Archive for September, 2009
Singapore is clearly a well-ordered society with less than normal levels of crime. But walking around, you don’t see too many policeman, so what’s the secret?
The answer is CCTV cameras and they are everywhere; although this cat has maybe found a blind spot.
I have been attending Formula One races for longer than I would care to admit; but I will admit to chatting with Graham Hill in the Brands Hatch paddock several lifetimes ago. You could do that in those days, but nowadays the most you will see of a driver is his helmet; given the pressures that hundreds of millions of dollars of sponsorship has brought.
Formula One may be run in a much more professional, and thankfully safer, way than it used to be; but the facilities for spectators have been much slower in catching up. Worst culprit in my experience was Spa in Belgium. The car park was a muddy field which had recently been inhabited by cows with a stomach complaint, staffed by mafia men who extracted large amounts of cash to let you wade through cow shit for several kilometres before arriving at the trackside which was equally muddy but slightly less shitty. God help you if you wanted the toilet in a rush, because there was always a long queue to enter the non-flushing portakabin which had apparently been soaked in urine for a week to impart a particularly tangy aroma. And you would never, ever, consider sitting down to do what the cows had been doing copiously in the previous weeks. Now wash your hands? Where? No running water.
Time for some food then. To a stall, also run by the mafia where you would queue for an hour before handing over a week’s salary for a
hot slightly warm on the outside but cold in the middle dog, slammed into some stale bread and garnished with watered-down ketchup to hide the revolting taste of the food and the suspicious aroma lingering on your fingers after that trip to the urine infested shack.
Ablutions and eating complete, you can relax and enjoy the day. Except nothing much happens. A minor support race if you are lucky, and then the inevitable fly by of some crappy fighter painted in national colours which lasts precisely four seconds, “gosh, that was so loud. And so boring.” So instead you sit in mud, aching for a shit, and grit your teeth throughout the Grand Prix before making a dash to the muddy field and queueing for several hours to escape what may be the world’s greatest race track, but the world’s worst facilities. But it doesn’t really matter because you have spent two hours watching Nigel Mansell arriving sideways into Les Combes on every lap and you will never forget the experience; as I haven’t.
But now Singapore. I know there are other street circuits, but you have to admire the courage required to build a racetrack in the heart of a hotel/shopping mall district, and do it in a way such that everything around the track continues to function. And it all looks so damn good. The track itself is, out of necessity, a snaking cake of fencing and clever stuff for cars to bounce off when it all goes wrong. But around the track there are lanterns and flowers and decorations that will presumably have already been ripped down; but they give the place an atmosphere of permanence and charm; with the Singapore skyline as a backdrop.
The track goes across this flower lined bridge, with the 3 million watt lighting system overhead which must make for a hell of an electricity bill.
Tickets for the Singapore GP are significantly more expensive than those for the Malaysian GP; but you do get a much smarter set of tickets. A separate plastic ticket for each day of the event, with a heavily chromed clip and sturdy lanyard for each, all bundled up in a presentation box. Nice.
The instructions told us that we should get to the circuit by taking the MRT to a choice of stations and then getting a shuttle bus. A shuttle bus…? Those mystical devices that rarely arrive, and if they do they leave you stranded in strange places? Well of course not, this is Singapore. Out of the MRT, walk onto a bus, and five minutes later you are at the track. When you leave, same thing in reverse. On Sunday night after the race we left our grandstand along with a zillion other people, walked straight onto a bus, straight into an MRT train, and in only twenty minutes from standing up from our seats, we were making friends with this in the centre of town.
Transport solved, but what to do after you have entered the circuit?
The red highlighted items happened on the track, the rest of the attractions were various events at the “F1 Villages” dotted around the track. If you were unlucky you could be subjected to the Backstreet Boys. We raided one of the many restaurants at the track on the evening of the race and acquired some rather tasty chicken tikka wraps which we consumed by while watching Travis, who were not as bad as I expected them to be.
On the Saturday night there was also a large concert with the likes of Beyonce, No Doubt and for those who like beards, ZZ Top.
As for the racing; well a street circuit is always going provide an even more processional race than an ordinary track. But at least you can get up close enough to realise that the drivers are all slightly mad; with Hamilton, both the Red Bull drivers and Alonso standing out as being particularly committed. And the noise is glorious.
Singapore can be proud of what it has achieved with their Formula One event. But the toilets are still a little suspect.
There are two types of photographers at a Formula 1 race. There are the official F1 photographers who wear fancy jackets and are allowed to shoot from almost anywhere; they are also known as “lucky bastards”. Then there are the rest of us who are confined to one location and can’t see very much, let alone photograph it. This is particularly true at a street circuit like Singapore where you are very close to the cars, but then have to be protected from airborne cars and assorted components by a wire fence which is rather hard to shoot through.
