Saturday, December 17, 2011

Shopping Streets III - Japan

When you are in Japan, there's always one thing that you will notice that's different from any other country you visit. The way their local shops are set up in a cooperative known as a shopping street. I've mentioned about the shopping streets in Kyoto previously - Kiyomizuzaka and Sannenzaka.

In any city, you will find shopping streets like Oxford Street in London, Rodeo Drive in LA or Orchard Road in Singapore. These are major thoroughfare with malls and brand name shops along the street usually on both sides. More often they will be known locally as Main Street or High Street shops.

But in Japan, the shopping streets are distinctly different and have a unique flavor all of its own. The shopping streets tend to comprise small shops banded together rather than having malls or brand name shops.
Famous shopping streets in Tokyo would be Takeshitadori in Harajuku, Nakamise Street at Asakusa, Ameyokocho at Ueno or Sunshine 60 Street at Ikebukuro. These are unlike 'Main Streets' like the Ginza, Shibuya or Shinjuku which are dominated by major departmental stores.

In these 'neighborhood' shopping streets, you will find that shops are usually of no particular type. You will typically find restaurants next to clothing stores, cafes next to market stalls, shoe shops beside pharmacies. These shops are mainly owner occupied and most work under an informal association arrangement and you will find that many streets are covered with a roof over the street.

Typically, these streets are 100m to 200m long and going through these streets are a must if you visit Japan. The shopping streets usually do not have vehicular traffic so you can safely browse along the streets most of which have their wares all laid outside to attract customers.
The atmosphere and friendliness of the shopkeepers are completely different from those of the major departmental stores on 'Main Street' shops.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Jurong East Interchange, Singapore

The Jurong East Interchange was built in the 1980s to cater to commuters working in the Jurong Industrial area. The interchange will operate its last day today, 16 December 2011.

The Jurong East Interchange will be demolished to make way for the planned Jurong East Integrated Transport Hub. This will be developed over the next 10 years in line with the other developments in the area like the Jurong Hospital & Medical Centre and the malls being built there now.

A temporary bus interchange was built beside the Jurong East MRT Station and will serve commuters till the new Jurong East Transport Hub is completed.

Once the old bus interchange is demolished, another of Singapore's heritage is dust.
With that in mind, I was at the interchange yesterday to capture some of its last moments.

You can see the photos of the old & new temporary interchanges on my photo blog here.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Passing of an era - The Hillview Railway Bridge

So it has finally come to pass. The day that I thought I would never see the light of.
After more than 80 years, the Malaysian railway line has been dismantled and with it the freeing up of the bottleneck at Hillview Road.

I wrote a blog back in Nov 2010 about this bottleneck just after Singapore and Malaysia came to an agreement to remove the KTM railway line from Singapore.   (Link here)

The traffic bottleneck at Hillview Road.

Yesterday, while online with another ex-resident of the now demolished Princess Elizabeth Estate,  SK Yum, I learnt that the railway bridge pictured above was dismantled that very day we were chatting.  So I missed the opportunity to document a historic moment when the bridge was taken down.

The bottleneck will soon be a thing of the past, much to the joy of all the residents of Hillview and Bukit Batok, as well as for motorists who use that stretch.

I am not sure when the bridge was built but when my parents moved into Princess Elizabeth Estate in 1953,  it was already there. So it must be at least 60 years. (postscript: it was built in 1923)

Back in 1953, when Princess Elizabeth Estate was built, the road was the only access from Upper Bukit Timah Road to the estate. It remained the only access road in, until the early 1970s when Hillview Avenue was extended and connected to Jurong Road at the other end.

The road was originally called Princess Elizabeth Estate Drive.
As the Hillview area developed, it was renamed Hillview Avenue.
But as Hillview Avenue extended and branched off with more developments, that short stretch from the Hillview Circus to Upper Bukit Timah Road was hived off and renamed Hillview Road.

