Bowen Island

4 weekends ago, JL and I embarked on a day trip to Bowen Island (an island municipality in Metro Vancouver that is a 20 minute ferry ride from North Vancouver’s Horseshoe Bay terminal), our first ever trip there. The ferry journey there was memorable, with low hanging clouds formed a backdrop that created a wonderfully mystical atmosphere.

On the ferry to Bowen Island

Upon arrival at Bowen Island’s Snug Cove (located in the eastern side), we didn’t have a firm idea about where to go, so we decided to take the bus to explore the island. We boarded the first bus we saw, which was the C10 to Bluewater (located on the west side of Bowen Island). Essentially, C10 was one of two community shuttle routes operated by TransLink on Bowen Island, pretty similar to those on the Lower Mainland but not equipped with GPS location information.

View from Bowen Island’s Snug Cove pier

After about a 45 minute ride, we got off near Bluewater and explored the coastal area up to Tunstall Bay, which we completed it in about half an hour and saw a few deer along the way. With the bus route operating every 2 hours and us not wanting to venture too far away from the bus route, we explored a few nearby local trails,  which we actually ended up getting lost for a while due to overlapping of the trails with some private driveways, as well as poor direction signages (in particular,  their trails were unnamed and many of their signages merely indicated “Trail” in more than 1 direction)

Deers are common on Bowen Island and seem to co-exist peacefully with humans

We did eventually find our bearing and catch the next bus back to the Village Square commercial area, where we had a late lunch (basically over-priced cheeseburger)  before undetaking a 90-minute round-trip hike to the scenic Killarney Lake.

Killarney Lake

As dusk approached, it was time to return to the mainland. We took the ferry back to Horseshoe Bay and were treated to a majestic view of the sun setting behind the Bowen Island mountains, making the C$10.85 return fare for the ferry trips well worth its value just for the journey itself.

Sunset view from ferry back to Horseshoe Bay

As for Bowen Island, I really liked its rural character which served as a short getaway from the urban areas of the mainland, in a way reminding me of Pulau Ubin back in Singapore. Yet, I do wonder if Bowen Island is really a sustainable community. Reading up more about Bowen Island, I was surprised to learn that about 20% of its 3,402 residents work and study on the mainland (About 500 workers and over 200 students commute to offices and non-elementary schools, according to Wikipedia). I feel more needs to be done to develop its economy (which is currently very localised) to create more jobs for its locals, which would hopefully reduce the need to travel to the mainland for work and help to cut their shockingly high carbon footprint of 17 tonnes per capita (according to this Vancouver magazine article in 2008, which also notes that the auto-dependent cities Coquitlam and Maple Ridge have carbon footprints of 6 and 5.4 tonnes respectively).

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200,000 and counting

It’s been a long while since I updated this blog as I’ve been inundated with schoolwork since classes started about a month ago, so pardon the intermittent blog posts over the coming weeks.

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I was reading The Sunday Times website when I came across an interesting article “200,000 S’poreans living abroad” which reported that based on the Population in Brief 2012 report published by the National Population and Talent Division (NPTD), there were 200,000 Singaporeans who were overseas for a cumulative period of six months or more in the 12 months preceding June 2012, of which I was one of them. This figure represented a 27% increase from 157,100 in 2003, although there was a slight dip between 2008 and 2009 (from 181,900 to 180,700), probably due to the 2008 global financial crisis.

The countries with the largest community of Singaporeans, as reported by The Sunday Times, were Australia (with about 50,000), Britain (about 40,000), the US (about 27,000) and China (about 20,000). I wonder what the figure for Canada would be, though my personal guess is that it’s about 10,000.

Looking ahead, I can’t help but think that this figure of overseas Singaporeans would only rise even further as Singaporeans are increasingly squeezed out by “foreign talents” at home and the less stressful overseas work environment generally incorporates more work-life balance (at least in the Western countries), translating to a better quality of life. The latter reason particular factors into my post-graduation aim to work in Canada for the short term (i.e. a few years), before I would reassess my plans again.

