Sunday, May 10, 2015

Nparks’ silent heroes – making our parks safe

On one of the rare days when hubs was on leave, I brought him to Kent Ridge Park to enjoy my favorite view of Singapore in the west. There by the lookout point, we saw Singapore growing inch by inch at Pasir Panjang as truckloads and truckloads of sands were dumped to reclaim the sea. The sun in the east beat down on the stretch of sand, man and machine. A veil of yellow dust hung over the reclaimed stretch and made the western waters beyond it a dusty blue.

I showed hubs my favorite treetop walk that looks over the Normanton Park valley. Not far at the start of a footpath, a tree has just recently been struck by lightning, its blackened downward scar revealed. Plants at the end of the black welt were burnt to a dry cinder.

It was another idyllic morning until we saw a group of Nparks contractor getting ready for work.

One end of the treetop walk was out of bounds to the public as the walk was undergoing maintenance.  The guys were preparing harnesses so that they could rappel down the 20m high walkway to paint the supporting structures. One of the workers was kind enough to allow us to see them at work and even included a little narrative so that we could understand their work better.

The guys are specialists who had gone through special training. They had with them a paint roller and ½ a pail of rust resistant paint , all hung from clamps attached to their waist. The rope that could take a load of 700 kg was just one of the 2 ropes holding them in midair so that they can do their job safely. Hopefully the safety rope need never be used.

To lean backward to paint the undersides of the walk, one of the feet will step on a looped end of a rope extend from their waist to provide leverage. While this was going on, the rest of the co-workers were securing ropes for themselves, looping the thick ropes through the board slates. To retrieve the end of the rope hanging under the walkway, they used the hooked end of an umbrella , a most innovative tool.

Each man did his own harness and safety ropes. Minimal conversation was exchanged while the men very systematically went through the setup. Hubs and I did not dare utter a word less we distract them in the process. But seriously, I thought these cool dudes should be in movies as stunt men in their spare time!

No doubt these guys were doing a job, but pride in their work showed. I could see that they loved what they were doing and they knew they were a special bunch. The men looked out for each other and took their work and safety seriously.

What could I say? They, the silent heroes , were there to make our recreation area safe. As for me, they were the coolest guys I have met that day.

Monday, February 2, 2015

A factory visit ( for Chinese New Year 2015 )

On 31 Jan 2015, for the first time in twenty years, I participated in an outing organized by Bukit Batok East CC. I am secretly a closet resident, cloistered at the end of Bkt Batok East in my cosy condominium and anything that requires a walk to the heartlands that can be done by a car is deemed to far away.

But when I saw   the notice of the trip on one of the condo’s notice board , I  decided that $5 whole day outing to wholesale centers and the fishery is far cheaper than driving. Besides, how would I know where the factories are?

I have ideas of factory visit, overlooking the bak kwa process from start to finish in a viewing gallery and seeing fish thrown all over at fishery port road. The last time that I have been in a factory of any kind was of the semiconductor type and I am raring to see some action where the end result ends up in my tummy.

8.45am, the bus punctually picked us up at the CC and went to the next stop at Southhaven at Upper Bkt Timah. There were far more seats than people in the bus, so we have lots of place to move around. The spirit of true blue Singapore Kiasuism was well and alive in me – Pat and I sat near the front so that we could get off at the soonest before the rest to do our buying part.

It was a bit of a ride to Senoko near Woodlands on the PIE. Our first stop was at Ken Ken, the cuttlefish snack supplier. Many people swarmed the place, all disgorging from the tour buses.It was a frantic moment. My lack of height meant not knowing what goods were before me. I picked a couple of packs of fish maws ( for CNY ) and a disgraceful amount of cuttlefish snack , something I have not purchased for a long time because of the cost. It was a crazy moment and I dare say , the crowd made me do it. In my sanest moment, I will not even say yes to a pack of potato chip.

Checkout was a nightmare and it takes skill to attract the attention of the cashier and edging fellow shoppers. It was cash transaction and I parted with almost $30 for the snacks, extravagance that I did not realise until we boarded the bus.

A short ride away, we were let loose at Kwong Cheong Thye. Now fully in the mood to spend, we did the unimaginable thing. We tried all the foodstuff sample and ignored the smorgasboard of yusheng salad and yufu noodles. At normal times it would be a no-no, to have 2 unrelated items on the same plate. But hey! That was extraordinary times indeed.

Our modest loot was a bottle of oyster sauce , black sauce and 3 packs of sauces for crabs. I never cook crab at home but the pictures got me imagining and caused me to think, why not? We drank sauces and soups from miniature tubs, ate noodles hot off the pot but sanity prevailed, almost, and I held back stoically.