Here are some photos I took today, a day after the dismantling. 
Soon this will also just be a part of people's memory, when they remember that there used to be a bridge at Hillview Road.

The Hillview Bridge with the railway line on top.
This was taken in July during the 'open' period for visitors after the train services ended.

Hillview Road with the bridge dismantled. 26 Nov 2011.

The concrete beam still across is a height warning and collision barrier. Soon to be dismantled as well.  

Watch in high definition. Select 720p ---------------------------------------------------^

The collision barrier has been removed. Photo taken on 12 Dec 2011.

All that's remaining is the height warning gantry, which ironically has become the obstruction itself!

Related links:

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Orchard Road Singapore

I was down at Orchard Road yesterday to shoot a video for my annual Christmas greeting card.
Despite being a Tuesday, it seemed more crowded than usual.
That was when I thought of Shibuya in Tokyo and so did a short video on the crossing at Cairnhill Road.


Sunday, October 16, 2011

Free tickets to Japan

In view of the tremendous decline in foreign visitors to Japan following the triple disaster of March 11, 2011, the Japan Tourism Agency, a government agency, announced a 1.1b Yen budget to give out 10,000 FREE airline passages to Japan.  (Announcement here) *

Lucky travellers will be required to apply on the Internet by taking an 'examination' and also to provide a planned travel itinerary for scrutiny. They are also expected to use social media to disseminate stories of their visit while on their stay in Japan, especially on the safety aspects.

However, please note that the plan is still under government consideration and will not be in effect until April 2012. You can watch out for future announcements on the JNTO website.

I expect that many scammers and fraudsters will take advantage of this and will entice gullible people to part with their hard earned money.
So beware of any non-official advertisements about the free tickets.

* the announcement was reported by the Japanese newspaper Yomiuri Shimbum but is in Japanese. 
    You can use Google translation if you don't read japanese.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Visiting Punggol after 30 years.

Punggol is a region in the north east of Singapore.
It is slated to be the model for Singapore's 21st century towns.
The masterplan calls for riverside residences, 'ala Sydney Harbour style,  waterfront housing and lifestyle.
A model of sustainable eco friendly suburban living.

I have not been to Punggol (sometimes spelt Ponggol) for more than a generation!
To me, Ponggol recall memories only of the pungent pig farms at Buangkok.
You used to be able to tell you have arrived at Ponggol simply with your nose.

One other thing I remembered was the small roadside shop, near the bus terminal at the end of Punggol Road, that would eventually grow to be the famous Ponggol Seafood Restaurant today.

Punggol was so remote in my days that nobody went there unless you lived there or had a really pressing reason to be there. The last time I was there was at an invitation from Fr John Khoo, a diocesan Catholic priest, to visit his family home and to drop by the St Francis Xavier Major Seminary located there.

On hindsight, I think he probably had a devious reason to take me there.
Who knows, if it wasn't for the smell of the pigs (I really mean the animals, not the seminarians), I might have become a man of the cloth today?
Anyway, that was 30 years ago, and that's how long I have not been to that area since!

Punggol today, of course, has developed along with the tremendous growth all over Singapore.
Pig and poultry farms are no longer found and the area is now a sprawling sub-urban HDB estate.
The biggest thing to happen there recently is the plan to redevelop the entire region into a new waterfront lifestyle town.

Now that there's a direct connection from Bukit Batok to Punggol by MRT train, I thought I'd pay a visit after all these years and and see what the excitement is all about.

These are the pictures I took at Punggol today. There's still a long way to go.
Click the link here.
My Waterway@Punggol

Related links:
Venice of Punggol?

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Crowded Tokyo trains worse than Singapore's MRT?

Whenever you see complaints about our crowded MRT trains, some readers will always bring out examples of other city trains, especially Tokyo commuter trains. For example in these videos...

(Youtube video by TheFatFinger)

(Youtube video by d0b33)

I have worked in Tokyo previously and I have been on those rush hour trains and truthfully, they are not as 'bad' as they are made out to be.

