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Archive for September 2007

Bull’s-eye and all that B-S

On one occasion I arranged a trip for NIE colleagues to Desaru and Kota Tinggi Water-fall. Early in the morning we drove from Singapore, in a 12-seater van, to Desaru. After swimming and lunch at Desaru, we took the road to Kota Tinggi Water-fall.

The road leading to the waterfall passes through villages, fruit orchards and rubber estates. You need to drive carefully as cows and goats are not very conversant with the Highway Code and pedestrian safety rules like “Look right; look left, and if you do not see any vehicles, cross the road quickly”.

The other reason you should drive carefully is to avoid all the big ‘presents’ that well-fed cows and bulls leave on the road.

That time of year happened to be the ‘duku’ fruit season. A ‘duku’ fuit is about the size of a ping-pong ball. The fruit hangs in bunches from the trees. We stopped at one orchard intending to buy the fruit but no one was at home. One of the colleagues (better to leave him unnamed) got a bit impatient. He took off his shoe and threw it at the branches. Of course, several ‘duku’ came down.

Encouraged by this bountiful result the rest of us applauded and shouted “Bull’s-eye! Bull’s-eye!”

He moved to another tree and repeated the performance; we clapped and shouted again “Bull’s-eye! Bull’s-eye”.

However, at the sixth attempt when he retrieved his shoe from the grass with one hand and looked at it, he clapped the other hand to his nose and mouth. Being conversant with body language, we all shouted, “Bulls-eye! Bull’s-eye! Bull-shit! Bull-shit!

Re-trievia recalled: Excerpts from Year 2000
Tan Wee Kiat

Written by Ivan Chew

29 September, 2007 at 12:45 am

Posted in Year 2000

Argument in the parking lot

One Friday in the first week of the July semester, I came back from lunch with a couple of colleagues. However, when I drove up to my parking lot in front of Admin Building there was a car in it. I asked the security guard and was told that a Caucasian man had parked there even when he was told not to do so.

So, being the tough guy that I was (and still am?), I waited to confront him. He duly turned up, muttering and swearing (well, he appeared to be swearing!). I told him he should not inconvenience other people by parking in their assigned lots.

Instead of apologising, he said something to the effect, “I don’t know what kind of Institute this is. I am invited to come on Fridays. Today is Friday and I come here but there is no one to meet me. I am also usually directed to a parking lot but the security
guard won’t even let me park in a vacant lot”.

Finally, he got into his bone-shaker and drove off and I parked my own bone-shaker in its rightful allotted place.

As I walked to my office, I ran into my esteemed colleague Dr Ruth Wong. I related the whole incident to her and she said, “Oh! No! That must have been Father XYZ from ABC Catholic Church! Yes, we are supposed to have Mass every Friday but we don’t have it in the first week of semester as things are not quite settled yet”.


Dear old Tan Wee Kiat almost got into a confrontation with a dear old Catholic priest over a parking lot! Luckily it did not degenerate into a case of ‘road rage’.

I don’t know which headline will attract more attention:
“University lecturer attacked Catholic priest on Bukit Timah campus”
“Catholic priest attacked university lecturer on Bukit Timah campus”?

Re-trievia recalled: Excerpts from Year 2000
Tan Wee Kiat

Written by Ivan Chew

28 September, 2007 at 12:43 am

Posted in Year 2000

Swimming Incident No. 2

Another occasion in the pool I noticed a young lady trying to swim. You know we all start as ‘one-breath’ swimmers, i.e., we take a deep breath and swim as long as we can on that one lungful of air. The trick in swimming is to learn how to get the head and mouth above the water to exhale and then inhale. Anyway, I saw this young lady had difficulty doing that and so I offered to show her how to do so.

After demonstrating to her she practiced assiduously. When she stopped to rest, she told me she worked with Midlands Bank and said, “I guess, you have never heard of Midlands Bank”.

I told her that, on the contrary, I knew Midlands was one of the big banks from England. Needless to say, she was impressed and we chatted away like old friends. Half-an-hour later, I got out of the pool to shower and change. After doing so, I walked past the pool and saw this young lady was still practising.

I stopped by the poolside and said to her, “You are making very good progress”.

To my surprise, she took one look at me and quickly waded away to the other side of the pool.

I said to myself, “Strange! Just a few minutes ago we were in the pool chatting away like old friends. Now she treats me like a complete stranger!”

