Pokemon Go Trainers in Singapore, and Mutual Levelling-Up

When people express surprise that I play Pokemon Go, I explain that the game itself causes no detriment, either to myself or others. Like anything else, one has to decide the value of a certain thing and therefore the amount of time and energy one should spend on such an activity.

Because my day and evening jobs require me to sit in one place with my nose in thick books, Pokemon Go has been a great way to get fresh air, rest a tired brain, and get an opportunity to chat with complete strangers.

One of the main topics of conversation has been the known locations of nests or spawn sites for certain Pokemon. Niantic keeps the game fresh is by changing these often, allegedly once every month (or less than a week in recent times!, the latest being the migration on 6 October 2016).

In September, Pearl’s Hill City Park was an Abra nest. While looking for enough Abra for an Alakazam evolution, I met two friendly office workers who’d just finished meetings nearby and doing some farming as well.
Pokemon Go training tour of Singapore: farming the Pearl's Hill City Park Abra nest

Tiong Bahru Park was a Vulpix nest then. Met a few schoolkids who were hanging out at the playground after school. We had fun pointlessly wresting the Gym from each other.
Pokemon Go training tour of Singapore: farming the Vulpix nest at Tiong Bahru Park

The Singapore Pokemon Trainer community has been exceedingly friendly and eager to help, opening and generously sharing the latest information. A week ago, the Charmander farmers at Ang Mo Kio Town Garden East spoke of another spawn location: Changi Village. And the haul was indeed excellent.

Charmander farming at Ang Mo Kio Park. Pokemon Go Trainer tour of Singapore
Charmander nest at Changi Village. Pokemon Go Trainer tour of Singapore
Charmander nest at Changi Village. Pokemon Go Trainer tour of Singapore

Then the Squirtles took over Ang Mo Kio – Bishan Park East:
Pokemon Trainer tour of Singapore: Squirtle at Ang Mo Kio - Bishan Park East
Pokemon Trainer tour of Singapore: Squirtle at Ang Mo Kio - Bishan Park East

and the Omanytes, Bedok Reservoir Park:
Pokemon Trainer tour of Singapore: Omanyte at Bedok Reservoir

and the Cubones, MacRitchie Reservoir Park:
Pokemon Trainer tour of Singapore: Cubone at MacRitchie Reservoir Park


Of course, some sightings of rare/evolved Pokemon in the wild were happenstance. Heading back to the office from lunch one day, I spotted what looked like a posse of trainers looking intently at their screens. Opening the app, I saw that there was indeed an Arcanine hanging about:
Arcanine at Alexandra. Pokemon Go Trainer tour of Singapore

How nice it would be if such co-operation in service of a common goal were to extend to other more important areas of life, I said to someone yesterday.

But even though Christians  ought all to be working toward the same goal, of encouraging each other to keep trusting in the One who is imminently trustworthy and true, the local scene hasn’t quite managed to shake off the lure of Singaporean kiasu-ism. Even though salvation isn’t a competition, another person was commenting, some churches are afraid to lose to others; they want to be known as the best church in the region. So they keep the best teachers and best resources for themselves, while appearing to be generous by throwing the scraps to others. Yet, surely God has given the universal church different gifts for mutual uplifting.

Still, we need not fear. God is more sovereign than the Niantic developers. He know those who are his, and he will keep them till the End.


Kaffeehaus Kulture of Vienna

In Vienna, I was grumpy at being fed cake I didn’t want.

Away, apfelstrudel! Stay your saccharine steps, sachertortes!

But how absolutely fascinating you are, large living-room atmosphere of Viennese coffeehouses.

At Café Prückel (Stubenring 24, 1010 Vienna), a fair number of Austrians were scattered about its mid-century interior,

Café Prückel, Vienna, Austriachatting with friends in the autumn sunlight filtering through the tall windows, or reading the many newspapers clamped on bamboo-holders (that made me think of the common rooms at Walhampton):

Café Prückel, Vienna, Austria
Café Prückel, Vienna, Austria
Café Prückel, Vienna, Austria
Café Prückel, Vienna, Austria

Austrian menu. Café Prückel, Vienna, Austria
coffee and apfelstrudel. Café Prückel, Vienna, Austria
Café Prückel, Vienna, Austria

Over at Café Leopold Hawelka (Dorotheergasse 6, 1010 Wien), the legendary grimy living room had been welcoming blackmarket contraband trading, displaced princes, poor painters for decades. Posters and playbills lined part of a wall. From certain corners of the room, cigarette smoke curled and wafted up to the high wood-panelled ceiling.

