Saturday, 25 July 2015

Thought of the Day 2: Breeds Rates

P.T. Barnum
P.T. Barnum

     "There's a sucker born every minute."   - P.T. Barnum

There's a smart alec born every second.

Thursday, 23 July 2015

Nanyang Old Coffee @ Chinatown

Nanyang Old Coffee @ Chinatown
268 South Bridge Rd
Singapore 058817

After my visit to a museum of city planning that called a gallery, the Singapore City Gallery, I went to have lunch, and then visited a coffee shop that has a museum and gallery inside.

The coffee shop is easy to find, right at the corner of South Bridge Rd and Smith Rd, which is better known to tourists as Chinatown Food Street.

Sign, Chinatown Food Street, Chinatown, Singapore Chinatown Food Street, Chinatown, Singapore

If you're a tourist who's interested in Singapore coffee (and tea) culture, specifically kopi tiam experience, you should give this place a visit while touring Chinatown.

"Kopi" is Malay word for "coffee", and "tiam" is Hokkien for "shop", so this blending of words from 2 languages is the heart of Singlish and its language melting pot (of coffee). More of this lingual melting pot later.

Like most kopi tiams in Singapore, the order counter is located at the front of the entrance. Once you order your fave drink of coffee or tea, sit down and have a look around. Yes, put down your smart phone for Pete's sake. Don't poke it until it chokes, or until your finger hurts. You're on holiday, give your phone and your index finger a holiday as well. Use your finger to get the attention of a waiter or a taxi instead (when I'm on holiday, sometimes my index finger gets cramp from snapping more than a thousand photos a day. I guess you can call that "photographers' finger"?  Now that I think about it, my index finger not only isn't getting a break while I'm on holiday, I worked it to the bone. Yeah, I have to eat my own words, and it's bony fingers licking good).

Now that you put your phone down, look around the shop (as you do so, rest your index finger on your chin, it makes you looking cool. It's like your brains are so heavy, you need extra support of your finger). First, look at the tables. It tells you about the tea/coffee drinking culture in Singapore while you sip your tea/coffee.

Table, Nanyang Old Coffee, Chinatown, Singapore

By the way, I ordered my fave cup, which is a a teh C kosong. As you know there're the different things you put into your tea or coffee like sugar, milk, etc. The milk that's added could be condensed or evaporated milk. The former is sweet and the latter isn't. This is for people - like me - who wants milk with my tea, and yet don't want it to be sweet.

Once again, this name of my cup of tea comes from 3 languages. "Teh" is Hokkien for tea; "C" refers to the Carnation milk, and so it's English; and "kosong" is Malay for "free of". In this case, it's free of sugar because in most SE Asian countries, when you order a local tea or coffee, chances are that sugar is added (this is the default choice). If you don't want sugar, you must spell it out, in Singapore, you add "kosong" at the end.

As you can see, my cup of teh C kosong captures the microcosm of 3 languages and ingredients from 2 cultures. This tea cup contains no storm, but symbol of multicultural Singapore.

Singapore coffee lingo, Table, Nanyang Old Coffee, Chinatown, Singapore
Easy look-up table for ordering a coffee the Singaporean way.
(click to enlarge)

So it pays to learn the proper name to order. I'm embarrassing to say that it took me some 6 months after I arrived in Singapore to learn this name. I've asked some local friends, but they didn't know! Well, I just happened to ask those who don't drink in kopi tiams. They're the trendy mob who drink in Western coffee chain like Starbucks. Outrageous!

I wished I came into this coffee shop on my 1st Singapore visit to a kopia tiam and saved me some explaining and embarrassments.

As I flipped through the menu, my eye immediately caught by the Kueh Rice Cake (红桃粿) like a motorist seeing a red traffic light. That's the name in the menu, but without the Chinese. For me, this food item stops traffic. I grew up on this peach-shaped Teochew rice cake that stuffed with glutinous rice. As my late mother was a Teochew, and so she made these on special occasions.

