the MRT (Singapore's state of the art rapid transit system) is becoming a great source of discontent.

I recall a recent case where a family in Singapore that often cooked its native dishes (some kind of pungent curry) was irritating a neighbour, who took them to court to force them to tone down their cooking. I recall people in America complaining about the smell of cabbage boiling in Irish households, or the garlic that infused the cooking of Italian families.

The government's encouraging Chinese Singaporeans to speak Mandarin Chinese only has raised a generation of Singaporeans who cannot communicate with their grandparents except through their parents, since the younger people cannot speak the grandparent's dialect (Hakka, Hokkien, Cantonese, for example) and the grandparent never learned Mandarin or English. So much for honouring one's ancestors and transmitting cultural values down through the generations.

I suspect that this program will not have much effect on the tendency of Singaporeans to marry late and divorce frequently. Making it easier to conduct an integrated and family-friendly life by reducing hours spent at work would probably be more fruitful in this area. I don't see that happening soon.
chrishansenhome: (Default)
…is taken from a friend's blog in Singapore.

Me: Who was that on the phone?

Mum: (Sigh) A very religious lady.

Me: OMG these religious Jesus nuts! They are just too much! They are at it at every given opportunity! Force feeding the bible down your throat, do they stop to think or ask if you want to listen to their gospel? No! They just go on and on disregarding not to mention disrespecting other beliefs and support systems! There really should be a law preventing this from happening! By the way how did she get your number? This is an outrage I think we should…

Mum: You done?

Me: No I am not! We need to do something about this…

Mum: (cutting me off) It is not the church lah.

Me: Oh?

Mum: It’s the lady from the Buddhist temple downstairs.

Me: Oh I see…err So how is church these days?
chrishansenhome: (Default)
Happy 46th National Day!
chrishansenhome: (Default)
HWMBO, my husband, is currently in Singapore for CNY visiting his parents. He brought a mobile phone we no longer use to give to them. However, it was asking for a password, and none of the passwords I knew fit it.

HWMBO was just going to give up, but last night it occurred to me that the phone is probably still locked to Vodafone here in the UK—we never bothered to unlock it as we only used it for lending to houseguests and we had Vodafone SIM cards for that.

I'm not up on the latest information about handphone unlocking in Singapore (or even whether it's available—but I'll bet it is) so could one of my kind wonderful Singaporean Live Journal friends tell me whether unlocking is freely available in Singapore and, if it is, where to find someone to unlock the phone? I'll bet Sim Lim Square, but I'd be happy for any information you can give me.

Next time I'm in Singapore, I'll take you out to your favourite restaurant in return!

Thank you in advance for any help! It is much appreciated.
chrishansenhome: (Default)
I have been waiting for an "It gets better" video from Singapore. It has arrived, and is first rate. Singapore has been a place where it is at the same time easy to live your own life but difficult to conform to your family's and society's expectations of you. Here are a goodly number of gay men and lesbians who are living examples of the phrase "It gets better". It's worth watching to the end, especially the man with the mask.

chrishansenhome: (Default)
There's a general election looming in Singapore, where the ruling party has not lost an election since independence in the 1960's. Democracy is thought by many to be expendable there, but just watch out…

chrishansenhome: (Default)
The news has just come through that Prince William and Kate Middleton are to marry next year. This will dash the hopes of millions of women (and perhaps millions of gay men).

Royal weddings are an occasion in the United Kingdom for an outpouring of nationalistic rejoicing. The last occasion on which this happened was Prince Charles and Lady Diana Spencer's wedding at St. Paul's Cathedral in 1981. So we've been 20 years without—a long time between them.

What will happen? First, the poor lady will be inundated by paparazzi, newspapers, other media types, and will be hectored to within an inch of her life. This will be combatted by her husband, very fiercely. Second, I believe that the pressure will be off as far as William's parents and grandparents are concerned. While the Royal Family in general are not terribly intelligent in an intellectual way, they do seem to learn from their mistakes in a corporate way. I suspect that William will continue his military career and his wife will act as a loyal serviceman's wife. They will be living in North Wales (the island of Anglesey), which is where he is based. After seeing what the family did to his mother, I don't believe that William will allow a rerun of that; he'll protect her to the extent he can. Remember, she is university-educated (which Diana was not) and has been in "the world" in a way that Diana never was. She is not aristocratic; her parents are millionaires, true, but it is a self-made million and her background is distinctly middle-class. This will horrify some royal-watchers, but the vast mass of the British people will be happy to welcome Kate into the Royal Family.

I think the wedding will be low-key, no carriages through the streets, no out-of-control wedding garments, that kind of thing. The economic circumstances of the time mean that the Royal Family would be particularly tin-eared to insist on such stuff.

There will be some pressure to produce an heir and a spare, and I think that this will happen relatively quickly. That will relieve pressure on Prince Harry, of course, and allow him to marry at his leisure (or not, as the case may be).

The hounding has already started, with a BBC helicopter following the couple's car as it speeds toward Clarence House near Buckingham Palace.