Café Leopold Hawelka, Dorotheergasse 6, 1010 Wien,Vienna, Austria
Café Leopold Hawelka, Dorotheergasse 6, 1010 Wien,Vienna, Austria
Café Leopold Hawelka, Dorotheergasse 6, 1010 Wien,Vienna, Austria
Café Leopold Hawelka, Dorotheergasse 6, 1010 Wien,Vienna, Austria
Café Leopold Hawelka, Dorotheergasse 6, 1010 Wien,Vienna, Austria
Café Leopold Hawelka, Dorotheergasse 6, 1010 Wien,Vienna, Austria

Demel Kaffeehaus (Kohlmarkt 14, 1010 Wien) was closing for the day when we arrived. It was an easy tourist visit on the way back from Hofburg Palace. We came away with a slice of sachertorte (dry) and one of gerollte mandletorte (a symphony of crunchy almond and smooth chocolate buttercream).
Demel Kaffeehaus, Kohlmarket, Wien, Vienna, Austria
Demel Kaffeehaus, Kohlmarket, Wien, Vienna, Austria
Demel Kaffeehaus, Kohlmarket, Wien, Vienna, Austria

cakes from Demel Kaffeehaus, Kohlmarkt 14, 1010 Wien, Vienna, Austria
Cafe Central, Herrengasse 14, 1010 Wien, Vienna, Austria

Cafe Central (Herrengasse 14, 1010 Wien) was also on the tourist radar (Trotsky, Stalin, Hitler, etc had their bums on these chairs), but thankfully, turnover of tables was fast – there being very little chatting after the requisite selfies/wefies/Instagram-worthy photos had been taken.

Cakes were surprisingly reasonably priced! While their famous applestrudel was nothing to write home about, the coffee pastry pictured below was excellent. And though it’s not third wave coffee, I suspect I could get used to the Viennese melange.

Cafe Central, Herrengasse 14, 1010 Wien, Vienna, Austria
Cafe Central, Herrengasse 14, 1010 Wien, Vienna, Austria
Cafe Central, Herrengasse 14, 1010 Wien, Vienna, Austria
Cafe Central, Herrengasse 14, 1010 Wien, Vienna, Austria
rows of pastries and cakes. Cafe Central, Herrengasse 14, 1010 Wien, Vienna, Austria
rows of pastries and cakes. Cafe Central, Herrengasse 14, 1010 Wien, Vienna, Austria

Cafe Sacher Vienna (Philharmonikerstrasse 4, A-1010 Vienna). The original sacher torte was still the best we had on this vacation – proper balance of tangy raspberry(?) and chocolate cake, and moist.

Café Sacher, Vienna, Austria
Café Sacher, Vienna, Austria
Café Sacher, Vienna, Austria
Café Leopold Hawelka, Dorotheergasse 6, 1010 Wien,Vienna, Austria
Café Sacher, Vienna, Austria
Café Sacher, Vienna, Austria
Café Sacher, Vienna, Austria

Even upon the pain of too much cake, I’d very much like to import a Viennese kaffeehaus to the Little Red Dot.  A spacious, relatively quiet, intellectual clearinghouse where truth can be mined from rigorous debate. There’s hardly been a bible study or serious discussion in a Singapore cafe that hasn’t devolved into shouting above the din of far-too-many-in-too-small-a-place just to be partially heard. This makes for truncated, superficial chatter.


Useful tips re: Viennese coffeehouses:

  • don’t wait to be seated (unless there’s a sign that says so or if the place is tiny enough for you to wonder if tables have all been reserved). Find your own table, and the waiters will/should find you.
  • the waitstaff expect orders to be given briskly, efficiently.
  • don’t expect sudden-new-best-friend grovelling that’s known as “good service” in America.
  • sometimes service charge is included in the bill. Otherwise, a 10% “tip” is expected. (See advice from The Guardian and Tripadvisor).
  • bring cash; many cafes don’t accept credit cards.

