Friday, January 27, 2006 

Dinner @ Botak Jones

Been hearing about Botak Jones quite a bit lately so decided to drag the wifey down for dinner to see what the hype was all about. Botak opened up a new outlet in Ang Mo Kio recently which saved me the drive to the original stall in Tuas, which is on the other side of the world from where I live.

Bernie Utchenik aka Botak Jones was the original owner of Bernie's Restaurant and Bernie Goes To Town in Boat Quay. Having sold the the last restaurant back in 2000, it wasn't until 4 years after before he decided to get back into the swing of things. With Botak Jones, Bernie is determined to bring pub type food to the masses, which explains the locales he's chosen... a neighborhood coffee shop and a food center in an industrial park. He mans the grill and puts his personal touch into every plate served.

We started off healthy, sharing a Caesar Salad between the two of us. The salad wasn't drowned in dressing and you could actually taste the anchovy bits. Leaves were crisp and fresh, this one got our thumbs up. Overall a pretty good deal for $4.50.

It was all downhill after the salad as we started munching our way towards the thousand calorie mark. The Bar-B-Qued Chicken Wings wasn't exactly the kind of dish I would've ordered myself but the missus wanted them. I hate getting my fingers all greasy and I find it extremely difficult and ungratifying trying gnaw through middle bit of the wing. Anyways, this one didn't go down too well with us. It could have spent a bit more time on the grill. It was a little too flacid for our tastes though the marinade was tangy and different from the usual crop of BBQ sauces you've probably come across. A minute longer on the grill would have done it wonders. $1.50 each.

Next up was the Hot N Spicy Bratwurst the wife ordered for herself. We had our doubts upon being served the dish. It didn't seem too appetizing with that load of raw onions all over it. But with a bit of ketchup and mustard thrown on, it actually tasted a whole lot better than it looked. A nice crunchy dog, we liked it. $5.50 served with bun.

My Double Botak burger was smothered with cheese. The double 150 gram patties are a lot bigger than they look. Point of reference with wife's finger. Easily one of the best burgers I've had in a long while... and I've had quite a few in my time. Patties were thick yet juicy and evenly cooked through. I suspect they're boiled before being thrown on the grill. This one has a whole list of options which include bacon, whoopass con carne, fried egg, sauteed onions... the list goes on, one highly customisable burger. Served with fries and slaw for $9.00

Their menu is pretty extensive so it's best to ask for the printed version which includes some pretty corny descriptions. You can get anything from Chicken Gumbo to a 400gm ribeye steak. It's definitely pub grub with an attitude.

The grill was going non stop for the hour we were there.

Botak isn't too shy on proclaiming the goodness of his food.

The serving staff were prompt and attentive, quite a change from the regular kopitiam service. But then again, the food didn't come at regular coffeeshop prices either. Botak Jones can be found at the corner coffeeshop of Block 608, Ang Mo Kio Ave 5. They "usually" operate from 12-10pm. I shan't bother with the details of the Tuas stall, who goes to Tuas anyways?

*Update* The address of the Tuas outlet is Sungei Kadut Eating House, 32 Pioneer Sector 2.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006 

Calcutta Rescue

Many have written to me with questions on how to get in touch with Calcutta Rescue. Details of how you may contribute to the organisation may be found here.

I would like to emphasise that I had permission to visit and document its work in photos because Dr Preger was aware I would be giving images to a friend of his who is writing a book on Calcutta Rescue, and there would be other forms of publicity for the charity. They do not have the resources to entertain visiting photographers who might want to tour their facilities just for photography purposes.

Thank you all for your kind understanding and sensitivity in this matter.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006 

Calcutta Rescue - A Photo Journey

Having been given a couple of days off work last week, I decided to pack myself off to Kolkata (Calcutta), India. I had decided it was to be a pure photo trip documenting the works of a NGO (Non-Government Organization) dealing with social issues. The choice of destination was limited by which NGO I could tie up with in the short period of time and after a flurry of email exchange, Calcutta Rescue agreed to allow me to shoot a photo documentary of their clinical and educational operations.

Should you feel compelled to contribute financially after viewing the images, more information can be found here.


Calcutta Rescue was founded in 1979 by Dr. Jack Preger, a Briton hailing from Manchester. Operating a pavement clinic in Middleton Row, he provided the poor and destitute with free healthcare. From that humble beginning, Jack has built up Calcutta Rescue to what it is today, a workforce of 200 fulltime health workers assisted by volunteers, working in a variety of medical and educational establishments in both urban and rural Calcutta. I hope my pictures are able to convey the importance of the work that Calcutta Rescue is undertaking in this city ravaged by poverty, disease and an uncaring attitude.


Sealdah Clinic, Sealdah

Located within the compound of the Loreto Day School, this daily clinic provides treatment for a range of ailments including diabetes, heart diseases, cancer and neurological conditions.

Many of the patients at Calcutta Rescue are illiterate. Pictorial representation on medicine packets provides simple instructions as to how the medicine should be consumed.