Teochew P'ng Kueh, Nanyang Old Coffee, Chinatown, Singapore
Teochew's P'ng Kueh, Or "red dumpling"

Although I already had lunch, and was only there for the tea and the exhibits, I simply couldn't resist that eager trip down the very fond childhood memory lane. And since it only cost $1.2, it was a no-brainer. No food costs that little in Singapore.

It's settled after one mouthful, mum's cooking was the best. I don't think it's just my bias. This item was kept in the steam oven for I don't know how long. It's content was soft and soggy because of its prolonged steaming (if you're in that steam oven, you would turn to prune). The rice cake is supposed to be pan-fried so that its skin is deliciously crispy. Looking at it, it was pan-fried, but then kept it warm in the steam oven. It was a disappointing experience. The best option would be to pan-fry it from fresh on order. I guess this would be impractical. I think microwave it to heat it up would be more preferably.

The teh C kosong, on the other hand, saved the day. It was much better than the average kopi tiam with its stronger and deeper flavour.

Miniature sets, Nanyang Old Coffee, Chinatown, Singapore
Displays of miniature sets of street food stalls in Singapore in the old days.
You can find these food stalls in hawker centres today. You find them at the back of the shop.

Coffee and tea exhibits, Nanyang Old Coffee, Chinatown, Singapore

Most customers aren't aware of the dining area next door. The coffee shop is actually consists of 2 shops fronts. Since the order counter is located at the front of one of the shopfront or dining area, customers would naturally sit down there, and are unaware of next door where most of its exhibits are displayed (although there're some in this more crowded area).

When you reach the end of the shop, do a u-turn at the door on your left, you'll get to the other shopfront where it's usually have more vacant tables (because less customers aren't aware of it), and have more to see.

For example, you will see display below at the next-door coffee shop.

Shopfront, Nanyang Old Coffee, Chinatown, Singapore
Gallery exhibits, Nanyang Old Coffee, Chinatown, Singapore
Left:  The shopfront next-door.
Top:  Some exhibits on its wall

I usually have my peanut and kaya toast with my teh C kosong. This is souvenir for the kaya fans.

Kaya toast jam, Nanyang Old Coffee, Chinatown, Singapore

This place would keep your mouth and eyes pretty busy (and as usual, your index finger will never have a moment of rest, even on holiday. So give it a pat on its back).

Singapore City Gallery

 An Invitation 
I walked around Marina Bay one cloudy day (the only days to do walking), it was then I discovered Marina Bay's City Gallery.

I didn't discover the Gallery myself, it was pointed out by Merlion (or Merly. No, you can't shorten Merlion to Merly because Merly is the mascot of Singapore Youth Olympics).

Merlion, Singapore
Merlion pointed the way

Merly, Singapore Youth Olympic Games 2010, Singapore Lyo, Singapore Youth Olympic Games 2010, Singapore

Merly (like one of my teen friend) has blue hair, but Lyo, the male counterpart of the inaugural 2010 Singapore Youth Olympic Games mascot has red hair (aka ang moh. So Merlion and Lyo are both Irish?). In fact, the Merlion who gave me direction to the Gallery looks like a cousin of Lyo (Lyo has bigger mouth). I'm not surprise, they're both Singaporean...products of imagination.

 Marina Bay City Gallery 
So I proceeded to the Gallery as indicated by Lyo's lookalike.

Marina Bay City Gallery, Singapore
City Gallery adorned with "The Kites of Unity".
There he's again at the bottom right corner of the photo. He must be living around Marina Bay.

As soon as I entered, I saw a model of the city of Singapore. The flashy model was animated by multimedia lights and narration.

