Sunday, April 27, 2014

Dinosaurs: Dawn to Extinction

Dinosaurs: Dawn to Extinction, is an on-going exhibition at the Art Science Museum at Marina Bay Sands.  Admission is S$28 for foreigners, S$24 for locals.  It is quite pricey for an exhibition, I was quite hesitant to pay it a visit, but then I finally decided to take the plunge over the Easter long weekend.

Ushering the visitors are Herrerasaurus,  one of the earlier dinosaurs.  Four skeleton fossils were on display, which look like a family of four.  Behind, it is the shadow puppet images of them, with their roars coming out from the electronic speakers.  You get a sense of tense atmosphere, transporting you from the modern world back to millions of years ago, the ages when dinosaurs ruled...

Plant Fossil

Animal Fossil

There are fossils from different ages on display, some of plants, some of animals.  You will be fascinated by how well those fossils had been preserved.  For the plant fossils, you can see clearly the leaves on them.  That plant was living millions of years ago!  Not last year, not yesterday, but millions of years ago, and yet now, it is right there in front of you, face to face, telling you an ancient story, in its own way.

To refresh my poor memory, some important years are displayed.  And obviously there were a couple of mass extinction events in the history of the earth.  One was around 2-3 million years ago.  Half of the species on earth went extinct.  What happened?  Nobody knows, your guess is just as good as mine.  Another one was around 65 million years ago.  Dinosaurs went extinct during that mass extinction event.
However, not all is lost.  There has been advocates in the academic world arguing that our modern birds are actually the descendants of dinosaurs.

If you compare a modern bird's skeleton with that of a dinosaur, don't you see indeed there are some similarities?

In people's mind, dinosaurs are always gigantic creatures, which is not always true.  There were dinosaurs which were of the size of a mouse!  One of them is Marasuchus, living in middle Triassic age.

Marasuchus, a mouse-size dinosaur

Of course, there were indeed gigantic dinosaurs as well, they dominates the entire exhibition hall.

All our knowledge about dinosaurs come from fossil discoveries.  Experts identify dinosaurs' eating habits by looking at their teeth.

A Pure Meat Eater
A Meat & Vegetable Eater

Can you tell the difference?  I was just amazed that living creatures on planet earth have not changed that much, even though millions of years had gone by.

The exhibition is very interesting, telling visitors stories, imparting knowledge in a fun and engaging way.  The admission, definitely worth it.  

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Au Chocolate Marina Bay Sands

A friend introduced this casual French dining restaurant called Au Chocolate to me on Saturday.  The restaurant is tucked into the end of Marina Bay Sands Shoppe's level 1.  It is on the same level when people come in from Art Science Museum.  Ignorant me, I had never noticed this restaurant.

Apparently this restaurant is quite popular.  Online reservation was full 2 days before.  And upon my visit, indeed a lot of tables had been reserved.  Luckily, they always have some tables for walk-in customers, and we were there early!


The restaurant attempts to create a French retro feel, maybe Louis IV era?  The ceiling is decorated with elaborate fresco, which is not common for restaurants in Singapore.

Water is chargeable, so I decided to go for coffee instead.

Coffee, S$6.00++/cup

The taste is decent.  Probably I had got too used to the strong fragrance of Italian coffee, so this is not so much a prop to my senses.

Duck Confit, S$28++

My order was duck confit.  What is a duck confit?  Here is an excerpt from Wikipedia:

Duck confit (Frenchconfit de canard French pronunciation: ​[kɔ̃.fi d(ə) ka.naʁ]) is a French dish made with the leg of the duck. While it is made across France, it is seen as a speciality of Gascony. The confit is prepared in a centuries-old process of preservation that consists of salt curing a piece of meat (generally goose, duck, or pork) and then cooking it in its own fat.
To prepare a confit, the meat is rubbed with salt, garlic, and sometimes herbs such as thyme, then covered and refrigerated for up to 36 hours. Salt-curing the meat acts as a preservative.