Sickbed Mathematical Nightmares and the Fabric of the Universe

From earliest memory, I’ve had terrible nightmares lying in bed sick. Head throbbing with high fever that resisted all parental midnight sponging, I’d thrash about, sweating, limbs flailing against visions of the terrible chaos of the universe, the untameable fabric of creation, of unending ever-morphing fractals, unceasing mathematical conundrums, an eternity of recursions…

And this was before I even learned my sums.

(How hard this was to explain to adults. How I wished I dreamt of something more normal – like monsters, or ghosts, or of falling…)
J.R.R. Tolkien's "Farmer Giles of Ham", Tunnock's Milk Chocolate Mallow Biscuit, and a Tall Mug of Hot Milky TeaDecades later, my sickbed nightmares continue in the same vein. Except now, I can (mostly) articulate the horror.

These last few feverish days have been a pox-stench web of the Problem of Points, of binomial theorem all mixed up with Hebrew chiaisms, of the simultaneous simplicity and complexity of Pascal’s arithmetic triangle, the small yet infinite glimpse it (and any similar or derivative models and sets, like the Fibonacci sequence) offers into the intricate weave of the entire time-space…

When the most recent struggle was finally over and I’d awoken from a dreamless denouement on a damp bed, I sought solace in the material; in the comforting here-and-now-ness of a tall mug of thick hot milky tea, a chocolate confection (Tunnock’s milk chocolate mallow teacake), and a simple book where dragons were scared off (J.R.R. Tolkien’s Farmer Giles of Ham) and all ends were tied up very nicely indeed.

And solace also in the Father, of whom Isaiah says:

Do you not know?
    Have you not heard?
Has it not been told you from the beginning?
    Have you not understood since the earth was founded?
22 He sits enthroned above the circle of the earth,
    and its people are like grasshoppers.
He stretches out the heavens like a canopy,
    and spreads them out like a tent to live in.
23 He brings princes to naught
    and reduces the rulers of this world to nothing.
24 No sooner are they planted,
    no sooner are they sown,
    no sooner do they take root in the ground,
than he blows on them and they wither,
    and a whirlwind sweeps them away like chaff.

25 “To whom will you compare me?
    Or who is my equal?” says the Holy One.
26 Lift up your eyes and look to the heavens:
    Who created all these?
He who brings out the starry host one by one
    and calls forth each of them by name.
Because of his great power and mighty strength,
    not one of them is missing. (Isaiah 40:21-26)

Chalk Farm Kueh Salat

Was waiting for someone to finish yoga class at Paragon Shopping Centre when I came upon The Chalk Farm cakery.

Chalk Farm kueh salat
Kueh salat in cake form? I was a little leery of attempts to contextualise Western concepts of dessert, or alternatively, to modify local Singaporean/Malaysian dessert for Western taste.

But never say never. (This was the last third of the slice that people kindly left for me.) The green firm custard was fragrant with pandan (screwpine) leaf and not as horribly salty as commercially made kueh; the glutinous rice base, tinged with blue bunga telang (peashoot flower) dye, was just the right consistency.

mao shan wang durian kueh salat, Chalk FarmAnd the maoshanwang durian kueh salat too was a success. Here, the glutinous rice base was the perfect foil for the creamy, happily-pungent durian custard (that didn’t bite the tongue like the acidity regulators in usual mass-produced durian pulp).

Contextualisation: works when the original message is kept intact, even though the form has changed.

Candour Coffee and a Failed Attempt at Ephesians Overview

Candour Coffee, Beach Road, SingaporeCame across Candour Coffee (facebook, 41 Beach Road) while on my way to Arab Street. Eyeballed the place: Synesso, Market Lane coffee on the menu…why not?

flat white, Market Lane beans, Candour Coffee, Beach Road, SingaporeSadly, any distinctive taste of the Market Lane espresso was overridden by the weird milk. The microfoam looked about right – good enough to hold some latte art. But instead of that velvet cream, it was sour (dairy sour, not coffee bean acid sour) and thin. Overheated or reheated milk, perhaps.

