Outlook Money: Singapore & Beyond

 

 

Singapore and Beyond

The perfect post-summer retreat for the travelling soullarge_Ub1lQ2017_10_12_10_19_35

By Arefa Tehsin

Snaps by: Adityavikram More 

Oh yes, most things are high about Singapore. Its glittering high rises, hi-tech amusement parks, high-end shopping streets, the 541-feet high Singapore Flyer, the dizzyingly high Marina Bay Hotel’s swimming pool and the highest indoor waterfall in the world at Gardens by the Bay. Highly artificial though it might be, Singapore still has character, unlike the green desert of Dubai. Night Safari, River Safari, Clark Quay, Little India and not so little malls, the round-the-clock open Mustafa choking on electronics and the Sentosa Island with its nightly star attraction—a surreal light, sound and water show on the sea. There is something to do for every age group, the island country attracts tourists in drones.

Having been there and having done all that a couple of times, the Lion City does not dazzle me anymore. But this time the highlight of the trip was a cruise from Singapore to Penang Island and back. Before that, however, Universal Studios beckoned. If you have a family group 29-people-strong and you do all the rides together, Universal can be universally fun. From being a part of the Transformers’ mission to save the world to being inside a boathouse in a stormy New York City to being tossed like a tropical salad in a roller coaster, the theme park has the makings to give you either a hell of a good time or a panic attack.

Colourful Cycle Rickshaws in Georgetown

After the usual sightseeing (posing before the Universal Globe, the Merlion, the Marina Bay Hotel etc. posted by 50 other Facebook friends), we boarded the giant Ovation of the Seas, a cruise liner of the Royal Caribbean that falls in the Quantum Class—the second largest class of passenger ships. So what do you feel like today? Wind surfing? Pixels show with robotic screens? Rock climbing? A country pub? Live music? Gambling in a casino? Robots making you a cocktail? Japanese food? Mediterranean? A Las Vegas style show? Bumper cars? Jacuzzi? Football? Viewing the ship 300ft up in a capsule? Basketball? A massage in the spa? Nah… none of these. What if you just feel like flying in air? No big deal, you can do that too. And though you’re made to dress up for dinner daily, don’t expect a Titanic style grand ball.

However, one needs to book some activities months in advance. Else, you can miss out on much, especially if its a short 4-night cruise. The customer complaints redressal person would flash a dazzling smile and tell you they can’t do anything about you not being able to do any of the activities for which you took the cruise in the first place. So you have to pretty much be content with shopping, swimming and getting dressed in your fineries for dinner.

The best part of the cruise for me was when I stepped out of it. The ship docked in George Town, the capital of the exotic Penang Island and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. You need more than a day to explore this heady cocktail of a city, an eclectic mix of the time-worn old world charm and the outlandish new. Imagine a city punctuated with crumbling yet colourful Chinese shop houses, pedalling trishaws, mouth watering hawker stalls, unexpected museums (like the Upside Down one), Buddhist temples and Chinese mansions. Above all, George Town epitomises street art. The 3D artworks decorate the streets with their quirky humour and offbeat imagination. You can push the cycle with the two happy kids on it or crouch behind a boy crouching on an old motorbike. Or you can just stand and admire the art, without making a motley fool of yourself.

Dragon Art at Gardens by The Bay

Not to be missed in George Town is the Blue Mansion. Built by the iconic Cheong Fatt Tze at the end of the 19th century, the mansion rose from its ashes in the 1990s when a couple of Penang conservationists purchased it from Tze’s descendants. Now a heritage hotel, the lavish mansion stands proud on its indigo blue walls flaunting its granite floored courtyards, louvred windows, art nouveau stained glass and Feng Shui design. You can take a guided tour of the place. We were lucky to get the tour from the owner of the Blue Mansion herself. We saw the grandeur, got insights into the Chinese architecture and history and even saw some possessions of the family, including those of the most favourite seventh wife, while some men in the group sighed about the good old days.

And then we were back to the Kingdom of Singhapura, with its skyscrapers and friendly taxi drivers. Oh yes, you need to visit Hong Kong to see that most of the cabbies and others don’t want to flex their face muscles to smile. The last stop was pure delight for me – the Singapore Zoo! The real, after the artificial. Twenty-six hectares of a lush forest where white tigers roar, lemurs check you out, iguanas give you a withering look and orangutangs have their breakfast nonchalantly as you sit goggling at them.