For this reason I decided not to take my serious camera to Singapore. I would take the LX3 for some general shots, and just take hand baggage with some spare clothes. Then I foolishly bought my friend in Singapore a condo warming present of a corkscrew; one of those monster corkscrews that could also be used for digging escape tunnels should you happen to be imprisoned. I then realised it would also be useful as a tool to intimidate airline pilots and that I would not be allowed to take it on the plane. Which meant I would have to check in my baggage. Which meant I would have nothing to hand carry. Which meant I decided I might as well carry my big camera after all. So I did; and once I arrived in Singapore we went straight to the track for the Friday evening practice which ran from 2130 to 2300. The track lighting provided enough illumination for the drivers, but not enough for photography without cranking up the ISO, but I got some reasonable shots. Here are some of them:
About to leave for Singapore and the Grand Prix. My host for the weekend tells me there is already a great atmosphere in town and I can’t wait to get there. Problem is, I am finding it rather hard to pack.
One cat is guarding the suitcase, the other (tail visible on the left), is sitting firmly on my passport. Last time I left it was for a week, and they don’t want that to happen again. An additional challenge is whether or not to take my big camera and monster lens, or just take the LX3. Either way, I hope to be on my way to the airport in a couple of hours. Posts unlikely before Monday, have an exceedingly good weekend, even if you are not sitting in a grandstand at the end of the main straight in Singapore.
Like naught boys in school, the politicians and military of Thailand get up to all sorts of tricks when the boss leaves the country; as Thaksin found out to his cost when he was thrown out by a coup. With Abhisit away at the United Nations, it had been a golden opportunity for his boys in government to get together with the military and hand out some extra cash; 10 billion baht to be precise.
In a time of financial crisis, that much money could do a lot to help maintain hospitals, schools and other public services which are so in need of some extra funding. But it is deemed more important that the country obtains 18,455 additional rubber truncheons, some Sea King helicopters (perhaps they can park them on the deck of the aircraft carrier which never goes anywhere), and a submarine.
Yes, a submarine. Given that the Gulf of Thailand has an average depth of 45 metres and is never deeper than 80 metres, it is possible that the vessel will be marine more than submarine; but let’s not worry about that. Just consider the procurement process “opportunities”.
I do not normally use the organ to praise the wit of others, but here comes an exception.
First, you need to know that you can buy Uranium via Amazon. Not as scary as it sounds, just low grade stuff for testing instruments and making your body parts glow in the dark.
And the product received this review:
Marriage. It’s not just whimpering with fear in a darkened room. There is also the shopping.
The recent whirlwind tour of our property by a Feng Shui
charlatan expert resulted in a long hit-list of changes that were required to increase our good fortune. Some of them were straight forward, involving the re-positioning of mirrors; but we were also required to obtain a wind chime to be hung at a particular location on the front balcony.
Wind chimes have their place. You are in a verdant garden, the air heavy with the perfume from numerous flowers and burning incense sticks. From afar you hear the timeless chant of the monks, and close by there is the delicate tinkle of a wind chime as it moves in the soft breeze that cools the air. You linger for only a while, because then you have to go and take more drugs because no way does a place like this actually exist unless you are full of recreational substances.
On the other hand, a wind chime on a balcony next to the sea, particularly at a time of year when the north east monsoon wind is in the offing, is a very bad idea. The occasional tinkle is OK, the incessant bloody tinkling, twenty four hours a day, right outside the bedroom, is not. I fear any wind chime is going to have a limited life span before it is mysteriously kicked back to component parts (“it must have been the cats, dear”).
Anyway, we had to buy it first, and not just any wind chime. It had to have four hanging down bits and not be silver; which is the exact opposite of the specifications of most wind chimes on the market. So we went to the Floating Market in search of wind chime elusiveness. We took cameras, because she who must be obeyed needed some shots for her company website.
The Floating Market is very busy on weekends, but we found parking easily enough and, once in the market, the number of people did not seem excessive. In fact it was rather pleasant just wandering round the shops and taking a few snaps. Apart from the wind chime, it turned out we were also seeking out some crucial snacks and enough face cream to lather a baby elephant. After hunting for a while, we sat down for some inexpensive Thai food and the excellent, not to be missed coconut ice cream.
After some more searching we eventually found a four hanging down bit, blue coloured wind chime; which was good. It has yet to be hung on the balcony, which is even better.
Yes, the Beijing Acrobatic Fantasy was in town today for a single show. Judging by the age of the performers (generally young), and the number of mistakes (many), this is a trainee troupe. Still, the event was for charity and it was a good show, spoiled from a photographic standpoint by the totally crappy lighting at Tiffany Theatre, which is normally used to scatter assorted colours across dubious looking transvestites and does not do a good job of spotlighting an acrobatic show. So I was shooting in the semi-dark with various lurid colours being cast across the stage; which meant 3200 ISO, too-slow shutter speeds and generally awful results.
The above is eight still shots sewn together to show how you get two pots onto your head without using your hands. He also did it with three pots, but the lighting changed half way through the stunt so I can’t animate it.