PNE Fair 2012

The Pacific National Exhibition (PNE) Fair is held annually for 17 days (starting in August) in Vancouver. Most of the major Canadian cities (except possibly Montréal – correct me if I’m wrong) hold a similar annual fair (or carnival, exhibition – whichever you call it) with performances, exhibits and amusement rides, though they all vary in scale:

Calgary Stampede – Calgary, early-mid July (100th Anniversary this year!)
Canadian National Exhibition – Toronto, late August – early September
Central Canadian Exhibition / Ottawa SuperEX (on hiatus since 2010) – Ottawa, August
K-Days (renamed from Edmonton Capital Exhibition after the conclusion of this year’s edition) – Edmonton, late July
Pacific National Exhibition Fair – Vancouver, late August – early September
Québec Winter Carnival – Québec City, early-mid February (of course there’s no amusement rides given that it’s wintertime but there’ ice slides and games like human table soccer)
Red River Exhibition – Winnipeg, late June

I visited the Fair on Saturday and for the C$13 spent, it was a big bang for the buck. On that day, there was a free concert by both Colbie Caillat and Gavin DeGraw (who sang about 5 songs each), as well as a daily pyrotechnics-based Pop City performance that was the closing act of the day.

ImageColbie Caillat and Gavin DeGraw on stage

I’m already hoping that next year’s PNE Fair will feature a strong concert line-up of at least a few notable performers like this year’s. But for now, I’m likely not done with this year’s concerts yet as I’ll probably be heading back to the Fair again this Sunday to catch Lifehouse in performance. And just comparing with other notable “free concert with admission” perfomers at fairs held in other cities this year, we have:

K’Naan performing at the Calgary Stampede
Carly Rae Jepsen (of Call Me Maybe fame) at the Calgary Stampede and Red River Exhibition
Simple Plan at Calgary Stampede and Edmonton Capital Exhibition

Surprise! Two things you never thought are banned in North America

Did you know that Kinder Surprise eggs are banned in the United States? Well I certainly did not until today when I stumbled across this astounding fact.  According to this article, the key reason for the ban arises from the Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act of 1938 which “prohibits the embedding of non-food items completely enclosed inside food items, unless the non-edible part has a functioning value” (another secondary reason is that the toys are choking hazards for small children).  What if you get caught at the border with some Kinder Surprise eggs?  According to this couple’s account, it could have cost them US$2,500 per egg.  Ouch.  In any case, I think I’ve just found the American equivalent of Singapore’s infamous ban on chewing gum.

Surprise! Kinder Surprise eggs are banned in the United States.

And in Canada, baby walkers have been banned since 2004 because of safety reasons (more details by Health Canada here) and as such, it is “illegal to import, advertise for sale, or sell baby walkers in Canada” and “illegal to sell baby walkers at garage sales, flea markets, or on street corners”.  What if you already have a baby walker? Health Canada’s advice is to “destroy it and throw it away so it cannot be used again”.

You won’t see a baby in a walker in Canada.

Epic Transit Trips

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Belcarra Regional Park

Yesterday I headed to Belcarra Regional Park with my buddy JL for a hike at the Admiralty Point and the Bedwell Bay trails. The place was pretty nice and weather was cool, which made it an especially pleasant and worthwhile hike.

ImageBedwell Bay

We travelled there by public transit, which was something I had probably never envisioned doing since it meant an epic journey over 2 hours from Vancouver (we took the Millennium Line to Lougheed SkyTrain, changed to 97 B-Line and finally C26 from the Port Moody’s Newport Village bus stop). In the future though, once the Evergreen Line opens in 2016, trips to the Port Moody region would thankfully be considerably much shorter.

Speaking of long transit journeys, I recently came across this website detailing epic transit trips between major cities in the Pacific Northwest region. In fact, people have in the past documented their experience of travelling from Seattle to Vancouver purely by public transit and likewise in the opposite direction from Vancouver to Seattle.  While one of the motivating reasons in the past may have been to save money, that would be irrelevant now with the recently launched BoltBus inter-city services serving Seattle, Portland and Vancouver (BC) (they began in May 2012) that charged fares from as low as $1.  In any case, if I have enough time on my hands and feel crazy enough, I might just try out an epic cross-border transit trip for the fun of it.