Suddenly, the realization hit me “She can’t recognise me when I have my clothes ON!”

Re-trievia recalled: Excerpts from Year 2000
Tan Wee Kiat

Written by Ivan Chew

27 September, 2007 at 11:37 pm

Posted in Year 2000

Book excerpt: “My father loves horses”

We interrupt our regularly scheduled ReTRIeVIA articles from the year 2000, with this excerpt from the book “Horse-powered & Man-powered Transport: A philatelic excusion”
Cover - "Horse-powered & Man-powered Transport: A philatelic excusion"
Authors: Tan Wee Kiat, Koo Hong Piew, Noel Nidalgo Tan
ISBN: 9789810585303

Excerpt from pages 25 – 26 (text and images reproduced with permission).

On the topic of horses, here is a story about a school boy and his father. One day, a primary school teacher asked his class to talk about pets. The pupils took turns to talk about their pets. Most of them talked about dogs, cats, fishes and birds that their families kept as pets. When it was the last boy’s turn to speak he said, “My father loves horses”.

The teacher remarked, “Really? That’s interesting! Please tell us more.”
Page 25 - "Horse-powered & Man-powered Transport: A philatelic excusion"

The boy continued, “My father was born in the Year of the Horse. He likes to read books about horses and to see pictures of horses. The book that he likes to read most is about horses and the book’s author is Professor Jones.”

The teacher was very impressed and asked the boy to borrow the book and pictures and bring them the next day to show to the class.

This is what the boy brought the next day!
page 26 - "Horse-powered & Man-powered Transport: A philatelic excusion"
Do you have a Horse Calendar like the one above in your house?

Tan Wee Kiat

Written by Ivan Chew

27 September, 2007 at 12:31 am

Posted in Year 2007

Swimming Incident No 1.

You know the BT [Bukit Timah] Campus pool is open to the public from 6.00pm on weekdays.

One Friday evening a group of Caucasian adults and young primary-school age children came to swim at around 6.00 pm when I was swimming with some NIE colleagues. The Caucasian folks then left at about 6.45pm while our group continued swimming. When I came out of the pool at about 7.10 pm.

I could not find my bag!

My clothes, house and car keys, IC card, Visa card, etc were all in the bag. The lifeguard suspected 2 Chinese teenagers who had come into the pool area at about 6.30 pm saying they wanted to look for their friends. Not finding their friends they left after about 10-15 minutes.

I had to telephone my wife to bring down an extra suit of clothes. After that I drove to the police station to make a report, bought new padlocks for my house, etc. Needless to say I did not sleep well that night and came to office the next day feeling a bit tired and negative.

Around 9.00 am, my phone rang and the person asked, “Are you Mr. Tan Wee Kiat?”I replied positively and the person continued, “I am sorry, sir. It was a hot day yesterday and my guest from Europe and his children and my family went for a swim in the pool. When we left the pool we took your bag as well, each family thinking that the other family had overlooked the bag!

This morning when my maid was washing the clothes she found this pair of trousers that was obviously too small for my guest or me. Your NIE name card was in the wallet and that is how I came to know your phone number”. Well, to make a long story short he drove to NIE to return my bag. Not only that, he presented me with a big bottle of wine as well.

Re-trievia recalled: Excerpts from Year 2000
Tan Wee Kiat

Written by Ivan Chew

24 September, 2007 at 9:48 pm

Posted in Year 2000

One for the birds

Many a Sunday morning you will find me at the Zoo. Well, it is near where I live (I live near the Zoo, not IN the Zoo) and as a FOZ (Friend of the Zoo) there is unlimited free entry for me and my grandchildren.

On one recent occasion I saw a Hornbill bird. The hornbill is a magnificent bird and it might have been visiting the Zoo because of
the fruits and nuts from the trees there.

There are some beautiful stamps of Hornbills from Malaysia, Thailand, Indonesia. I even have one from Singapore and that was
from a special 1975 issue honouring the Jurong Bird Park.

Talking about the Bird park, do you know who was the prime figure in the establishment of the Bird Park? [Clue: It is not Dr Ong Swee Law who was instrumental in the establishment of the Zoo.] This VIP made a very humorous speech at the Opening Ceremony of the Bird Park. I attach the speech for your reading pleasure.

