A Pipe with a Mouthpiece made of Ivory

The buying and selling of ivory in Singapore is allowed. Since 1990, however, the commercial import and export of ivory has been banned, although non-commercial import and export – such as for museum display and research – is still allowed with the Agri-food and Veterinary Authority’s approval and documentation.

On March 1st, the Minister of State for National Development Koh Poh Koon announced that the sale of ivory here will soon be banned as part of Singapore’s commitment to tackle the illegal ivory trade and support elephant conservation.

The authorities are working out details of the implementation, and Dr Koh did not provide a timeframe for the ban on domestic trade to be introduced.

When that happens, I’ll never be able to purchase another pipe such as the one shown above, which is the only pipe I own that has a mouthpiece made of ivory.

(By the way, that yellow “thingie” is amber, and the metallic part is silver.)

If you purchase such pipes from Paronelli, please note that in my opinion, the sellers behind the Paronelli site are ripoff artists and scammers. Not only are their pipes badly made, with stems badly bent beyond any angle of acceptance, there is simply no pride in craftsmanship at all. This is especially those pipes they sell that are supposed to be unsmoked, vintage pipes. So be warned, they have already conned me of three such pipes.

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A Kirsten for my 60th

First invented in 1936, each Kirsten pipe has six basic components – mouthpiece, radiator body, valve, bowl, bowl screw and bowl ring.

Kirsten bowls come sandblasted, carved, smooth and rusticated bowls and combinations thereof. There are even corncob bowls!

A Professor Frederick K Kirsten who arrived in the US from Germany back in 1902, and who eventually ended up at the University of Washington to become a Professor of Aeronautical Engineering, is the inventor.

Rightly called the coolest pipe in the world, the Kirsten pipe came about when a doctor advised Professor Kirsten to switch from cigarettes. He quickly dreamed up a way to trap the moisture, tars and tongue-biting acids which attack the users of briar pipes.

And the rest, they say, is history.

A Kirsten pipe comes in several finishes – black, silver and gold.

Thanks Daniel for gifting me with one on my 60th birthday.

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A Clay Pipe with a Difference


For centuries, clay pipes have been cherished throughout the west. These were long, plain-looking pipes and pubs would provide them to customers. After smoking one, the pipe would be returned to the pub. The next customer who wishes to smoke it would snap off a little of its mouthpiece before doing so. The pipe gets shorter and shorter and will eventually be discarded.

Clay pipes were – and are still – popular also because with clay pipes, just as with meerschaum pipes, there is no ghosting. Even the best briar pipe can subtly retain the flavor of the tobacco that was smoked in it, but not clay. However, traditional clay pipes were not only plain-looking, they smoked hot, making it difficult to hold. If you look at old paintings of people smoking clay pipes, you would notice that they were always held by their long stems. The bowls would be far too hot to touch.

Lepeltier clay pipes, made in the US, are game changers.

Handmade of a unique mixture of four American clays and fired to a temperature of 2300 degrees Fahrenheit or 1260 degrees Celsius, Lepeltier pipes produce an ideal marriage of strength and porosity, so necessary for true enjoyment of pipe tobacco. Each individually painted Lepeltier clay pipe gives the smoker all the advantages and benefits of traditional clay pipes, yet is shatter-resistant, smokes cooler and is scaled in size and shape to please the modern smoker.

I was blessed enough to receive one as a gift from Julian on my 60th birthday.

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A Pipe with a Mouthpiece made of Amber

On my 60th birthday, Landrick presented me with a vintage, unsmoked pipe from Italy with a mouthpiece made of amber.

Pipes with mouthpieces made of amber are extremely rare.

Actually, the fossilized resin of prehistoric plants, amber is rare due mainly to the unbridled exploitation carried out in the past centuries – just think of the famous Amber Room of the Tsars.

It is so scarce and valuable that whatever minuscule amount that is harvested has mostly been secreted away to make jewelry – rings, necklaces, cameos, earrings and the like, and pipes with amber mouthpieces are very hard to come by, and extremely pricey.

History has it that it was some skilled Viennese and Hungarian craftsmen who were the first to use amber to make mouthpieces for pipes.

Such pipes are now almost exclusively available only for viewing in museums or private collections, because they are almost never made nowadays.

Kudos to Landrick and his resourcefulness for having found this, and of course, my heartfelt gratitude for his generosity.

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A Von Erck Pipe

A Von Erck pipe commissioned for my 60th birthday.

Handcrafted, one at a time in Negaunee, Michigan, the very exceptional pipes of Lee Von Erck have been demanding attention throughout the pipe smoking community worldwide.

Pipe smoking aficionados claim that Von Erck’s pipes are well sought after due to their unique design, meticulous craftsmanship, and great smokeability.

Von Erck himself believes that his pipes are appealing because he himself has been smoking pipes for more than 50 years and he personally knows what appeals to the demanding pipe smoker. When he carves a pipe, he strives for one that is eye-catching, expresses the natural grain in the briar, feels good in the hand, and above all, smokes well.

Each Von Erck pipe created is a one-of-a-kind piece, having being developed based on the character of the briar itself. The personality of each particular piece of briar is what dictates to Von Erck, the consumate craftsman, how each piece will develop, and become that one-of-a-kind pipe.

Boring, shaping, and polishing of the pipes is done in a small workshop in the Northwoods of Michigan. The pipes are then put through a lengthy proprietary oil-curing and drying process before they are returned for crafting of their mouthpieces. Each mouthpiece is as unique and individual as that of the pipe it is created for. The final step in the lengthy process is to assign and stamp each pipe with its own individual serial number and nomenclature.

I have been privileged to have met Von Erck several times and am impressed by his dry wit, his sense of humor, his dedication to the craft, and above all, his humility.