Original Canned Singapore Air

Here’s something interesting that I came across earlier today – “Original Canned Air From Singapore”, available at US$9.99 per can here.  According to its description, the air formula is 25% Botanic Gardens, 10% Chinatown, 10% Little India, 20% Central Business District, 15% The Singapore Flyer, 10% Merlion and 10% Marina Bay Sands SkyPark.  The downside though, is that opening this can in public places is a punishable offence with an imprisonment term of up to 6 months, a fine of up to $25,500 or both.  I guess buyers of this product have to be thankful that the offence doesn’t come with any strokes of the cane =)

Olympic Games Monetary Rewards & Paralympic Games

So the 2012 Summer Olympics has come to an end, with the next edition to be held in Rio de Janeiro 4 years later. Singapore managed to win 2 bronze medals with the help of its table tennis talent sourced and recruited from China (to be somewhat fair, in the world of table tennis, many other countries also recruit China-born players to play for them). Personally though, to be honest, these achievements feel a bit hollow and I don’t really feel that proud of them. With the Singapore National Olympic Committee promising by far the largest monetary rewards in the world for each Olympic medal won (SGD 1 million for an individual gold medal, SGD 500k for silver medal and SGD 250k for bronze medal, I just can’t help but be skeptical about whether Singapore’s table-tennis contingent, in opting to represent Singapore, are truly playing for the flag or for the obscenely high monetary incentives.

I must state though that I’m not against the idea of having a monetary incentive to reward sporting achievement, but I just question whether there is really a need to offer that high of a personal reward? Looking at the rewards offered by the other countries as listed by this article, none of them come close to the amount offered by Singapore (interesting to note that South-East Asian nations tend to be overly generous). I would much rather have more funds that are freed up and allocated to the national sporting associations to develop their training programs and help instill a sporting culture in Singapore.

Perhaps a review of the Olympic monetary incentives would be desirable, as with the ministerial salary review that saw the pays of ministers cut from excessively overpaid to nonetheless still decently overpaid. I’d say for a start, cut the personal incentives to a third of the current amount (i.e. about SGD 333k, SGD 167k and SGD 83k for gold, silver and bronze medals). If an athlete is truly playing for the flag of Singapore, I don’t think he or she will be any less motivated when the personal incentives are cut to that level, which in any case would still be higher than many of the other countries. Alternatively, if there is an insistence on the current monetary amounts to be retained, how about inserting a stipulation that two-thirds of the rewards must be disbursed to the winner’s national sports organisation (i.e. the athlete still retains one-third of the rewards for personal use)? This would also somewhat serve as recognition for all the hard work and time put in by the organisation in helping that winning athlete achieve the medal. The national sports organisation can then use these funds to invest in their training programs to locally nurture a next generation of youth.

At the same time, I also hope that the gap in rewards for Singapore’s Paralympics athletes can eventually be bridged. Right now, they are awarded SGD 200k, SGD 100k, and SGD 50k for gold, silver and bronze medals (it was actually recently doubled after the 2008 Paralympics following public debate). To me, the disparity seems to send a wrong message that able-bodied people are simply valued more in society. Teo Ser Luck said in 2008 that the disparity was due to the difference in scale of competition between the 2 games. If that’s the case, shouldn’t the Olympic rewards be scaled accordingly to each different sport depending on its level of competition (i.e. table tennis, shooting, canoeing,  swimming and track events should all have different monetary rewards)? I just don’t buy into his weak argument. After all, the disabled athletes have proven to be the best of their lot and like other able-bodied athletes who have similarly done so, they should be accorded the same reward. A further irony is that a less able athlete would probably have a greater need for any monetary incentive to cope with or manage their disabilities, yet they are being rewarded less.

In any case, with the 2012 Summer Paralympics beginning on August 29, I hope Singaporeans will cheer our Paralympians on with at least as much enthusiam, or if not more than when cheering on our bronze-winning table tennis players. After all, the 2008 Paralympics Games was the first ever time when the Majulah Singapura anthem was played in any Olympics or Paralympics victory ceremony, all thanks to the gold medal achievement by locally born and bred swimmer, Yip Pin Xiu.

(Suffice to say, her 2008 Paralympics achievement, where she also won a silver medal instilled a greater pride in me as a Singaporean, than seeing foreign imports win an Olympic medal for Singapore)