The clinic is staffed by both full time and volunteer health care workers. Andrea is a German volunteer providing physiotherapy services for the patients. Many first time volunteers have a hard time adjusting to the living and working conditions but all whom I spoke to found the work extremely challenging and rewarding.

A sufferer of Parkinson's disease undergoing a simple physiotherapy exercise. Because of the distance that patients need to travel for their clinical visits, sometimes more than 200km, and the infrequency of such visits, many unorthodox methods needed to be adopted to cater for their needs. As in the case of this patient, exercises which include catching and kicking a ball can be performed at the clinic and at his home. His year long therapy has been one of the success stories at Calcutta Rescue.

Patients at the clinic come from a wide ranging area, from within the city confines to the rural countryside. Some travel as far as 200km and can thus afford to visit the clinic on a monthly basis. This has been a particular problem for patients with chronic illnesses.

In addition to their regular clinical treatment, Calcutta Rescue also provides free hospitalisation should a patient require it.


School No. 10, Sonagachi

School No. 10 was the first informal school established by Calcutta Rescue in 1989. It provides free prepatory education for about 200 children in the Sonagachi district. Space is extremely tight in the small 4 storey building it occupies and there are plans to expand it once sufficient funding is secured.

A break between classes.

In line with its holistic approach, Calcutta Rescue runs its schools with an all round program which includes meals, hygiene/health education and regular medical screenings, all this in addition to classes in science, mathematics, arts and general knowledge.

This pavement dweller occupies a tiny space just across from School 10 in the Sonagachi district of Calcutta. His partner, who used to occupy the space just behind him, passed away recently. Sonagachi is the largest red light district in West Bengal, home to almost 10,000 prostitutes. Of this number, almost 10% are HIV positive.

Giving thanks for a piece of clothing that was given to him.


Talapark Clinic, Tarashankar Sarani

Talapark clinic provides mainly paediatric, antenatal and postnatal care to its patients. As with all its other operations, immaculate record keeping is required to ensure proper care is accorded to all its patients.

A man lost in pain. His story is very common amongst the poor of Calcutta. Having broken his leg in a fall, he was given improper outpatient treatment in a government hospital which resulted in his leg becoming gangrene, the rotting flesh permeating the corner of the dressing room he was in. He now risks losing his right leg, doctors at Talapark clinic sent him to another hospital shortly. This time his treatment will be paid for and supervised by Calcutta Rescue.

Calcutta Rescue adopts a policy of holistic healthcare and conducts educational classes for its adult patients too. Here a group is being taught proper sanitation methods and also instructed on proper techniques to administer the medication they've been given.

The need to provide childcare services in this area resulted in the establishment of Talapark school, situated within the premises of the clinic.

The school caters to the needs of about 40 children, allowing their parents access to employment as they now have someone to take care of their children.

Playing in a field.


Belgachia and Chitpur Clinics

Belgachia clinic is the primary treatment center for tuberculosis cases.

Dr. Preger (or Dr. Jack as he is more commonly known) screens patients at Belgachia.

The morning stream of patients arrive at Chitpur clinic. The clinic is located by the bank of the Hooghly river, in a squatter community. As such, its status is illegal but has been operating successfully for the last 12 years.

Chitpur serves as the primary care center for leprosy patients.

Leprosy patient undergoing physiotherapy.

Specially made sandals with soles made of micro cellular rubber are provided for the patients. Sufferers of leprosy often experience sensory loss in their limbs and soles, exposing the patient to foot ulceration. The special shoes provide added protection.

Dr. Preger ponders on the treatment for this boy who had fallen and injured his spine, resulting in semi-paralysis.


Slum Project, Salimah Railway Station

This clinic at the Salimah Railway Station gives free healthcare for the slum dwellers who make the surrounding area of the railyard their home. Here Calcutta Rescue provides medical relief for more than 900 families, mainly targetting the Railway Children who barely etch out an existence collecting bottles, cans and other recyclable waste for a few rupees a day.

A toddler being administered a concoction of Vitamin A and deworming medicine. To date, more than 5,000 slum dwellers in this area alone have undergone treatment since the slum program was started some 2 years ago.

About 50 patients turn up at these twice weekly visiting clinics and it does take a few hours to see them all. A little girl awaits her turn.

A small school set up last year provides rudimentary education for about 60 slum children. The children are currently receiving a lesson in the importance of hygiene.

The school is housed in a tiny brick hut and can be extremely uncomfortable in the summer months. Funds allow only for a single session taught by a lone educator.

Though poverty seemed rampant everywhere in the slums, there seemed to be a cheerful spirit amongst everyone I met during my visit.

Everyone was always ready with a smile, especially the children.

The unusually hot winter heat must have gotten to this little one.


Rural Programmes

Calcutta Rescue operates a number of mobile clinics in rural districts west of Calcutta. They provide medical relief for farming communities who otherwise have only limited access to ineffective government health services.

A tuberculosis patient waits for the doctor. Government programmes fighting against the spread of TB have thus far proved ineffective and the efforts of NGOs like Calcutta Rescue are a small drop in the ocean, but the fight presses on.

