Every Year

I like the fact that I have a small piece of the webivserse. I really do…. but I surely can’t seem to stay focused on posting…. regular like. I think the issue is that I have so many projects on the go… I lose sight of them along the way in lieu of the next one… On the go are my resto of the VW Bus… a steam bending exercise for building a new guitar case, my entire family genealogy….

But….. life is a busy place, and one thing or another, the red dot can be a problem.

Red Leaf Guitars – Very first one….


The ray top blank drilled for depth.

The ray top blank drilled for depth.

The top blank cut from a old dresser

The top blank cut from a old dresser

The top blank almost rough finished

The top blank almost rough finished

This jig is designed to help hold and align the top and bottom while carving.

This jig is designed to help hold and align the top and bottom while carving.

The ever so humble beginning of the Red Leaf Guitar, the top partly carved, some of the jogs made. When i get some more time, I will get the top fnished and then the bottom. The difficulty I am having is that it being my own design, and I know nothing about guitar design… I am struggling on how to get the neck properly attached. I will get it figured out.. as the internet is the answer to all things.

I Return To The World

It has been some time since I graced the trifling acreage on the web that is my domain. But here in 2016, one of my new years resolution was to try and plow some of the ground I have, lo these many years, failed to cultivate. Lots of projects on the go this year, and I will do my best to keep them up to date.Bubba-2 Found some old pics, thought I would post a few


I am having difficulty remembering to publish here from time to time. I started out on our trip with the best intentions of regular updates…. but this seemed to drift away. After being ill in Singapore, I recovered, and we flew to Perth to see our old friends and attend their wedding. There I got REALLY sick. And I mean seriously ill. I spent the better part of a week with fever pushing 105. In truth, when I finally did go to see a local sawbones, my fever in her office was 105.4…. a conditions she described to me at the time as… “alarming!”. She gave me some antibiotics, and truth be told, within about 18 hours I had my crisis and began to rapidly recover. I wasn’t what I would call completely recovered for at least 6 weeks, but eventually seemed to beat it. I actually pulled a muscle in my neck I was shaking so violently from from the fever chills.

Regardless, I was able to visit with my dear friends, attend their magical nuptials in the leafy fens of the grooms parents country estate, and generally enjoy their company for as long as they would have me. We enjoyed a trip to Margaret River, drank wine, beer, and saw whales and kangaroos courtesy of a fabulous guide we hired. These folks proved to be my safety net during my illness, and I shudder to think of what might have happened to me had we been on our own. They were patient, and found me a doctor when I REALLY needed one. To them I will always be beholden for their ready kindness, and their typical Aussie roll wit the punches review of life. They saved me…. and I will never forget it.

Anyway, it didn’t kill me, and I managed to enjoy the balance of the trip despite being a little shakey for much of it. Went to Byron Bay, where people go to run away from life for a while. It is slow, full of surfers, and no big buildings. I spent some of the best hours of the trip sitting in a coffee shop / bookstore, either cruising the stacks or swilling the local java, or both. The Aussies have a remarkable civilization about them that we seem to have lost. Their society still seems to support the notion that most people are good, and every now and then there is a nutter, as opposed to ur way of life where we must protect everyone from the occasional aberrant who pops up, unbidden like a whack-a-mole in our midst. Byron Bay is very laid back, although I can report that I had my first breathalyzer in my entire life in this little sleepy town.

It was actually quite amusing. It was late, raining, and I was still learning to drive on the wrong side of the road, so my driving was a little erratic as we searched an unfamiliar town for a hidden hotel. The local Rozzers were on me in a wink! They pulled me over and literally sprinted to the car and opened the drivers door in record time. I am not sure what they thought I was going to do in there should they have wasted one more second. Anyway, they were intensely disappointed to hear m,y tale, thinking they had a real winner on their hands for the lockup. They still made me blow even after I related my many failings this rainy night in a strange town.

From Byron we moved on to Brisbane. Now, I am sure, loyal reader, that you have either been to Oz or have read about it, but I am here to tell you the straight goods on the drive from Byron Bay to Brisbane. The short description is just don’t do it. Or… if you feel you have to, go straight there on the highway, and avoid that excrescence called Surfers Paradise. Even if I was a surfer, I would kill myself before I went back to that blighted coast. Hotel after hotel after hotel, after chintzy guesthouse. Bars, restaurants and coffee shops are crammed together for what seemed like 1,000 miles….. no bucolic coastal drive available there, just wretched American inspired excess in all things.