Model, Marina Bay City Gallery, Singapore

Model, Marina Bay City Gallery, Singapore
Helicopter view of Marina Bay

Unfortunately, this museum was shut down about 6 months after my visit. No, I didn't jinx it (quite sure it was unintentional). I think it's because the City Gallery in Marina Bay was built for the tourists in mind. Judging from the visitors number, it wasn't sustainable. If you look at the youtube above, you don't see a single person standing around the model. I was the only visitor there.

On the other hand, the City Gallery in Chinatown is catered for locals like school students, college students, and even architects, not to mention tourists (the Gallery is literally a stone throw away from the main tourist sites of Chinatown). And it was reasonably busy (not crowded) while I was there. It's a big place.

I didn't realise then that the photos I had taken now belongs to the museum.

 Ministry of National Development 
Since I walked to URA building where Singapore City Gallery locates from Tanjong Pagar MRT station, I would naturally walk past its immediate neighbour MND (Ministry of National Development) building.

MND is parent of URA. In other words, MND gave rise to URA. So they're logically locates next to one another. When I walked past MND and saw the following wine-bottle opener looking sculpture, I said to myself that there maybe something displays inside for the public to see. So I went in for a looksee.

"Reaching" Sculpture, MND, Singapore
Majulah Singapura insignia, MND, Singapore
Left: "Reaching" by Sun Yuli outside
Top: Majulah Singapura "Onward Singapore", a national anthem, in the lobby.

Once inside the lobby, I found out the new home for the Singapore's city model that was displayed in Marina Bay City Gallery. I'm guessing, but I'm sure it is. That's really the logical place for it. The Singapore City Galery next-door already has similar models.

Unlike the solid wooden models that housed in URA next door, part of this model is built with some kind of transparent perspex that allows light to show through from below.

Model,  Marina Bay, MND, Singapore

Model,  Marina Bay, MND, Singapore

Model,  Sports Hub, MND, Singapore

MND is an office building, and so there's nothing else to see except this "heritage" model of Singapore from Marina Bay City Gallery.

 Singapore City Gallery (Formerly URA Gallery) 
It was formerly called URA Gallery because the Gallery is inside URA building.

This place houses the 3 large models that are the star attractions of the Gallery: the City Centre Model, Central Area Model and Islandwide Model.

City Centre Model

This model are made from mostly wood and covers city area around Marina Bay. It locates on the ground floor.

City Centre Model,  Singapore City Gallery, Singapore
City Centre Model (Scale 1:1000)

Orchard Road, City Centre Model,  Singapore City Gallery, Singapore
Focus on Marina Bay Sands, City Centre Model,  Singapore City Gallery, Singapore
Top:  View towards Marina Bay Sands with Fort Canning Park in the foreground
Left:  Orchard Road

Marina Bay, City Centre Model,  Singapore City Gallery, Singapore
Marina Bay: the touristy area of Singapore Flyer, ArtScience Museum, Sands Hotel and Gardens by the Bay.

Central Area Model

It covers an area slightly larger than the City Centre Model above to include area like Sports Hub, Chinatown, and Bugis. It locates on 2nd floor.

Central Area Model,  Singapore City Gallery, Singapore
Central Area Model (Scale 1:400)               North

Orchard Road, City Centre Model,  Singapore City Gallery, Singapore
Sports Hub, City Centre Model,  Singapore City Gallery, Singapore
Top:  Sports Hub in the foreground. 400x scaled up people in the background.
Left:  Orchard Rd.

Islandwide Model

Covers nearly the whole of Singapore city-state, gives a good overall view of the contour of the landforms of the island and its vegetation distributions.

Islandwide Model,  Singapore City Gallery, Singapore
Islandwide Model

While these 3 pretty models hog all the spotlights, especially for people who only have casual interests in architecture. For those who are more keen in city planning and architectures in general, there's so much to see, you could easily spend half a day here.

For those who come to gawk at the beautiful models, you need less than an hour. I only spend an hour there getting a helicopter view of Gallery, flying reconnaissance mission over the 3 big models with my eyes. I surely will do more visits in the future. There're also temporary exhibits, which I'll visit when they have new displays.