Wasn’t faring any better with my work on Ephesians. Is the big idea of Paul’s letter:

  • about the biggest mystery in the world that has now been revealed?
  • that the mystery is about God’s will and plan for the world – to unite all things under Christ (and therefore unity in Christ and unity in the body of Christ)?
  • about the hope and inheritance that believers have in Christ?
  • about the fullness in God?
  • about God’s power as present reality?
  • love pops up alot too – God’s love for us in predestining believers for salvation, our love that enables us to comprehend the love of Christ, love that builds up the body, etc.

Needs more work (and a lot of revelation)!

A Parisian summer, in a time of suspect intellectualism

To think of France is to think of Paris.

And to think of Paris is to think of its icons – the Eiffel Tower, the Arc de Triomphe, the Louvre with its I.M. Pei glass pyramid (and the Arc de Triomphe du Carrousel), Notre-Dame de Paris…and that distinctive odour of eau de urine in the Parisan metro…

View of the Eiffel Tower from a metro train. Paris, France
Arc de Triomphe. Paris, France

The Louvre, with I.M. Pei glass pyramid. Paris, France
Arc de Triomphe du Carrousel. Paris, France
Notre-Dame de Paris. Paris, France

…or its iconic foods: cheese (from Laurent Dubois), sourdough bread (from Poilane),
Fromagerie Laurent Dubois. Paris, France

sourdough bread from Poilane, cheese from Laurent Dubois, chacuterie. Paris, France
escargot, frog legs, oysters, sweetbread at the restaurant of Hotel du Louvre:
oysters, escargot snails, sweetbreads, frog legs, roast potatoes at the restaurant of Hotel du Louvre. Paris, France

more escargot and deliciously heavy creamy foie gras ravioli drizzled with truffle oil at Le Comptoir de la Gastronomie (“foie gras maison!” proclaims its website):

escargot with butter, garlic, and parsley. Le Comptoir de la Gastronomie, Paris, France
foie gras ravioli drizzled with truffle oil. Le Comptoir de la Gastronomie. Paris, France

Having read A.J. Liebling’s Between Meals several times as a continually ravenous university student (possibly due to fencing training 3 times a week, rugby training once a week, and cricket, too, once a week), I used to despair of ever visiting such temples of gastronomy, expecting that any trace of them would have disappeared in the intervening years.

What Paris now offers though, is the pleasure of having my tummy satiated by a normal meal. In Asia, noodles and rice just don’t seem to present much bulk at all – an hour after lunch and I’ll be rifling through the office snack stash with a growling tummy, to the chagrin of weight-conscious colleagues. In the U.K., the ubiquitous potatoes helped some, but that had to be topped up with tea and biscuits ever so often. Ah, in France though, all that good tasty dairy fat in cheese and cream totally keeps me going for hours.

Still, worth rounding off a meal with sweets of course, just for good measure, and Pierre Hermé is just the thing.

feuilles. Pierre Hermé. Paris, France
ispahan. Pierre Hermé. Paris, France.
macarons, Pierre Hermé. Paris, France

I joked with my French ex-housemate that perhaps Paris would be a good place to settle in. Not only was the food a perfect Tinder match, the people too were just up my alley. Ex-housemate had been explaining how the locals considered themselves quite intellectual, and would not listen to even a simple proclamation of the gospel until there had been some serious argument over an issue of choice (not necessarily even the very reasonable and logical questions about the authenticity and authority of the Bible), and I simply love a good argument.

Religieuse pastry. Paris, FranceLast year, Sudhir Hazareesingh wrote about How the French Think. He considered French thought distinctive:

  • in its historical character (by which I mean both its substantive continuities over time and its references to the past as a source of legitimation or demarcation)
  • in its fixation with the nation and the collective self, which provide an enduring focus of public debate and the philosophical underpinning of assorted conceptions of the good life
  • in its extraordinary intensity (ideas are believed not only to matter but, in existential circumstances, to be worth dying for)
  • in the belief that communicating specialised forms of knowledge to a  wider public is an integral feature of intellectual activity
  • in its constant interplay between the themese of order and imagination – or to put it in terms of specific thinkers, between the cold linearity of Descartes and the unbridled expansiveness of Rousseau.