Street Art in Georgetown

On the way back to the airport our tour guide gushed about Singapore being so “green.” Yes it is, green. But where were the other colours…of birds? It is uncanny that in a city with so many trees, there are hardly any birds. The guide said, “Oh, they are resting on the treetops.” What she didn’t tell was the Singapore government’s policy to shoot pest birds, who dirty their city, in thousands – common mynas, crows, feral pigeons, white-vented myna, purple backed starlings and Philippine glossy starling. The official culling program started in 1973 and today the Singapore’s National Environment Agency employs a security agency as well as volunteers from Singapore Gun Club to shoot the birds. To quote an article in New York Times (Nov 8, 2006), “Crows are everything that Singapore is not — raucous, indisciplined…and disorderly — and they are not welcome here.” That sounds more like tourists from our part of the world. If only the birds could sing their way into the island with Singapore Dollars too.

Advertisements

The Hindu: Not so pretty, mate

Return to frontpage
YOUNG WORLD

Not so PRETTY, mate

         AREFA TEHSIN
Commons

You may think they look “ugly”. But ask them, and they’ll tell you who really fits the bill.

In the sub-Saharan Africa, there is a wild member of the pig family called warthog, which would make its domestic cousins look rather glamorous in comparison. If you think it looks naked, see closer and you’ll notice bristly hair on its wrinkly skin. They have four sharp tusks, a crest of hair on their backs and shovel shaped heads covered with warts, which are not warts at all but protective, fleshy pads. We have named them after their warts. How considerate!

We discussed some of the animals we think as the great uglies in the first part of this article, that appeared last month. Here are some more. Maybe after this we should have an article on what these animals would name us according to our looks or reputation. (Pimply Prema, Nerdy Nargis, Ratty Rijjo, Bittu Buck-teeth. Nah… Bittu Bad-breath, more likely.)

Sea Hare

ature’s uglies: Sea hare. Photo: Creative Commons/Scott A-P Muzlie   | Photo Credit: Creative Commons/Scott A-P Muzli

The two long growths on its head would have looked like rabbit-ears to the ancient Romans and they named this sea slug ‘sea hare’. Never mind that they are actually not ears but a nose. The largest species of sea hares can weigh up to 14 kg! When disturbed, they can release an ink to deter the predator. The slug with frills is a hermaphrodite — both a male and a female at the same time. When pregnant, it lays long noodle shaped strands with millions of eggs. Isn’t that egg-citing!

Vampire Bat

With their dark leathery cloaks, fang-like teeth, wrinkled noses and their appetite for blood, these bats are one of most feared animals of South America. Hundreds of them live together in dark caves and abandoned building and come out at night in search of unsuspecting victims. Their heat sensing noses lead them to warm blood. Making a cut with their razor sharp teeth, they lap the blood of animals like cattle and horses. Don’t find the vampire handsome? It won’t bat an eyelid.

Naked Mole Rat

Pinkish yellow skin wrinkled like a baked apple, giant incisors, spindly limbs and tiny eyes make them radically ugly to most of us. But these subterranean rodents who live in colonies under a queen are super animals. They do not get cancer, don’t feel pain and live much longer than animals their size. And to top that, a recent study shows that they can “turn into plants” to survive without oxygen! In the experiment, they survived for 18 minutes. They alter their metabolism so their cells sustain on fructose instead of glucose.

We tend to preserve only the creatures we find good looking and cute, like pandas and tigers, and do not care about those we find repulsive. In 2013, blobfish, a blob of a fish with a permanent miserable frown on its face, was voted the world’s ugliest animal. It has much to be miserable about as it is facing extinction due to over-fishing by humans. Now, who’s the ugly one?

The writer is a columnist, author of fiction and non-fiction books, and Ex-Hon. Wildlife Warden, Udaipur.

Talks at Bookaroo, Bangalore 2017

Talks at Bookaroo, Bangalore 2017

 

The schedule of my talks/sessions at Bookaroo, Bangalore 2017.

Venue: Freedom Park

Bookaroo Speaker Profile: http://www.bookaroo.in/year/2017/bengaluru/

Arefa grew up treading jungles with her naturalist father. She was often found trying to catch a snake or spin a yarn. Ex-Hon. Wildlife Warden, Udaipur, she’s the author of several books and columnist in newspapers/magazines.

unnamed

Saturday 2nd September

 

12.30-13.30 The Studio for 8-10 ages (English and Hindi)

Snake – Foe or Friend?

What comes to mind when you think of…a snake? Fangs? A slithering creep? Or a giant anaconda? … a mouse? The cute Jerry of Tom and Jerry? But who is the deadlier of the two?