It's fair to say that the Singapore public housing and urban planning plays in no small part in the success story of this city-state. And Singapore is known in the world for this achievement. For those who wish to understand this aspect of Singapore history, this gallery can help. But it isn't just about where Singapore had been, but more importantly, where Singapore is heading to. You may find some answers here.

There're many other things to see and do, but I'll leave that for another blog time, another blog visit.

Admission is free. Who can complain?

Monday, 20 July 2015

When Will the Price of Crude Oil Recover?

A 6 million dollar question.

First off, there's little doubt that OPEC (with the Saudis' lead) are manipulated this whole drop in price of crude. There's no question about this because their production numbers are still high, and they could lower their production anytime they choose to get the price of oil back up. That's what the oil cartel does. They control prices.

5 year chart of OPEC crude oil production

Why do they want a lower price of oil? I looked at a few reasons for the crude oil price decline here.

The thing is, this could only be a short term measure, a long term of depressing the price of oil is tantamount to economic suicide for OPEC countries (OK, "suicide" maybe too strong, "disadvantage" would be more moderate). This is obviously not their intention to stay low forever. Sooner or later, they have to let the price of oil rise again.

How soon? Let's look at the following scenario.

4 year WTI Nymex crude oil chart

From a technical point of view, after a precipitous fall from middle of 2014, one MUST expect a dead-cat bounce. We had that from April to June 2015, soon after the price plunge.

This is a tradable bounce, but I'm not interested in a nimble trade. I'm a contrarian investor who's more interested in a more sustained rally over a longer period like a year or two, and beyond.

So I'm waiting for a retest after the dead-cat bounce. The retest of the Jan and March lows (around mid $40 / barrel for WTI) will happen this week or next. Will it hold? That's the question, isn't it? If it does hold, this will lead to the more sustained rally I've been waiting for.

From fundamental point of view, the successful retest suggests that this is OPEC's price floor.

I say it would likely hold. And if it shows to be the case (and we won't have to wait too long), it's good time to get into oil for those with a longer timeframe.

I'm not suggesting that the price of oil will shoot up after the retest. I don't expect a "V" shape recovery. It would probably be followed by a period of consolidation before the rally can take place in earnest. It's safer to be standing on the floor. Let the price action tells us where the floor is.

Thursday, 16 July 2015

Few Snapshots of the Changes in the City of Sydney

A watched pot never boils, a watched watch never moves, and by these logic, a watched city never develops.

Ok, if you watch a watch long enough,  its minute hand will move just as a pot will boil. But why? It's as boring as watching hair grows, or dish dries, it's extremely boring. Why do you want a staring contest with a clock? Why oh why? If you win, it's not like it's going to hand out prizes (either with its minute or hour hand or both of its hands. No siree Bob).

View from hotel window of Fraser Suite. Anzac Bridge and Rozelle Bay, Sydney, Australia
View from my Fraser Suite hotel window.
View of Anzac Bridge and Rozelle Bay.

If you leave the room and come back 15 mins later, the clock's minute hand would move by 90 degrees. That's drama! And if you leave the country for a few years, you see all those changes in the city that took place while you were away in an instant. Things do happen with or without you. The world go on. Spin, baby, spin!

Came to Singapore in April 2009, and last visit to Sydney in July 2015.
Close but no cigars.

Bear with me for a moment while I put the clock forward by 2 hours from Singapore to Sydney time. The only hands being moved were my hands.

{* Mistaken Identity *}

Case in point. One of the 4 corners of George and Goulburn Sts used to be occupied by Délifrance, and is now taken over by...drum roll please...Delafrance. This is perfectly sensible move by Delafrance.

De La France, delafrance, George St, Sydney, Australia
Yep, just like Délifrance, Delafrance has outdoor tables, following closely 
the tradition of French cafe. A practice that isn't widespread in Sydney.