Waiting her turn. One thing which has struck me and many other photographers is the constant presence of colors prevalent in Indian culture, from clothing and homes to automobiles and street signs, everything is drabbed in bright strong colors.

A weaving loom manufactures bandages for use by the clinics of Calcutta Rescue. The organization operates a handicraft and small manufacturing facility in rural Bengal. It provides employment as well as skills training for weavers.

The loom hard at work.

Material weaved at the loom factory are used to create various handicraft items for sale in order to raise funds.

Some more Calcutta Rescue images may be found here.

Edit (27/9/06) - A new book on Dr Preger and Calcutta by Basil McCallis due out soon, a preview and more information here.

Friday, January 20, 2006 

My Dinner

Can't believe I've gone 3 posts without putting up a picture, how thoughtless of me. So for the sake of maintaining the resemblence of a photo blog, here's a pic of my TV dinner as I sat alone in my hotel room... sigh. Tonight's menu - a pulled pork sandwich from Lucille's.

The Office is showing today, the scene with the giant inflatable penis came on just as I shot off this frame (not intentional!).


5 Strange(?) Facts About Myself

My very first Tag. This isn't going to be easy, I tend to consider myself a straightforward, what-you-see-is-what-you-get sort of person, brought up in a very ordinary manner and thus living life in a similarly ordinary manner. We'd see how this goes... :)
  • I get nauseous whenever I smell lilies, been like that ever since going to the funeral of a good friend who passed some years ago. She'd been a popular person and the parlour was stuffed full of the disgusting flowers and even the casket was draped with them. Since then, l've likened lilies to the smell of death.

  • The sound of ice cubes clinking in a glass irks me, especially if it's not my own glass.

  • I have 4 different yet distinct handwriting styles, depending on time of day, my prevailing mood and type of writing implement used.

  • I am but a 2 minute stroll to the peppery crabs of Eng Seng Restaurant on Joo Chiat Place, widely acknowledged to be one of the finest dishes in this land of ours, as evidenced by the long midweek queues which form from 5pm onwards. They are usually sold out before 9pm everyday. But yet, I have never been and absolutely have no yearning to patronise the place even though I consider myself a lover of pepper crab.

  • As a child, I used to break into my aunt's cosmetic drawer when she was out and plyed my face with every single eye shadow, blush, lipstick, foundation etc... I could get hold of. Oftentimes layering different types of makeup on top of another. I remember looking like a child transvestite with a bad makeup day. It's a wonder I grew up to be the man I am today. :)
I'm suppose to tag 5 others but being kinda new to the blogging scene, I don't think I know enough! How about 2 instead?

Thursday, January 19, 2006 

Ah Beng Yearns For His Fist Million

Way too much time on my hands today...

If you're ever in need of a lesson in hokkien, perhaps this Song and its following translation will do it for you. I love how the very last line could blow pipe dreams into oblivion. Click on the -ZAP!- button to start the song.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006 

A Fair Exchange

I love the net, you can get just about anything if you choose to look and ask nicely.

Been a user of a font called dearJoe for a while now and I just found out that its creator just finished designing a new subset which he aptly named dearJoe IV. The new set replicates real handwriting extremely well and is fully kerned with all pairing possibilities, I'm thoroughly impressed.

But alas, dearJoe IV doesn't seem to have a free download available anywhere. My Singaporean sensibilities precluded the possibility of actually paying for a download. So a quick email exchange with dearJoe's creator and a deal was struck for the full suite of dearJoe IV in return for a print of one my photos, not bad ah?

Tuesday, January 10, 2006 

Life's A Beach

Singapore, Sep 2005
Fuji TX-2 + Hasselblad 90mm f/4 XPAN on Kodak 100TMX

My first encounter with Cik Nik and Jemilah was when they were camped out semi-permanently on Changi Beach. They had lost their HDB home about 2 years before and were forced to pitch their small tent on the beach where they led simple lives with forty other squatters who called the beach their home.

Singapore, Sep 2005

They didn't have much but were willing to share a lot. Putting the kettle on the boil to brew cups of sweet tea as they play gracious hosts to me.

Singapore, Sep 2005

I was invited to share in their evening meal even though they did not have much to offer. I know of folks more well off who wouldn't even give a fraction of what these two kind souls have shared with me. (Glad my reflection showed in the ladle, I'll remember my time there)

Their story and that of the others came to public light after a series of articles in the newspapers and that prompted the powers that be to do something about them. The beach dwellers were constantly harassed by the park rangers, their belongings confiscated and some were forced to sleep out in the open. It didn't help that the owner of Browntown belittled their plight with a jibe at their situation.

The continued pressure eventually forced the Ministry of Community Development to extend a helping hand in terms of finding alternative accomodation in the form of a low income rental flat. I would've thought the entire process could have been expedited but it took more than a month from the time their tent was confiscated before all the paperwork was put through. The couple finally moved into their single room flat in Kallang Bahru mid Dec '05 and have since found menial employment to tide them through the initial stages of setting up home.

Continued here

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  • From Singapore, Singapore
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