Sunday, September 26, 2010

Mooncake madness

Twelve years ago I tried my first mooncake. It was a small red bean number baked in New York and purchased at Lucky’s Oriental Market in Miami. For my American readers, it was like a large, round Fig Newton. Then my girlfriend (now wife) sent me a box of four assorted mooncakes from Singapore, containing the usual golden/white/brown/green lotus paste with one or two dried egg yolks in the center. They tasted much nicer than the stale red bean hockey pucks.

For the next several years I looked forward to the mid-autumn festival and an ever-expanding array of mooncake offerings. Then I got tired of them, even though each year brings both new variations and the traditional warhorses.

This year brought a breath of fresh air. I was given a few mooncakes from the hotel at the new Marina Bay Sands that were the best I’ve had in years: chocolate flavored snowskins with a rich chocolate center instead of a yolk, with a hint of booze.

Some local bloggers have recently been denounced for demanding free meals from restaurants they review, bringing a large entourage, and otherwise being greedy gluttons. Let me state that I did not receive any special favors from MBS. However, if they wish to send a few chocolate snowskins my way I would not object. I would ordinarily be happy to go there myself, but with the disruptions from the F-1 race and lack of a free shuttle bus to the IR it would be most inconvenient.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Government still determined to protect heartlanders

After squashing the free shuttle bus services to protect heartlanders from the evils of gambling at the IRs, the government is considering whether R-rated movies (not XXX-rated, mind you) should be shown in heartland theatres. As Chew noted in his Sunday comic strip, people can still watch porn on the internet. And I hear it is not difficult to find porn on DVDs anywhere in Singapore or Malaysia.

Saturday afternoon I took the train and actually got a seat! That may be due to the fact that I got on at Bukit Gombak, the first station after Bukit Batok, which was closed for upgrading, so a lot of people were taking other transport. Anyway, as I headed north I realized that there is a train station just outside the race track. Isn’t the government concerned that heartlanders can easily disembark there and gamble away their life savings? It is clear that only foreigners’ money is fit to be gambled away.

Which leads me to my latest suggestion, which I am sure will be ignored like all of my other carefully thought out ideas: They should open a room of gaming tables and slot machines at the airport. All foreigners should be required to buy a certain amount (say $100) of chips and gamble them away before clearing customs. If they happen to win any money it can be heavily taxed on the spot.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

End of the line

That was fast! One day (or less) after the “investigation” into heartland shuttle buses to the IR was announced, the casino has terminated the service “voluntarily.” However, the buses will still run from the central business district. So all that the aunties and uncles who want to blow their life’s savings at the craps table need to do is catch a bus or train downtown.

According to the ST, the Ministry of Community Development, Youth and Sports announced that it would stop this shuttle bus menace in an announcement made at 1.30am! It’s good to know the government never sleeps. No doubt they wanted to get it in before the paper went to press today. Or maybe the casino found out that most riders didn't go to gamble, and they made a "business decision" to stop the wasteful practice.

Is this really going to do any good? There are long queues of people waiting to buy lottery tickets at supermarkets, 7-11’s, and other outlets island-wide every day. This is a country where people will note down the tag number of vehicles involved in traffic accidents so they can buy those numbers. (I never understood that – I guess the thinking is bad luck for him, good luck for me.) But they won’t be able to go to the IR on the casino’s dime anymore.

There are cruise ships that offer free overnight cruises to nowhere with onboard gambling, and these are supported largely by uncles and aunties. They don’t provide free shuttle buses (that I know of). Still, I think their luck is about to get better.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

No such thing as a free ride?

It’s been a while since I’ve written here, but this morning’s Straits Times has spurred me on. The headline reads: Ministry probes free bus rides to casinos. The story says the government is “investigating” free shuttle bus service offered by the two casinos, or "integrated resorts." They don’t seem to have a problem with the shuttle service between the airport and some high-end hotels and the casinos, which helps siphon money out of the pockets of tourists; the concern is over shuttle buses between heartland neighbourhoods and the casino.

Note that all Singaporeans (and PRs) have to pay $100 to enter a casino. If they are willing to do that, a few bucks to get there is not an issue.

ST reporters went on 17 free shuttle rides between heartland stops and a casino. They estimated that during the day one out of seven riders went directly from the bus into the casino, and at night two out of five riders went into the casino. So the majority are getting a free ride and are not even gambling, yet the casinos still offer the service.

The investigation seems to be concerned with whether the public was informed of the service by mailers, which might constitute targeting Singaporeans to patronise the casinos, which is a no-no. Well, now the whole country knows.

By the way, there was recently much debate over whether businesses should be prohibited from stuffing mailboxes with mostly unwanted mailers touting plumbing, tuition, real estate, and other services. The debate has subsided but the deluge of paper has not.

My guess is the investigation is primarily to test which way the wind is blowing. I say let the buses roll. Not just because grownups can make up their own minds, but because someone is actually doing something to improve transportation. A free shuttle bus is always a good thing, especially when you consider how difficult and expensive it is to get to Sentosa.