KCT held some nostalgia to Pat, whose dad used to work for eons ago. I knew he was in that mood because he started snapping photos of KCT with his handphone. Most times it would be unthinkable to use the handphone for anything but calling and the phone camera was way below him. Anyway we had a good time doing all the ‘aunty things’.

By now, I figured that no one will be punctual returning to the bus. Shuvin, the CC organizer for the event, was not good at motivating us to return to the bus on time. For every stop, we delayed and waited for the shameless folks who boarded last without a word of remorse. The end result was that we had to drop the last stop because time ran out.

Back to our shopping. The bus went up a humongous multistory factory to a trading cum warehouse place, where an assortment of snacks and drinks were sold. I sampled the yogurt,  a first because I could never stomach yogurt drink, given out by the store’s staff. The mish mash of goods followed no particular theme, for what has oats, chips, chocolate and abalone got to do with each other. Just 2 days ago, I had purchased a big bag of rolled oats but the frantic grabbing of Quaker quick cooking oats praised by the aunties as good for everything made me grab one too. So yours truly now has 2 kg worth of oats. I wonder when I will ever finish consuming them. It was a small place jam packed with a hundred visitors and the cashiers simply could not cope.

The bus did a couple of turns around Woodlands/Senoko and lo and behold! We ended up at Bee Choon Heng bak kwa. BCH showed their retail chops with VISA, NETS checking counters and staff decked in BCH uniforms reverently waiting for us to pounce on the endless cans of floss of every kind. It was pork floss haven and prices were going at 90% of prevailing prices outside. Pat worked the maths and I went for 1 kg pack which deemed cheapest. I have yet to figure out how the 1 kg will be consumed.

An ice cream mobile store was stationed there and in true Kdrama style, Pat got me an ice cream. It was a dollar purchase but it tasted a million bucks. Who says there’s no romance at 50?

By now near noon, the bus made a couple of twist and turns before depositing us at Bengawan Solo factory. Communications were poor and it was sometime before we realized that we would stop for an hour for lunch and ‘looting’ Bengawan and Ping Si foods. We were sure the organizer were not any wiser but collective wisdom dictates that it was time for lunch and none congregated at the drop off /pick up place until more than one hour later.

We had a ridiculously cheap lunch at a bustling factory canteen, bursting to the seam with bargain seekers out with their respective CCs. While everyone shopped, we amused ourselves by harvesting dried pods of the blue flower vine(Clitoria ternatea flowers). Potentially, the pods with their seeds would mean years of endless supplies of Pulut Tai Tai, provided I get to plant them in my much neglected vegetable patch.

To much relief, we set off to a nursey at Jalan Bahar. I was beginning to feel the bliss of not driving. There was no pressure to decide how to go and already the hot weather and much waiting was making me sleepy. At the other corner of Singapore, we visited a huge nursery. My worries of heat and what nots were unfounded – the retail section of the nursery was sheltered. It was a mini Chelsea flower show and I actually enjoyed the place.

Most of us left empty handed. Our objective was food and the last thing was to lug bags of can foods and a meter tall pussy willow back to Parkview.

Pan Ocean was our first seafood place in Jurong and the smallish retail area could not contain all of us. It was more than 5 buses worth of people poring over freezers of frozen fish, lobsters, scallops and anything that lives in water. Then, just as quickly as we came, the entire bunch left the place at almost the same time giving reprieve to the folks running the place. Snorre was nearby but it was not the sort of place for CNY goods so Song Fish it was. The crowd stopped me in my tracks – the tiny place was literally swarmed with people holding multiple baskets. Snow crabs, most about $70, were snapped up.

It was more waiting for fellow travellers caught in the endless checkout queue before we made our way to Hock Seng Foods at Pandan Loop. This place, I like. HS carries the Hosen brand of canned foods, one of my preferred brands. The outing was near its end and almost everyone bought cans and cans of abalone like it was free. I made off with a modest number of canned foods. No point waiting when I can be one of the waited for a change.

We forgo the Tai Sun Snacks and headed for home. Those at Southhaven were dropped off first before it called base at Bkt Batok CC. Pat and I struggled with bags of purchase we have no idea we had bought and it was a slow, painful walk home even if it should be 500m down the road.

So, the pertinent question, will I go again? Yes and no. There are way too many warehouse retail places in industrial areas that we do not know off and this is a good introduction. On the other hand, our pet peeve of waiting for recalcitrant late comers will be the main reason why Pat and I will not be joining the CC for any outcoming anytime soon.