Brisbane was a wonderous place. Wonderous. Warm, inviting, friendly….. I can’t say enough about how much I enjoyed it’s environs. I could have stayed for the rest of my life. In truth, I regularly cursed my advanced age and lack of decent skills to relocate to these wonderous shores….

Had a great time, and I will post a few pics, as well as a few more book reviews when I get the chance.

Business In Botany Bay

In our dying moments in Singapore, we paid a cabby to drive us around our old haunts. We made the trip from Singapore to Perth easy enough. It was cramped, filled to the very rafters with squalling children, and entirely how you would expect a Goat Class excursion to be. It was thankfully a mere 4 hours or so, so it just bearable. We spent half a lifetime mouldering in boredom at the new Changi Terminal 3. It was easy enough despite the long wait. I found a quiet place where we could chill and just plain wait it out. Eventually we washed up on the shores of Western Australia, and managed to see the Indian Ocean for the first time since 2003.

The Indian Ocean…. at last….

We were met at the airport by the Australian Ambassador, and he took us straight away for a nosh and a coffee. We grabbed a bit of a snooze and then he graciously showed us around town to get our bearings and see some of the sights.

The Ambassador showing my wife where, apparently, the men are located….

Perth is a very picturesque city. I have traveled the world extensively, and always felt like Perth was the one place that reminded me of Cowboy City. It has much to see, some very nice vintage architecture:

The Brass Monkey – Looked like a potentially entertaining watering hole…


Shirley and Duncan

We discovered that the downtown core buses are free, so took huge advantage of that. We wanted to go to Freemantle at some point, and I thought that it might be nice for Shirley to see the trip down the Swan. We booked a spot on the boat for Friday, which as it turns out is market day in Freo, so lots more to see.

We were walking along the street today, and down an alley I spied this bizarre scene:

Child Abuse?

I have no idea what the point of this was. They had roped off a section of ground, stretched a tarp over it to keep the sun of it, built this tortuous maze of sliced space blanket, added some children to the space, and then peppered it with what looked like hockey pucks. Hockey pucks? you might well ask yourself… there was no usual screaming and mad dashing about as children do when let out of their cages of a sunny day. These kids seemed as bewildered as I at what this was all about. We watched this surreal scene for a few minutes, but nothing popped in the head as to the point…. so we moved on lest we get swept up in the inevitable child abuse drag net that was surely to settle on this bizarre scene any minute.

We went for lunch at a place that offered pretty much the full mantra:

All I ask of the world

On the way I made a mental note of a place that might come in handy of a late night with a skin full….

The Aussies think of everything

The Old Hacienda and Other Ground For Stomping

A collection of Chews….

Shirley and I and the rental…..

Our old house in Singapore was for sale this summer. I can tell you when we lived there we never viewed this place as having this sort of value…….

44 Faber Drive – we lived there years ago

We paid a cabby to drive us around to some of our old haunts today. Like most Singaporeans of a certain age, he was very helpful, and seemed to enjoy helping us connect with our nostalgic notions of life long gone here in the jungle – concrete and otherwise. We drove to the old house, Alex`s old school, some of the shopping locations. Jellita, for example, looked exactly as I remembered it. Much of the topography has changed in drastic ways. The old Clementi market was partially the same, but covered by a massive shopping and condo complex. The driver did buck me up some when he advised that the wet market lived on beyond the outer row of building. I have strong memories of that market with it`s powerful smells, especially of newly arrived durian…..

We went by the old house, and it was shuttered and empty, for sale, and unloved. It looked remarkably haggard, and had probably been vacant for some time. The yard was littered with old coconuts from the tree by the driveway… that fabulous fan palm was till there at the end of the yard. Amazing, that tree was probably fairly old for a weed. hard to believe you could convince someone to part with $S12.5M to own it.

Side shot of the old house

Fortress Mackenzie …. seen better days

New hospitals, train stations, malls, schools… the pace of construction is mind boggling. It`s like they are trying to win some kind of development race. The cabby wanted only $38 for about a 45 minute drive around Singapore and then to the airport.

Anyway…. 12 years have melted away for us, seeing many of the old places we spent time. I can`t say we will ever be back, at least probably not like this – on a voyage of discovery. We may drift this way a time or two before our days upon the mortal coil are spent. But as new age Magellans, eager and squinting on the fordeck to sight memories through the fog of time… this is probably our last look at this defining moment in our lives together. Despite not having had the chance, due to illness, to see more of it, we head off further south on another voyage of discovery. We have business at Botany Bay, so to speak. The Australian Ambassadors await us…

Books On The Road

While more than one of my days on the road has been consumed by illness, either mine or my wife’s, I have had a chance to read a few books. Given the house on fire nature of my job for the last years, I haven’t had much time, or energy, to read much. One of the rare joys of an actual vacation, is the opportunity to dial it back a bit and engage ion some of the pass times a guy used to enjoy. So… I read three books in 5 days.