Yes, it is very crowded (Tokyo has 12.7m population) and it's true that people are packed like sardines into the trains as in the above video, but that only happens at the peak of the morning rush.

However, there is a cultural difference in Japan.
The overcrowding is accepted as a way of life in Tokyo.
During rush hour, you are packed into the train but everyone understands the situation.
Everyone knows the need for each other to commute to work or to get to school on time.

If you are in a rush hour train, you expect to be squashed cheek by jowl.
You will be shoved from all sides till everyone settles into their own comfort zone.
You know there is no room for any movement except to stand constricted till you get to your destination.

However, Japanese etiquette makes the journey tolerable.
The Japanese typically avoid any action that will make others uncomfortable.
Nobody uses a mobile phone on the train.
Nobody takes out their ipad or newspaper to read.
Nobody chats in the train.
The Japanese are fastidious about cleanliness, so there is absolutely no odor of any sort.
And if you are carrying a briefcase or backpack, you stow it in the overhead rack to make room for others to stand more comfortably.
And, they stand in orderly lines waiting to board the train.

What happens when you reach your destination and you are in the middle of the car?
No worries, just one word 'sumimasen',  and everyone near the door will get out to let you through, automatically!

Whenever, I take my friends on a tour of Tokyo, I make sure that they get this unique experience of taking a morning commuter train. They have all survived and I have yet to loose a friend on the train system. In fact, they are happy to come away with this unique experience.
I only tell them, if you are near the door,  get off!   let people out or you'll be stampeded!

The level of tolerance is vastly different from Singapore.
Although, our MRT system has been running more than 20 years, education on train etiquette was never ever emphasized. Bad habits have taken root and is now very hard to eradicate, so there is no comparison at all.

Grab poles & handles are available even near the door areas.
During rush hour, some seats are folded up to make more space for standing.
Bulky bags are stowed on the overhead racks.

Related links:

Friday, September 30, 2011

Singapore Changi Airport - Time Lapse video

Here's the video I promised you shot from the Changi Airport Terminal 1 Viewing Mall.
It was taken this afternoon from 12 noon till 2.00pm but the video is compressed into a time lapsed movie of 2 & 1/2 minute duration. Taken with my Olympus EPL1 camera.

Watch in HD for better quality. Select 480 or 720p.    ----------------------here  ^

Monday, September 26, 2011

Diorama of Singapore life

The pace of life in Singapore is simply too hectic.
Everyone seems to be in a headlong rush towards total burnout.

Here's a video I shot today on our pace of life.
We don't seem to have the time to stop and smell the flowers 'cos we're always rushing off somewhere!
Unfortunately, today, of all days that I was available to do the shoot, the sky just had to be overcast the entire day.

Do sent me your comments below. Enjoy.
The video is in full HD. Select 720p and you'll get better quality.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Viewing Gallery at Changi Airport T1 is open

I had a pleasant surprise today when I dropped by Changi Airport Terminal 1.

If you are a plane spotter, you will know that Changi Airport terminals T2 and T3 are very unfriendly for plane spotters. The viewing gallery is placed within the upper levels overlooking the inside of the lower level (the transit hall) before looking out unto the apron, through the panels on the lower level.

They designed the public viewing area almost 30 meters away from the outer glass panel. This makes it near impossible to see the aircrafts on the apron. Probably in view of security.

I knew that renovations had been going on at the older Terminal 1, at least it was the last time I visited. When I was there today, I popped by to see if the public viewing area was just as bad as T2 and T3.

Surprise #1. Renovations were completed.
                    I later learned that it was completed months ago.

Surprise #2 . The viewing gallery at T1 extends right to the apron wall ! Yes!
                     This means an unobstructed view of the aircrafts on the tarmac.

Albeit, you can only see the central apron between T1 & T2, but that's a vast improvement over the miserable viewing conditions at T2 and T3.
My guess is that glass technology has improved so much to allow this new freedom?