(Speech by Dr GohKengSweeat the opening of JurongBird Park, 4 January 1971)
Your Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen, since Mr WoonWahSiang has revealed, doubtless with the best intentions in the world, my involvement in this project, some words of explanation from me seem to be called for, perhaps even some words of exculpation. For in the history of mankind, there have from timeto time arisen to eminence men of high principle and staunch moral character who are prone to regard aviaries and bird parks as unworthy frivolities.

The Confucian scholar MrNi Jo-shui was one such person. He lived during the time of the great T’ang Emperor, Hsuan Tsung, whose reign from A.D.712 to 756 witnessed the apogee of the dynasty’s cultural brilliance. In the year 716, Emperor Hsuan Tsung decided to build a bird park in the imperial garden and dispatched collection parties to the four corners of his realm.

Mr Ni objected to this enterprise and addressed the Emperor as follows:

Though farms and mulberries are in a critical state just now, collection parties capture birds and wild fowl in their nets to supply frivolities for garden and pond. From far beyond the river and mountain passes, these are transferred under escort by water and land and fed with millet and meat, so that passers-by cannot but conclude that Your Majesty esteems birds while despising men.

It is difficult to follow the logic of this complaint. Apart from the elementary point that one can esteem both birds and men, birds, unlike predatory animals like tigers and leopards, do not eat much and impose no strain on the nation’s food supply. However, this was preparatory to the main argument to come and MrNi continued:

‘To Your Imperial Majesty, a phoenix must surely be an ordinary bird and an unicorn an ordinary beast.’

This was hitting below the belt for Mr Ni knew that Hsuan Tsung could not contest this proposition without serious damage to the dignity of his office.Then came the telling blow:

‘If so, how much more ordinary is a pond heron or tufted duck. In what way are they so worthy of esteem?’

Thus cornered, Hsuan Tsung was obliged to disband the collection parties and release the birds. He then presented MrNi with forty pieces of rich cloth. I suspect that this is in subtle revenge. Though the history books did not record it, this present to the austere Mr Ni must have led to a rupture of domestic peace between him and his wife as to what to do with it.

It is more than possible that there may be people in Singapore who question the propriety of building the Jurong Bird Park at a time when the Republic [of Singapore] is assailed by so many problems. I will justify the project on four grounds.

First, its origin is impeccable, its conception immaculate. The idea first occurred to me while attending the World Bank meeting in September 1967 in Rio de Janeiro when during a free moment I visited the Rio Aviary. I was confirmed in the soundness of the idea when attending an ECAFE meeting in Bangkok the following year. The authorities managing the Bangkok Aviary, which I made a point to visit, assured me their main problem was what to do with the millions of bahts [Thai money] they had accumulated over the years.

My second line of defence is that this enterprise should be self-supporting, though it may not be in the same money-spinning class as the Bangkok Aviary because of its much higher capitalization.

The third justification is that, unlike the aviaries of the Emperor Hsuan Tsung, this one will be open to all people and at all times, albeit for a modest fee.

And, finally, the purpose of the bird park. Here one should be careful not to overstate one’s case. It is as well to concede at the outset that the bird park will not make our society more rugged, certainly not with the train service MrWoon is providing. It will
have negligible effect on the productivity of the workers in the Republic. Its efficacy as a means of tightening national cohesion is open to doubt, as is its contribution to raising the cultural or education standards of the population. I am afraid that the bird
park will achieve none of these admirable ends. But it will add to the enjoyment of our citizens, especially our children. At the risk of appearing less than God-fearing, I give this as my final justification.

The bird park is incomplete in one respect. I had originally planned to introduce falconry displays as part of the bird park’s activities. The valley next to this seems well suited for this purpose. We approached the British Services for an adviser in the belief among these versatile and intrepid people can be found experts in any of the more esoteric pursuits of man. However, it turned out that this royal sport had died a long time ago, most likely a sad victim of the great egalitarian movement of recent history.

I do not know whether any of the Ambassadors and High Commissioners gathered here represent a country where this noble sport is still practised. I am not optimistic about the modern industrial nations. But perhaps in some quiet corner of the world, in some last refuge of reaction and obscurantism, people still happily engage in falconry without let or hindrance from tiresome moralizers. If one of your Excellencies represents such a twentieth century Ruritania, may I suggest that our respective Governments immediately enter into a Bilateral Technical Assistance Agreement for the Promotion of Falconry in Singapore.

Re-trievia recalled: Excerpts from Year 2000
Tan Wee Kiat

Written by Ivan Chew

23 September, 2007 at 9:40 pm

Posted in Year 2000

How to give up smoking

Lately a number of scary advertisements on the dangers of smoking appeared on TV and in the newspapers. I know most smokers would like to quit smoking but it is very difficult to do so.