The first one I tackled was:

Seriously Lame

This is a seriously dull book, by an American doctor called Paul Ruggieri. I am not entirely sure of the point of this book, but it seems to be a mewling tirade about the fact that becoming a surgeon these days in the US is not an automatic license to pave your bathrooms in gold and retire when you are 41. He go on and on and on about the litigious nature of American medicine today and and how his life is a misery because he can’t accidentally cut your arm off when he was supposed to take out your gall bladder, and not face a lawsuit. His thesis appears to be that Doctors should be immune to everything (including patients) except great sacks of cash deposited regularly in unnamed Swiss banks.

I bought this tome because I like reading medical non fiction. I like the chase of the differential diagnosis on a difficult case. I like to learn about the human body and both it’s many failings and amazing design. Give this loser a miss. It is neither interesting, amusing or even very well written.

Next up was this journeyman work:

Better than a poke in the eye…. just

This is a memoir by Lt.Col (Ret) Michael Franzak. He spend 20+ years in the US Navy, and 10 years flying the AV-8B Harrier II for the USMC. This memoir is about his deployment to Afghanistan as the XO of VMA 513 posted to Bagram. Now… I like these sort of books. I like reading about ordinary people doing interesting jobs in the face of daunting odds. generally these military memoirs are good reading, generally written reasonably well, about events I may have a passing knowledge of as a consumer of news of the world. This book is, in retrospect, not different. My issue with this book is two fold. 1) The role of the Harrier in the conflict seemed to be largely to roar about overhead and threaten the Taliban insurgent with high levels of noise. This aircraft carries about 2 lbs of bombs, has difficulty in delivering same in anything like difficult terrain. It can’t use it’s vertical take off capability at the altitudes evident in Afghanistan, so operates like regular aircraft, a role for which it is dimly suited.

2) Franzak seemed a very reluctant warrior. Racked by insomnia, loathing his CO, endlessly bitching about his accommodations, he cuts a rather dismal picture of the pointy end of the spear. He drops one bomb, and that a miss, in his entire tour, and moans on and on about how hard the job is.

I got through it, and to be honest, I have read worse… but it is difficult to recommend it as it is so pedestrian and marginally interesting in it’s narrative. He does deliver a very telling lesson in the nature of the insurgent war in this part of the world. He describes how he has the chance to attend the interrogation of a captured Taliban fighter by the CIA. During the hours of endless questioning in a trailer by trained CIA operatives, the captive keeps looking at a fan on the wall, seemingly unable to focus on the task at hand. He does not seem to realize that years of internment at Guantanamo await if this interview goes poorly. He turns to the Pashtun interpreter finally and asks him… ” what IS that thing…” pointing to the fan on the wall…. “… it’s amazing…”. Here is a guy whose heart and mind you are hoping to capture through reason and bullets, and he he has never seen a fan before in his entire life. THAT is the take away form this book

Last but not least is my favorite so far:

Excellent read…

This a an excellent memoir by Dr.Ross Donaldson of his time in West Africa studying the evil Lassa virus. Lassa is one of the BIG FOUR VHFs or viral hemorrhagic fevers. The others, for the inquiring reader, are Ebola, Marburg and Crimean – Congo. Whether you have any one or the other is largely for Doctors to worry about, as you are dangerously screwed regardless. While they seem to have surprisingly low mortality rates in healthy populations with atmospheric medical care, they kill you dead in the most gruesome fashion should be unfortunate enough to be poorly nourished, and immune deficient. The hemorrhagic virus is like the flu with turbo charging, with the added side effect of making your cells leak fluid in copious quantity…. until you die.

This memoir is a riveting and well written account of a young med student who travels to Sierra Leone to study this disease under one of the worlds only experts in it’s treatment. His mentor would himself die of the disease a year later after an accidental needle stick. Donaldson spends his days in the Lassa Ward, a run down piece of shit hospital bereft of even the most minor medical equipment and drugs. His daily struggles with both the patients and the nursing staff make for highly entertaining reading. It is hard to believe, after you read this, that anyone would willingly go to a war torn country like this where human life is about as valuable as dirt, and struggle daily to save the lives of people who will, in all likelyhood, die of something else pretty darn soon anyway. The lethality of this disease, and it’s containment in this rickety hospital seem surreal, and the narrative is spellbinding.