 

15.30-16.30 The Studio for 10-12 ages (English and Hindi)

Do Tigers Drink Blood and Other Mysteries of Nature 

Do tigers drink blood? Does the ‘flying snake’ fly? Were the ‘Elephant Bird’ or ‘Roc’ eggs that Sindbad the sailor saw a myth or reality? Let’s get to the bottom of some of the mysteries of nature!

 

Sunday 3nd September

 

12.30-13.30 The Studio for 10-12 ages (English and Hindi)

Into the Heart of Darkness

Follow in the footsteps of renowned naturalist Raza H Teshin, deep into the wilderness in the dead of night, hear the sounds carried on the wind. Are those anklet bells tinkling? Is that chattering laughter?

 

15.30-16.30 The Studio for 8-10 ages (English and Hindi)

The Serpent Hunters in the Backyard 

Who is the venomous 100-legger in your bathroom? Who lives in your kitchen but can survive a nuclear bomb attack? Whose home is it? Wildlife isn’t confined to forests, check out the backyard with Arefa.

 

The Hindu: Ugly, Am I? Part I

Return to frontpage

Ugly, Am I? Part I

 
 
 
 
 
If they are neither cute nor cuddly you wrinkle up your nose in disgust. But, these animals think well of themselves and don’t give a hoot about our opinions. 

 

We drool over the tall, dark and handsome, or the slanting doe eyes or the rose-petal lips. And the majestic mane of the lion king, the emerald blues and greens of the proud peacock, the fins of a goldfish forming liquid golden clouds… What about a pendulous nose like that of the Proboscis Monkey, or a smile with zigzagged teeth like that of a croc, or a nose tipping with fleshy rays like that of the star-nosed mole? Don’t tell me only a mother could love that.

Aye Aye

“Nay nay,” this primate will say. “Who are you calling ugly, dude?” Found only on the island of Madagascar, these rare dark brown mammals of the night have big eyes and ears, long bushy tails and rodent-like front teeth that keep growing their entire lives. They spend their days on trees sleeping curled up like a ball in their leafy nests and seldom descend on land. They have pointed claws on their long fingers and toes. It’s not just their gremlin look that makes them freakishly ugly to us, it’s their skeletal long middle finger.

At night, they tap-tap on the tree trunks with their long finger, hear the echo with their sensitive ears, tear away the bark with their large teeth to reach the insect tunnel and use their long finger as a grub dip-stick. It comes in handy to pry for insect larvae and grub…I mean grab a bite. People believe they are harbingers of bad luck. If they point their long witchy finger at you, you’ll die. People often kill them at sight and hang them upside down. Now if that isn’t ugly (and supremely idiotic), then what is?

Shaggy Frogfish

You may call it shaggy and unkempt due to its round, hairy appearance, but count your stars it can’t hear you and doesn’t stay on land. Shaggy Frogfish is a deadly predator of the seas who can swallow a prey almost as big as its own size, opening its mouth as wide! It doesn’t like company except when it goes out on a date. If the lady chooses to hang around a little after the date, the gent might get cross and have her for dinner. These fish, which are around 20 cm long, are masters of disguise. They can change their colour and use their dorsal spine as a fishing lure. Even if their fin is eaten by an unsuspecting prey, they regenerate another one. Simple. But the prey is unlikely to grow another head before next Christmas.

Panda Ant or Cow Killer
  • This black and white furry ant, which is actually a wasp, looks like a giant panda. Well, only in looks, not size. It is a kind of velvet ant that prefers to live alone and has an arsenal of defenses like hard slippery shell and legendarily painful sting. It has earned them the name ‘cow killers’, though their stings are far from that potent. Holy cow! Let not the gau rakshaks hear about this one! And it is South American, that too!
  • We’ll check out a few more weird creatures in the second part of this article. Hadn’t someone said that it’s weird not to be weird? We all are differently weird with our own preferences of food, friends, clothes… Maybe striped pajamas make you feel like a convict. But zebras wear stripes of every stripe. Maybe you hate flies over your food. But Kremlin the frog says, “Time’s fun when you’re having flies.” See?

The writer is a columnist, author of fiction and non-fictions books and Ex-Hon. Wildlife Warden, Udaipur

The Indian Express: Luck, By Chance

IE_Square_Logo.png

Luck, By Chance: In a country divided by our differences, we stand as one in our superstitions

Rife with superstition and irrationality, the echelons of our politics and bureaucracy make for an interesting case study.