How hard it is may be gauged by the old joke, attributed to the humorist Danny Kaye, which goes like this:
‘ How to give up smoking?
Why, it’s easy!
In fact, I have done it hundreds of times!’

Another bit of (sick) humourwarning of the dangers of smoking is labeled as ‘The shortest and saddest story in the world’ and goes like this:
Title: A Short and Sad Life Story
Chapter 1: Cigarettes
Chapter 2: Coughin’
Chapter 3: Coffin.

If I have offended anybody (friends who smoke?) with this bit of re-trievia, I ‘mintamaaf’ .

Re-trievia recalled: Excerpts from Year 2000
Tan Wee Kiat

Written by Ivan Chew

21 September, 2007 at 9:38 pm

Posted in Year 2000

Speak Good English Movement (Speak GEM)

Thanks to Oliver Seetand his Committee for the GEMs stories shared with all of us. Hopefully, the common mistakes shown will not make us so self-conscious about our speech that we shut up instead.

One is reminded of the story about the millipede. Apparently some small forest creature asked the millipede how it could move so easily when it had so many legs.

“Do you start off with your left foot or your right? Which foot comes next, and next, and next, and next …?”

This started the millipede on his psycho-analysis of movement. It thought so much about the correct sequencing of its leg movements that it started tripping over itself! From then onwards, it could not move as easily as it had done before.

I guess when it comes to sharing one’s thought with others, advice like the following may be useful:

Stand Up
Speak Up
Shut up

Re-trievia recalled: Excerpts from Year 2000
Tan Wee Kiat

Written by Ivan Chew

20 September, 2007 at 9:36 pm

Posted in Year 2000

Are you a GLAM person?

Do you regularly drive up DunearnRoad past Sixth Avenue towards Methodist Girls’ School? If you do you will notice that the road divides into 2 parts with a railing-road-divider in between. You can drive on the ‘inner’ or ‘outer’ road. On the road divider there is a row of about 40 or so ‘glam’ trees. The trees are not impressive, being small and slender with small pointed leaves.

What is interesting is that there is a place known as Kampong Glam in the Arab Street / Beach Road area. Perhaps, long ago Kampong Glam had a lot of ‘Gelam’ trees. The Malay/Indonesian name for the gelam tree is ‘kayu putih’ or ‘white wood’ tree. The leaves are crushed and distilled to obtain ‘Oil of Kayu putih’ (similar to Oil of Eucalyptus).

You can buy this Oil of Kayu putih (Minyak kayu putih) from a stall at Ghim Moh market or from the Indonesian stores in Queenstown Shopping Centre. [If you want to know more about Kayu putih, consult our expert Shawn Lum.]

Incidentally, there is a very fine old specimen of this tree in the Botanic Gardens (one of the plants privileged to have the hexagonal HSBC plaque). The bark of this tree is made up of thin layers and hence its other name, ‘Paper-bark Tree’.

Re-trievia recalled: Excerpts from Year 2000
Tan Wee Kiat

Written by Ivan Chew

19 September, 2007 at 9:35 pm

Posted in Year 2000

If you are a clock-watcher like me…

Have you driven past the old Anglo-Chinese School off Dunearn Road/ Chancery Lane? If you had, you would have noticed that the distinctive clock-tower has been demolished. Clocks have always fascinated ‘clock-watchers’ like me.

A clock reminds me of a saying attributed to Mark Twain. You know how prone we teachers are of saying to some careless kid, “Why are you always making mistakes? Why are you always wrong!”

Apparently, Mark Twain said something to this effect, “There is no such thing as a person being always wrong. Even a clock that does not move is perfectly right twice a day!”

Here is a light-hearted story about the famous clock in London known as ‘Big Ben’ and another world-famous landmark, the Leaning Tower of Pisa in Italy.

Question: What did Big Ben of London say to the Leaning Tower of Pisa?

Answer: If you’ve got the inclination, I’ve got the time.

Here’s a clock question:
At 12 o’clock the hour-hand and the minute-hand are together. On the next occasion when the 2 hands are together, what is the time?

Re-trievia recalled: Excerpts from Year 2000
Tan Wee Kiat

Written by Ivan Chew

18 September, 2007 at 10:55 pm

Posted in Year 2000