Even if you have no interest in books like this, I would recommend it as a worthwhile study in human courage and selfless determination to make something right in the world.

A Day Of Miracles

It was both an interesting, and grueling day. Truth is almost any day in Singapore can be grueling because of the heat and cloying humidity. While we rode the subway where we could, the real action occurs out in the real world, where it is hot and definitely humid.
We began the day with our usual routine – checking mail and the news on the web at the Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf on Orchard by the hotel. They have excellent breakfast there for less than it would cost in Edmonton. We planned out strategy. We would take the subway to the that new marvel of the modern world, the Marina Bay Sands Hotel. This monstrosity of a hotel is three huge towers on top of which is a construct meant, I am told, to look like a boat. While I always like to see interesting buildings, and have a lasting penchant for architecture, I am always wary of nut job buildings designed a shrines to the architect. I had a lurking suspicion that is what we would find at the end of our journey.

Marina Bay Sands Hotel – The Boat At The Top Of A Hotel

You can see from the picture that it is quite a sight, and when you stand at the bottom and look up at the curving towers, it has a certain presence that is hard to argue. The internal lobbies were not particularly impressive beyond being massive empty spaces. Shirley managed to earn the ire of the security guard on the concourse (probably five floors up) by slinking under the security ropes to get closer to the railing to peer down at the ant like patrons in the atrium dinning area. She was quickly readjusted by security to operate at a safe distance from the edge.
We didn’t go to the roof, as it was something like $25 for the privilege, and to be honest I didn’t feel like being the mook who pays to see just one more boat in the sky….

We moved on to the Singapore Super Tree Grove. Now…. I found it difficult at first to figure out how this idea came to fruition. It would have been highly instructive, I think, to have been at that meeting when some architect or engineer pitched this idea of building some seriously huge steel trees in considerable numbers, painted odd colors, and with a walkway for people to scoot about up there in the ferric branches.

Grove of Super Trees

I bet there were some heads wondering how this guy managed to escape the asylum. However, his ideas prevailed and the trees were built, and they are seriously amazing. I fear, given the judgemental nature of my intellect, I would have laughed this guy out of the room…. And I would never have had the pleasure of actually seeing this amazing construct as it sits today.

Trees And Domes

There are two climate domes near by, one for rain forest or some similar shenanigans, and another full of flowers. We did not penetrate the domes, largely due to the long lines and the $38 it cost to peek inside. I did, however, postulate at some length to my wife that I bet these domes will be the refuge of Mentor Minister Lee and his cabinet when the world collapses. He will live there, forever, under the glass while the rest of us face the Zombie apocalypse.

Runway In The Trees

We gave the Super trees the old college try and even stopped for a super fine chicken curry. At least I did… Shirley had what appeared, in all honesty, to be a collage of dirt and miscellaneous refuse strewn casually on points of toast. I didn’t ask too many questions, as I really didn’t want to lose the moment I was having with that chicken curry…. Num num num.

More Trees

The problem, of course is that once back on my feet, with all that rice and curry floating about in my ample gut, the heat and humidity took on a most daunting, and eventually impossible mantle of sweat, despair and collapse.
I was able to convince the Missus that having to body bag me there on the concourse of the Marina Bay Sands would be dashed inconvenient…. So we moved on. We decided a session in the subway would be a great way to cool off and get somewhere else. We decided Little India would be a good choice. When we lived here, I came to Little India only once, while Shirley had been many times. There is an interesting store complex there called Mustapha that sells all manner of electronics, appliances, watches and gold jewellery. Shirley needed a new camera as hers began to fail in a very dramatic fashion at the Super Trees.

While the details of our trip to Little India are of little interest here, suffice it to say it was not without a certain Mack and Meyer feel, as we took trains in the wrong direction, discovered same, went back to starting point, made the same mistake again, and back to the start. In our defence, the station we were seeking is a difficult one to identify such that the railway has an employee posted at the train to answer the questions of the bewildered. She told Shirley that she had noted our seemingly aimless orbiting every 15 minutes or so, and suspected we would eventually ask for help.

In the end Little India was our. We wandered about shooting some pics, and eventually finding Mustapha and a camera for Shirley. The darn thing can log on wireless to your laptop and download it’s pictures… without wires… wireless cameras, steel trees, hotels with boats aloft? What a day, will the miracles of this city ever stop?
We saw some classic old Shop Houses which you can see in the picture. These used to be all over Singapore, but have either fallen down of their own accord or have been pulled down over the years by developers. They are all now protected as listed buildings and command very high prices as private residences in the right neighborhoods. I doubt these would qualify, but they are quite elegant in their aged dilapidation.