De La France, delafrance, George St, Sydney, Australia
A curve olive branch in its logo.
Délifrance, too, has an olive branch in its logo.

My friend Scot - a Sydney local - thought they were the same shop. Considering that they're both French style bakery coffee shops with their names differ by one letter, he could be forgiven, especially he's not a customer of either shops.

The French call it boulangerie Café, and the most well known is Paul (est. 1889). There were no Paul bakery/cafe/restaurant in Sydney, and both Délifrance and Delafrance aren't French franchises (did French also invented franchises?). They're Singaporean and Australian brands respectively. OK, Délifrance was a French company bought over by a Singapore company. It's now listed on SGX.

Of the 3, I like Paul the most, followed by Délifrance, and lastly Delafrance. Actually, the thing I liked about Paul the most is their free stuff: the green olive pâté. Since there's no Paul in Sydney, I discovered it in Bahrain (the Arabs are Francophile, they also like Italian and Chinese food, although they don't really taste like it). Even though there're a number of Paul outlets in Singapore, my short stay in Bahrain was before my long stay in Singapore (5 years and counting).

There was another Délifrance outlet only a hundred meters away in Townhall Station. I don't know what happens, but both had closed down.

{* Facelift and Arm Extension *}

After the extensive facelift, Westfield decided it also needed to rechristened the shopping mall from Westfield Centrepoint to Westfield Sydney. During the facelift, it also grew an arm to reach into its neighbouring department store Myer across Pitt St Mall, like somebody who puts an arm around his mate's shoulder. The 2 business had became chummier.

Reflection, Sydney Centrepoint, Sydney, Australia Reflection, Sydney Centrepoint, Sydney, Australia Reflection, Sydney Centrepoint, Sydney, Australia

Skybridge, Pitt Street Mall, Sydney Centrepoint, Sydney, Australia
The 2-level sky-bridge that connects Westfield Sydney to Myer Store.
It makes the Pitt St Mall seems more cluttered.

The facelift and arm-extension contagion also spread to the nearby (next city block) MLC Centre Building.

Skybridge, MLC Centre, Sydney, Australia
Skybridge cutting across King St.

{* Whole Body Reconstruction *}

Well, one building in particular is not just undergone facelift, but is being replaced by a new building. It was an award winning building that was opened by the Queen in 1988. The Sydney Convention and Exhibition Centre, which is an important and integral part of Sydney Darling Harbour is nothing but a hole at the moment.

The spiraling fountain that gave so much fun for the kids was also gone alongside with the Centre.

Contruction site, former Sydney Convention and Exhibition Centre, Sydney, Australia
View of the hole left by the Exhibition Centre from my hotel window

{* New Identity *}

If you're a Chinese-speaking immigrant, and you have lived in Sydney for more than 5 years, you would certainly recognise this building located at the corner of Goulburn and Pitt Sts (just a block from Delafrance).

The Mandarin Club was a watering hole for many, and for the Chinese speaking migrant a place with pokies (poker machines). Most in Chinese community know the name.

It holds memory for many Chinese-speaking immigrant, myself included. I remember I fell down in its toilet one night after some drinks. I fainted because my hayfever had closed off my nostril. The low oxygen rich environment didn't help. People carried me out of the club. When the ambulance came, the paramedic asked my friend Darren if my nose was always this big. His answer was that my nose looked normal. Who was being nosy?

As far as I'm concerned, it was there forever. But nothing lasts forever. The Mandarin Club has moved to somewhere else, and this former Mandarin Club building are now occupied by restaurants.

Former Mandarin Club building, Corner of Goulburn and Pitt St, Sydney, Australia
At the top of this vertical sign, the Mandarin Club logo remains,
reminding its former incarnation

Good or bad, the only constant is change. C'est la vie. And when you come back once in awhile, you can't help but notice the accumulated changes.