The viewing gallery, now called the Viewing Mall, has a front about 50 meters long which affords a very wide view over the central apron.

Curiously, the floor  just beside the glass front is transparent.
You might get an initial fright if you step onto the glass panel and then look down at your feet to see the floor 20 meters below! The picture above shows people standing on the glass floor panel.

When I was there this afternoon, there was a private party going on to welcome the Finnair "Angry Birds" plane which had flew non-stop all the way from Helsinki. It arrived about the time I was there (but not on my account). That's the Finnair plane in the background in the picture above.

The Finnair party which I was not invited to. 
I'll be back one of these days to do a video of the aircrafts on the tarmac. Stay tuned.

Saturday, July 09, 2011

Singapore Quarry Park

The Singapore Quarry Park is part of the new Dairy Farm Nature Park.
It is however located at the farthest southern end of the 63ha park.

Click the picture for a detailed view.

Though the track is paved and is a gentle walk from the park entrance, the Quarry is about 3km from the park entrance, or about 1.5km from the nearer Car Park A at the junction of Upper Bukit Timah and Dairy Farm Roads.

Click on the map for detailed view.

I used to live at Fuyong Estate located between Dairy Farm and the Singapore Quarry.
This was at the time when the quarry was still in operation.
I can remember the daily 12 noon siren followed by the dynamite blasts.
Blasting took place once a day and the reverberations could be felt almost a kilometer away.

The quarry is now defunct. It was closed in the late 1980s when quarrying activities were moved offshore and allowed only on Pulau Ubin. The old quarry was recently converted to a nature park and wildlife reserve.
Ever since the Singapore Quarry Park was opened to the public, it has become a nature lovers and photographers mecca. Rare bird species like the Little Grebe can now be found, along with monitor lizards and dragonflies.

Here's a short video clip I made today of my visit to the Singapore Quarry Park.
It has a tip on a shortcut to the Singapore Quarry if you don't want to trek the 3km route!

Tuesday, July 05, 2011

The end of the Line.

After more than 50 years, the Malaysian KTM railway line and the land it sits on were finally surrendered back to Singapore on 1st July 2011. The railway tracks will soon be dismantled while the government ponders over the fate of the strip of land that runs from Tanjong Pagar to Woodlands.

With the exception of the Tanjong Pagar Station, which is now gazetted as a national monument, the rest of the infrastructure will disappear by the end of this month. These include the bottleneck bridges at Hillview, Hindhede and Sunset Way which I previously wrote about.  (click here for that blog)

Today I visited the truss bridge at Upper Bukit Timah and wandered along the tracks up to Hillview for a last look. Not surprisingly, so many others were also there to capture that last piece of memorabilia before it's all gone.

That bridge near the Rail Mall holds a bit more memories for me than any other part of the railway line. For about 10 years between the 70s & 80s, I  lived at Fuyong Estate which is located just beside that bridge. (Rail Mall is part of Fuyong Estate, here in this blog).

The truss bridge over Upper Bukit Timah Road.
Fuyong Estate is located just on the left of the photo.

The railway line is open to visitors till the end of July.

More pictures of the railway can be found on my photo blog here.

Postscript (9 July 2011)

Access to the tracks from Chia Eng Say Road (top photo) was a bit bit treacherous on the day I visited, but within the week, someone had graciously carved out a temporary flight of steps (above). 

So now it'll be easier for anyone who want to look at the railway one last time.
After July, it will be out-of-bounds to the public.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Aim at the fly

Okay, I promise this will be the last of my toilet blogs!
(I know when I gotta go, I gotta go.)

I was at the new Terminal 3 at Changi Airport last week when I took a leak at the toilet near the Basement 3 Food Court.
Inside the mens' urinal, there is a fly near the drain hole. Not a real fly but one that imprinted onto the urinal!  The obvious thing a man will do is to pee at the fly.