Buddhist monk at Shakespeare and Company. Paris, FranceNaturally, as if to prove his point, many French people have critiqued the book for leaving out certain philosophers, for giving too much space to Napoleon, for misunderstanding nuances of certain ideas (“has he not read Baudrillard?!”), etc. But all agree that French pride in the intellect defines the nation.

Je pense donc je suis“. Cogito ergo sum. I think therefore I am.

And the French have interpreted Descartes to mean that Thought is man’s highest sacred duty.

But the current hooha over the burkini ban in certain part(s) of France has tarnished this image. Could it be that the French, like everyone else, is happy for the freedom of thought…as long as it is the same as their own?!

crepe, Breizh Café, Paris, France
a bowl of cider, Breizh Café. Paris, France

A more fundamental fallacy is this: the assumption that the human intellect is infallible.

A (more English) empirical enquiry would effectively evidence this.

A burial, on a normal sunny afternoon, just like any other

late breakfast of fried eggs and bacon, with smashed avocado on wholewheat toastI crawled out from under the bedcovers late today, aching, peering out at the hazy Singapore sky (thanks to forest fires in Indonesia), wondering what time it was. As I made breakfast/lunch/tea, the previous day came back to me.


It was a normal sunny afternoon in Malacca, Malaysia. Just like any other. Along Jonker Street, tourists would have been queuing up for chicken rice balls or cooling off with a sweet chendol dribbled with gula melaka.

burial in Malacca, on a normal sunny afternoonBut we were here in the Malaccan countryside, by a narrow hole, in a graveyard.

The local Methodist pastor, who’d forgotten the deceased’s name twice already (it wasn’t really his fault – the deceased only turned up in church twice a year, at Christmas and Easter), was throwing white flowers into the grave.

As he threw the first white chrysanthemum he said, “You were made from the earth, and to the earth you shall return.”

Then,”Ashes to ashes.”

And finally,”Dust to dust.”

Family and friends threw flowers into the hole. When they were done, the workers who had been idling nearby, sipping water from plastic cups, moved concrete slabs over the hole and laid several wheelbarrows of cement over it.

His widow, who had become blind over the last few years, could only hear the scrape-scrape-scrape of the cement sealing in the decaying body of her husband in the tropical heat. She asked to be helped away.

Then the many wreaths were piled on.

Some of the younger mourners, who hadn’t known the deceased, were teasing each other by the grave (“hey, your boyfriend says he wants to break-up with you!”), and laughing, and talking about hatching eggs in Pokemon Go.

When all the wreaths had been piled on, we all left to go to lunch.


Four days ago, life had been going on as usual. The deceased’s wife was holidaying with their daughter in the UK. And the deceased had gone for a golf game with some friends (“never said no to a round of golf”, nodded one of the mourners). On the way home from a trip like any other, the driver of the car lost control of the SUV. They smashed into a lorry, flipped over, and crashed roof-first onto the hard ground. Three people were “killed instantly”, the fourth was critically injured and didn’t know what’d happened as he’d fallen asleep in the back seat.

On hearing the tragic news, the rest of the family rushed back to the empty house, in utter shock and massive grief.

One day ago, my friend, the only son of the deceased, had given a eulogy. A very bold witness, he’d told those gathered that his father’s death was a warning that they must heed:

  • none of us knows when we will die
  • are we prepared for death and what will come after death?
  • if the Christian claim is true that we all live once and then face judgement, then we must all repent and trust in Jesus’ death to save us from that judgement, before it is too late!

The black-and-white photos before the casket had shown a dashing young man, with a bright smile and a full head of dark hair, in a sharp suit, with his arm proudly around his new wife (now widow), an equally fashionable young lady. Other photos recorded the births of a succession of children, then grandchildren. My friend’s father went on to lead a respectable life amongst the local people. A successful medical career behind him, he retired and was enjoying life without any major health complaints. “A nice man”, agreed the mourners. “Director of 6 companies, you know, to keep his mind active”. “Oh yes, and also director of a bank. It’s been in his family for ages!”

But he was unprepared for death. And then it was too late.

How inappropriate to warn people to repent at a funeral, my friend’s sister had berated him. But because death can come at anytime, there will never be a more appropriate time than now, than today.