The other piece of news that has impressed itself on me today is the sentencing of Alan Shadrake to 6 weeks in prison and a fine of more than £9,000 for contempt of court in Singapore. Shadrake wrote a book called Once a Jolly Hangman, which concerned the manner in which the death penalty is imposed and administered in Singapore.

I'm personally not happy with this result; I don't believe that a book of this sort is any more harmful to Singapore's judiciary than the history of Singaporean justice has been. However, I can only believe that Shadrake is either colossally stupid, or is on a drive to increase sales of his book. Singapore is an easy place to avoid if you need to do that. Shadrake is based in Malaysia, and from there he could go anywhere he liked without touching down at Changi. However, he chose to go to Singapore, get arrested, be tried, and sentenced. Why be a martyr unnecessarily?

His lawyer says that Shadrake has been disappointed by the lack of support from the British public. There are two reasons for that. First, there has been a minimal amount of coverage in the news media here of the case. Second, Brits in general do not particularly want to support people who are stupid enough to deliberately put themselves in danger of this sort.
chrishansenhome: (Default)
…and it seems Singapore may be losing.

I think that when I heard that Singapore was going to allow casino gambling I was mildly surprised, as the little red dot, as some Singaporeans affectionately refer to their country, is known for being somewhat Puritanical on the surface. Prostitution in private quarters is legal, with government-mandated monthly medical checks and, of course, taxation. While homosexual acts are illegal under the notorious Section 377A, there has been only one arrest under this section in a very long time (and that only recently). There are gay saunas, which are tolerated by the government. There is a government lottery as well, to satisfy the gambling instincts that many Asian men and women have.

When I then discovered that Singaporeans were to be charged Sg$100 (US$74 or GBP47) daily to enter the casino to gamble, I figured that would deter all but the most intrepid gambler. However, it turns out that the casinos laid on free transport from the government-developed housing estates direct to the gambling dens, and that many Singaporeans were using them, paying the Sg$100, and going at the slot machines. The lure of winnings seems to have been able to overcome the deterrence of the entry fee.

So, of course, the gahmen (I think that the Singlish word for "government" is so much easier to type and so very evocative that I'm going to use it for the rest of this piece) has told the casinos to put the free buses back in the garages. I don't believe that losing the free buses is going to deter anyone from going from Ang Mo Kio to the casinos if a Sg$100 charge doesn't.

The article also mentions that many people have been caught cheating in the casinos and stiff sentences have been handed out to them by the Singapore courts. Stiff sentences? In Singapore? In other news, the Pope has declared that he is truly Catholic and scientists have announced that they have discovered scat in the woods that is definitely that of bears.

The upside of all this is that the casinos have been successful in their main mission: that of relieving millions of new tourists to Singapore of their money and funnelling huge amounts of cash to the Singapore gahmen. In gambling-mad Asia, legalised gambling is almost bound to be a success. Macau up until recently through gambling drew many millions of tourists to a place that was pretty devoid of much else to do. They now have competition from a destination that is at the same time bigger (Singapore is, I think, bigger than Macau), more easily reached by air, and more interesting generally. I've been in both places and Macau (at least in 1997) was pretty uninteresting and the casinos quite tired. Singapore is well-connected, close by land and air to Indonesia, Malaysia, Taiwan, Hong Kong, and China, and has good shopping, so that the missus can get her designer fashions while her husband spends his time at the blackjack table.

In general, Singapore has been seen as a place which is relatively clean, both in gahmen and on the streets, pretty moralistic, pretty safe, and somewhat dull. Kind of like Las Vegas up until the end of the Second World War.

My prediction? The casinos will lobby the Singapore gahmen to either drop the Sg$100 charge altogether, or make it less onerous. The casinos can't leave: they've invested too much money in Singapore and they've made too much money as well. But keeping the aunties and uncles at the slot machines will be the next frontier for the casino owners.
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I have occasionally heard enthusiastic cries of "God is gay!" from Christian and Jewish friends. However, there is a Taoist temple in Taipei which is dedicated to the gay rabbit god. Pictures and the story are courtesy of our friend Chan, married to our friend George, in Singapore, in his blog Chinatownology, which extols the virtues of Singapore's Chinatown area.

I especially took to heart the last two paragraphs of the story:

Moving beyond Taiwan, a deity in charge of gay relationships is refreshing news. In many countries, religious condemnation and criminal persecution of the homosexuals is very common.

In a landscape of bigotry and ignorance, the Rabbit God arises as one who not only does not condemn gay individuals but assists in their search for love. That explains the international interest in the Gay Rabbit Temple.
chrishansenhome: (Default)
The gentleman writing this blog is a scientist who could not find a job in Singapore and thus ended up driving a taxi. His occasional stories are always thought-provoking, but his story today is about as sad as a story can be.
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Some of you are Singaporeans or know something about Singapore and will find this video side-splittingly funny. I laughed until the tears were rolling down my cheeks.

Those of you who are not Singaporeans and who don't know much about Singapore should go to this link, read the story about the erstwhile Miss Singapore World, Ris Low, then watch the video. You should watch it in full-screen mode as most of it is in Singlish and there are supertitles projected on the back curtain that will help with comprehension.

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