This simple but brilliant brainwave was created back in 1999 by the staff at Amsterdam Schipol Airport who proved that the little fly improved cleanliness on the floor by 85%.

Now maybe the authorities will have to reword their infamous warning to Fine $500 for not flushing or Shooting the fly!

I was told that a similar problem arises in the ladies with some who 'hover' instead of sitting.
Wonder if anyone can come up with another brainwave for the ladies?

Friday, June 17, 2011

Crappy street food in Taiwan

In Taiwan, there’s only one thing that stands out for me and that’s their street food.
And when you talk street food, there’s only one place - Shihlin District in downtown Taipei.

On my last trip a few years back, I was brought to my favorite outdoor eating place, but my Taiwanese friends wanted to introduce something different. They brought me to a new concept theme restaurant located there called Modern Toilet.

Yes, you heard right. It’s a restaurant based on a crappy toilet theme.
The d├ęcor includes porcelain toilet bowls for seats, sinks for tables, showerheads, shower curtains and other sanitary devices that you normally classify as unmentionables.

Before you get visions of unhygienic or unsanitary or funny smells associated with street food, the theme restaurant is quite pleasant. Food is served on crockery that’s shaped like commodes, urinals and the serviettes are plain toilet rolls, of course.

The menu is divided into 2 sections called Go Poo Poo & Go Pee Pee for food and drinks, and the dessert is ice cream shaped like dog poo served in a squat toilet bowl. The food I remembered was pretty okay though some looked pretty stomach churning.

I didn’t take any photos at the time but I managed to find some and extracted them from the web. (copyright belong to the owners)

Modern Toilet Restaurant Taiwan

You don't need to pull down your pants to sit

Food is served in bowls shaped like 'bowls' of course.
Drinks in urinals. The poo shape is a cover for the soup bowl.

Ice cream in squat toilets! yummy.

Now, this really looks scary! Gives a whole new meaning to curry.

I hear that they are quite successful now and going regional with their franchise.
Besides Taiwan, they can now be found in Hong Kong, Thailand and even Japan.

Flushed with success and their idea didn't go down the drain, I guess.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Asian Toilets

I was browsing through my old travel photos and came across one I took at Narita Airport in Tokyo. This was of an Asian squat toilet at the modern Terminal 2.

For an occidental person, esp European or American, this must be a unique sight. 
Being used to having a seat, it must be extremely uncomfortable even at the thought of squatting to do your business.

And strangely, even if it's just a 'hole' in the ground, there are different manners of using a squat toilet!
The Japanese squat facing the back, i.e. towards the raised portion.
Whereas in other S.E.Asian countries, they face the front.

Not that this matter anyway and it doesn't make any difference to your bowel movement. 
It's just a matter of the country's toilet etiquette.
The Japanese toilet flush has 2 options, 'large' and 'small', referring to the amount of water needed to flush away urine or solid matter.

As an Asian, these squat toilets are very familiar to me but more often now, especially in Singapore, these kind of toilets have given way to the pedestal type.
In fact, in my home we only use the pedestal type and I've been living here for the past 26 years.
So even I hardly ever use a squat toilet anymore. If ever I had to use a public convenience, I would still choose a pedestal over the squat.
It's tough on the knees!

Strangely in Japan, while the public conveniences all have squat toilets, their homes and most of all hotels have the latest, modern and most high-tech type of pedestal toilets.

Compared to American or European type where it's simply a functional bowl, the Japanese pedestal toilet come fully equipped with seat warmers, auto flush, auto bidets, spray jets. The latest models even have deodorizers and music to mask body function noises.

By the way, if ever you are in Japan, please note that the public toilets do not provide toilet paper.
It's called a 'toi-re' or more politely if you are asking, ote-arai, meaning hand-washing room.

Here's one safety video you will pay attention to

The airline safety video usually begins the moment the aircraft is pushed back from the terminal.
Most airlines have a similar video or live demonstration of the safety procedures and features.