Written by Arefa Tehsin | Updated: June 25, 2017 10:41 am

 Vasudev Devnani, Rajasthan High court Judge, India politicians and astrologers, Jawaharlal Nehru, India politicians and superstitions, Rajendra Prasad, politics and religion news, Nandan Nilekani, laLu Prasad Yadav, Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, India news, National news, latest news, politicians and superstitions , In an age when morality is the excuse of brigands, we should have Rational Studies as a subject in schools to foster a spirit of inquiry. (Illustration: Subrata Dhar)

Just as the new year dawned, the Rajasthan Education Minister, Vasudev Devnani, emphasised the “scientific significance” of cows to us — the cow is the only animal that inhales and exhales oxygen. The comment resulted in a few sharp intakes of breaths (all oxygen, I hope!) and a few guffaws. But no shock. And recently, a Rajasthan High Court judge informed us sagely that a peacock is a lifelong brahmachari. Sex with the peahen? Tauba, tauba! What are tears for?

Rife with superstition and irrationality, the echelons of our politics and bureaucracy make for an interesting case study. Whose god is more powerful? Or, whose godman? The 2013 Karnataka elections witnessed a bizarre tamasha by the candidates while filing nominations — one wore six layers of clothes, one 20 rings, some matched their underwear with the colour of their birthstone and one was suggested to file the nomination stark naked!

From the PMs occupying and vacating 7 Race Course to filing nominations to swearing-ins, to ministers moving in their new offices, auspicious times are the norm and so are havans, yagnas and offerings to gods. According to newspaper reports, while Lalu Prasad Yadav filled his pond with mud during 2014 Lok Sabha elections, Aadhaar architect Nandan Nilekani’s camp was furious that they couldn’t file the nomination at the auspicious time of 12.26 pm given by the astrologers. It might do well to remember that the top-notch astrologers had predicted a coalition government for Indira Gandhi after the Emergency, but she won a majority. Mahinda Rajapaksa, the ex-President of Sri Lanka, called the elections two years in advance, following the advice of his favourite astrologer, and well, the rest is history. I don’t think he lost his faith in astrology along with his Presidency. Arre miyan, what are we if not considerate?

But why blame just the politicians and be outraged at their comments? In a country that is so divided, we stand as one in our superstitions. What’s more, we have been trained to “respect” the belief of others. We live in a democracy run by middlemen who come with their vermillion-smeared foreheads or multiple rings on their fat fingers. They smile at us with their paan-stained teeth and diddle us out of our wealth to give us what is rightfully ours. The crooks pay visits to temples and mazaars and make their offerings to help them continue with their disreputable businesses. Let me not say whom the gods prefer here. And so do we continue with our bribes to gods and godmen — to beget sons, to pass exams, to increase our bank balances, to raise the stock markets?

Whatever happened to hard work? To “karam kar, phal ki ichcha mat kar?” The University of Gujarat launched a course in astrology and vaastu last year. And why wouldn’t they, when it is such a thriving profession? Even our in-flight magazines have a few pages devoted to weekly horoscopes. My father, a naturalist, recalls one of his visits to the office of Jai Rajasthan, the only daily in Udaipur in the Seventies. A senior journalist passed him a paper and pen while he sipped his tea. “Uncle,” he said, “why don’t you write the horoscopes for the week for our readers while you wait? Don’t forget to put in a small road accident in one or the other rashi. That generally is spot on. If they have an accident, the prediction will be true. If they don’t, well, they would know it was the horoscope that warned them to be careful!”

We go to fortune-tellers and mystics to know our future or to the pandits to match horoscopes or open a shop or inaugurate a house at an auspicious time. What about all the divorces or dowry deaths and the businesses that flop despite kundali matching and mahurats? Do we turn on those priests then? As Walt Kelly’s popular character Pogo says, we have met the enemy, and he is us.

Much to the displeasure of the Pope, the French in 1905 banned wearing all symbols of religion by those in the government. India’s first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru had reportedly opposed President Rajendra Prasad inaugurating the Somnath Temple after its facelift. He understood that religion and politics made for a deadly cocktail; today, its hangover has left the whole country dazed and nauseated.

We need to teach scientific temper to children and encourage rational thinking in society. In an age when morality is the excuse of brigands, we should have Rational Studies as a subject in schools to foster a spirit of inquiry.

During a visit to China, my uncle-in-law, confused at a society that largely does not practise religion, asked his Chinese counterpart, “Tell me something, friend, when you’re facing a problem, whom do you pray to? What do you do?” It was the Chinese’s turn to look confused. He knitted his eyebrows and replied, “Why, my friend, we solve the problem.”

Arefa Tehsin is an author and environmentalist.