I was pleasantly surprised that the duck meat was not unpleasantly salty, even though it had been salt cured.  The meat was tender, the skin was crispy, but then being a health conscious guy, I still didn't eat the whole duck skin, just a bit to test its crispiness.  In terms of portion, it is just nice for me, full in the stomach but will not cause any discomfort.

King's Breakfast, S$26++

My friend got the King's breakfast.  The portion was big, the presentation was colorful and appetitizing.

Just when you think this might be a French restaurant operated by some enterprising French, it is actually a Singaporean operated restaurant, started by Singaporeans and sustained by Singaporeans.  It is quite an interesting place.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Secret of the Fallen Pagoda - Treasures from Famen Temple and the Tang Court

A Buddha's true finger relic was discovered in the crypt of the fallen Famen Temple Pagoda in 1980s.  It was one of the few true relics from Buddha himself.  Together with the discovery of the relic, a large amount of treasures from the Tang Imperial Court were also discovered, including some items that people could only read from historical records, but had never seen any physical items before.  

Singaporeans are really lucky, Asia Civilisation Museum is bringing all that treasure to Singapore, and you don't have to travel for thousands of miles to witness the beauty of such treasure. 

The first item that caught my attention is this silver gilded incense burner.  It roughly has 3 layers from top to bottom, representing the ancients view of the world, which consists of heaven, human realm, and the underworld.  The details are fascinating, they are elaborate and great attentions were paid to the minor details.  

The second item that drew my attention was the basin decorated with Mandarin Ducks.  The ducks are so lively, as if they were playing with water right there.  Mandarin ducks in Chinese culture signifies the love & harmony among couples.  I would guess it was an item from the Tang Imperial Court, considering the lavish use of precious metals, as well as the great craftsmanship. 

Next comes the silver reliquary, which is the 2nd layer (counting from outside) of reliquary which contains the Buddha's finger relic.  

Then comes one of the most precious items in the find, the 'secret ceramic'.   

This ordinary looking bottle is one and the only one 'secret ceramic' on display.  It looks very normal, nothing exceptional, but the difference is in the details.  The biggest difficulties in ceramic making is the or uniform is the color, especially when the entire item is of one single color only.  This 'secret ceramic' bottle, commissioned by and only for the Tang Imperial Court, is one of the rare physical items that people can witness.  No other items survived the test of time in the past thousand years or so.  

Another item that looks very ordinary now, but it was considered to be a treasure is this colored glass bottle.  Tang Dynasty was the period Chinese culture was much more open to foreign cultures.  This bottle is said to come from modern day Syria- Palestine region.  

The exhibition is on until 4 May, 2014, which is less than a month from now.  It is worthwhile to pay it a visit and be awed by the great craftsmanship of our ancestors.  

Admission is not free for all, but they have lots of those promotional cards hanging in north-east line MRT trains.  Each card entitles free entry for a maximum of four visitors.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Risky Investment?

I went to a local bank to place a 12-month fixed deposit to take advantage of their promotional rate of 1% p. a.  The gentleman serving me kindly recommended some other alternative options to gain a slightly higher return.

One option is to place the money in a structured deposit, which will give out returns as follows:

1st Year 1.4%
2nd Year 1.5%
3rd Year 1.6%
4th Year 1.7%

If you average out all the years, the effective return is ~2% p. a.  I thanked him for recommending this option to me, but I stated that I was not interested.  The return is too unattractive.  I told him that a 10-year Singapore Government Bond has a return of 2.45%.   Then his argument kind of surprised me.  He said bonds are risky investment, compared to the structured deposit that he is offering, which is totally risk-free.

I had nothing to say if someone claims that Singapore Government bonds are more risky than a Singapore bank's structured deposit!

I feel lucky that I had spent the time and effort to learn all the basics of finance, and the nature of different investment instruments.  As a result, I am not at the mercy of ill-informed RMs, or even worse, dishonest RMs.