However, some passengers, usually frequent flyers, seem to take the instructions for granted and don't watch or listen to the instructions.

Here's how Air New Zealand came up with a video to ensure that passengers will want to watch.
Cute play on the words "Nothing to hide, bare essentials and take a second look"

Sunday, June 12, 2011

St Mary Singapore & St Mary Tokyo

No matter how hard you try to prevent it, there are times when your mind drifts instead of being focused on the event that's actually taking place at the moment.

It happened to me this morning while I was attending Mass at St Mary.
I put it down to certain factors for this happening.  

One was that the air conditioning wasn't working properly while the humidity was increasing with almost a thousand faithful in the congregation. 
The other was the less than inspired delivery of the homily by the priest. 
(mea culpa, no offense meant)

While Franciscan Friar Joe spoke of how the early apostles were inspired during Pentecost, my mind drifted towards the ceiling of the church. There the architect had designed a skylight in the form of a crucifix which lets sunlight into the church.

Skylight at St Mary of the Angels, Singapore

While looking at it, I was reminded of another church which has a similar concept. 
St Mary Cathedral in Tokyo is located at Ikebukuro, within walking distance from  the Sunshine City Prince Hotel where I usually stay during my visits to Tokyo.

Designed by the great Japanese architect Kenzo Tange, St Mary Cathedral is a beautiful edifice in a cruciform design whose walls soar up to a skylight that lets in natural light to illuminate the interior. 

When you enter the cathedral, your eyes are magnetised and drawn to look automatically from the stained glass panels behind the altar towards the skylight at the ceiling.
It never fails to happen with anyone when they first enter the building.
I am sure that this was purposely done by the architect for dramatic effect.

St Mary Cathedral, Ikebukuro, Tokyo

From idle musings about St Mary Cathedral, my mind further drifted to think of some other buildings that I remembered seeing in Tokyo that were all designed by Kenzo Tange.

These are all famous icons not only of Tokyo but of  Japan. 
Some of the great buildings designed by Kenzo Tange are:-

Fuji TV Building at Odaiba, Tokyo Bay.

Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building
Tokyo Olympic Stadium and Gymnasium at Yoyogi Park

The Cocoon Building at Shinjuku

Kenzo Tange also designed the UOB Bank building in Singapore.
Who's that statue at the front? Never mind him, he's just a white man.

Isn't it strange that how in just a minute or two, your mind can stray from the missal to illuminated crosses to cathedrals in Tokyo to Olympic buildings and banks and then back again?

What? Oh, "Let us pray"?

By the way, it might interest you to know that Kenzo Tange died in 2005 and is buried at St Mary Cathedral. It's really worth your while to see this place if you are ever in Tokyo. Better than the usual tourist traps and it's free.

Sunday, March 06, 2011

Tokyo Disneyland

My first visit to Tokyo Disneyland was way back in 2002. Since then, I have been back there a total of 6 times, actually 4 times to Disneyland and twice to the adjacent Tokyo Disneysea. I was reminiscing and browsing some old photos when I came across this....

Pretty mundane, if you think about it, but what struck me were the lines of baby prams and strollers.  You have to be there to see this really unique Japanese trait.  Somebody parks their stroller in the open space, and pretty soon, everyone follows in neat order.  Row after row, like in a car parking lot, except that there are no lines or markings on the floor.

It simply just happens. You notice this happening at all the attractions, rows and rows of neatly parked baby carriages. And these disappear soon after the ride finishes only to be replaced again in  short order by the next group of visitors. Amazing! Such discipline.

Here are some photos of Disneyland taken during my last visit in 2008.

Entrance to TDL

Tomorrowland, futuristic pavillons

Space Mountain, indoor roller coaster through the dark universe, scarry!

Cinderella's Castle gift shop, ha ha.

Cinderella's Castle

Cinderella's abode seen from Adventureland tree tops

River ride,  do your own rowing!

Marching Band
Gift Shop