Shop House Front

Shop House front As Well

Little India a like a little slice of how the rest of Asia functions. Tailors working within inches of the cars going by, a tire shop wedged in a space too small for a kennel, clothing and sandal shops by the score. Everywhere gold merchants selling the bangles and chains so popular in the east Asian culture. As we walked along the street there grew this amazingly sweet odour. At first I couldn’t place it, but as we moved along the street, Shirley drew my attention to a spice grinder shop, where they were grinding spices of all kinds, the aroma filling the air for some distance around.

Drive By Tailor

Spice Grinder

It was a long sweaty day, but I did more tourist stuff in one day than I believe I have done in 20 years….. never being much one for gawping about foreign climes.

Anywho, that is it for one day. While we might find an adventure for tonight, it will have to wait for another days telling. I think I will sit in the pool for a while and see if I can drive the core temp down for a while…..

Wasted Day

In a not entirely surprising turn of events, the day was largely wasted as my wife and I both came down with some God awful ailments. She has a cold and I had some kind of low grade flu… I am largely recovered I think, however, she remains stuffed up and coughing… no doubt for some time as it runs it’s course. We did a fair amount of sleeping yesterday, and that seemd to help us both.
We are going to have another go at the subway today and look the countryside over a bit more. I will report with pictures.

Rediscovering Bits Of Memories

We spend the day taking trains and visiting our old haunts at Holland Village. When we were fresh expats here we were instructed to go to Holland Village to get our necessary electronics gadgets etc. at a place called Paris Silk. I was not only amazed to see it still there after all these years, but instantly recognized the guy behind the counter from all those years ago…. still flogging cameras, cables and (now in a different store|) appliances. In fact he was selling this crazy contraption…

The Beer Machine….. one wonders what horrors await the unwary with this contrivance

It hadn’t changed all that much. The ram shackle little wooden moasque was still in the parking lot

The Unchanges Mosque

Singapore back in the day was a place where the grocery store was largely where you would find westerners. Locals either did no cooking at home and ate at the plethora of hawker stalls and restaurants peppered about the place, or shopped at the “wet market” These wet markets were truly amazing places for the new comer to these Asian climes. Much like a farmers market at home they sold all manner of fresh veg. fruits, meat and fish. The variety of comestibles at these places was mind boggling. For example, you could buy black chickens. Literally black as the ace of spades. At the Holland village wet market there was often a guy selling beef lung. he had a big butcher block, and on it would be the lung from a cow, all wet and glistening. He would blow it up every now and then to keep it fresh and in view, and you could would just chop off some into a bag if you were hell bent on a feed of lung for dinner.

Sadly, the wet market, while not entirely gone in Holland Village, is now a antiseptic and truncated version of it’s former self. It now sells mostly fish, is a quarter of the size and smells like bleach. The most astounding thing about the wet market, st least for me, was the smell…. especially late in the day. You can imagine having all that meat and fish out in the 90+ degree heat all day…. by late afternoon the air was ripe… Anyway, now its a fish market with stainless steel stalls, and a food court.

We got down there by taking the very superb Singapore mas transit trains. Largely underground, this system is clean, cheap and extremely efficient. These guys know how to move people around. They run the best airline in the world, and as far as my limited experience with such things extends…. a pretty darn good subway.

Subway Cars – Clean Roomy and Freakishly On Time

We took the train from the Orchard SMRT station and with one change of lines found ourselves seamlessly to the very edge of our target.

They sure do like the buildings in this town. Given half a chance they will erect the sort of buildings you might read about, but rarely see…. for example this one – executed in stainless to resemble a giant tree:

The mail in Singapore still comes the easy way, hand delivered by an army of loyal servants on a Vesa

Getting around in Singapore is an easy bit of business. You can take the subway as I have described above, or take a bus, taxi (cheap and plentiful) or buy a car. If you buy a car get ready for serious sticker shock. The government of Singapore decides each year how many cars will be allowed on the road. It is a brilliant scheme designed to control traffic congestion. They control this by limiting the number of vehicle registrations that can be purchased, and by auctioning off those that are. Thus the price can be frightening. See the photo form today’s paper for the prices for a Certificate Of Entitlement that will let you then go buy a car. This price is for 10 years of registration for the car. after ten years the car MUST come off the road. They mostly go to Malaysia for Indonesia, but they cannot go back on the road in Singapore. Add this to the price of a car (take the price in Canada and multiply by three if you are lucky) and driving gets expensive in a hurry.

Shirley has come down with plague, so our travels today may be restricted until she feels up to the task.