Von Erck pipes are found in the collections of many prominent collectors and are prized for their uniqueness.

I am honored to be presented with one on my 60th birthday.

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Today, I officially became a senior citizen.

Oh no!!!

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The Birdbrains at AVA

Proposed new AVA director-general.

Twenty complaints about noise led to the culling of free-roaming chickens.

The Agri-Food & Veterinary Authority of Singapore admitted that in a letter to The Straits Times on February 2nd.

Then on February 15th its more tualiap head honcho wrote a letter to the papers contradicting his subordinate by saying that the culling was actually to protect Singaporeans from bird flu and had nothing to do with the complaints about noise.

AVA cited a 2004 report by the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization and the World Organization for Animal Health to justify its action.

But contrary to the AVA’s assertion, that very report does not claim that wild or “free-roaming” fowl should be culled as part of biosecurity measures and instead recommends culling for poultry kept under farmed conditions.

A more recent update on the FAO website states that culling of wild bird populations is not recommended, as it may disperse infected birds and does little to reduce the risk of transmission to commercial poultry.

The February 15th letter seems like a pathetic attempt to rationalize away AVA’s action and to cover up its cock-up. No pun intended.

And, today, February 20th yet another letter, this time to TODAY,  was written by the director-general saying “We do not cull wild birds for bird flu prevention.” His letter was titled “Chickens are domestic poultry and pose bird flu risk.” He went on to explain that chickens when mingling with wild birds can become exposed to the bird flu virus which can then be transmitted to human beings. He didn’t say how that can happen though.

AVA considers free-roaming chickens “domestic poultry”? Farmed-reared chickens, free-roaming chickens, wild chickens, domestic poultry, wild birds, wow, befuddling indeed.

One reader named Norman Ng retorted “So what is considered WILD? Are the crows, sparrows, pigeons and mynahs ROAMING freely around our HDB areas considered WILD or Domestic?”

AVA lends no clarity at all.

If anything, it adds to the confusion.

In any case, government-linked organizations must remember that they are beholden to the public.

Unlike decades ago, every mother’s son – and daughter today – has a smartphone and can Google for facts.

You can’t pull wool over our eyes anymore.

No sir!

We have grown up.

And we deserved to be treated like adults, not lied to like kids.

AVA seems to think that this whole chicken culling episode is some comedy routine!

Come on, why is it so hard to say “sorry”?

All the AVA board (that’s a body even more tualiap than the two clowns who wrote those confusing letters contradicting each other) has to do is to say “We are sorry that our hasty decision to cull the chickens have ruffled so many feathers. We will be more conscientious in our decision-making from now on and we will review our processes immediately. To demonstrate our remorse to bird-lovers, our director-general will be transferred to Jurong Bird Park, where he will be kept away from fowl play and where his main role is to stroke the cocks in the Park while spending a psychiatrist-prescribed amount of time in self-reflection.”

Case closed. No more cock-a-doodle-do. Enough clucking! On to our rendang ayam.

But truth be told, the flap over AVA’s heavy-handedness is not unexpected but if that is all that vexes Singaporeans, then LKY must be smiling in his grave.

In any case, AVA has lost its credibility completely. Who believes what it says anymore? Anything that emanates from AVA from this point onwards will be regarded as yet another government-linked organization “talking cock” or crowing about it’s greatness in yet another attempt to add yet another feather in its cap, at the expense of clarity, transparency, openness and truth.

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Survey? No Thanks!

The retards at LTA sent me a letter saying that my household has been “randomly chosen” for a comprehensive travel survey and that an interviewer will be visiting my house to ask questions,

The survey has been outsourced to Ascentiq Pte Ltd and a phone number of the Survey Manager Vivien Tan was included.

A week ago, I sent a SMS message to Miss Tan to inform her that my family does not wish to participate. I requested her to acknowledge my message and to confirm that she accepts my request not to participate.

And yes, as you would have probably guessed, I have not received a response thus far.

A friend told me “Let them survey you lor, sometimes they will give you a 50-dollar voucher for participating, you know.”

I have no desire whatsoever to open my underwear and let strangers grope my family jewels for 50 bucks or for any amount. My world is not driven by money. And I can’t be bought for 50 bucks, sorry.

I value my privacy and I am indignant of the fact that government bodies think they have every right to invade your privacy any time they want.

Once, when Rodrigo Duterte of the Philippines was questioned about his health by a reporter, he retorted “What is the condition of your wife’s vagina? Is it smelly? Or not smelly? Give me the report.” Trust me, I didn’t make that up. It’s not fake news. Google to confirm, please.

Would those dimwits who run LTA like to have ME conduct a survey in their households? And I’m sure that moron Miss Tan seriously needs to get some training on manners and some lessons on communications.

I mean, if she can’t handle this job, maybe she should go away for a break to recharge.

I hear Ethiopia is nice this time of the year.

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Who is a Hero?

If you spend heaps of money to raise a champion who wins an Olympic gold does that make you a Singaporean of the Year?

I have no answer to that question, being the simpleton that I am.

What I do know is that Singaporeans who have proven themselves truly outstanding definitely deserve our adulation and emulation and should certainly be given due recognition.

But why pick just one individual as Singaporean of the Year?

All 12 nominees in the recent very unoriginal Singaporean of the Year award sponsored by a leading local newspaper and a bank are extraordinary Singaporeans noted for sacrifices, courageous acts or nobility of character – each is a hero.

But each is outstanding in his or her own way.

To name one person as Singaporean of the Year kinda negates the achievements of the 11 others because there is no way all 12 nominees’ accomplishments and feats can be measured equitably. To do so, one must “compare apples with apples” and “oranges with oranges.” It is as inequitable as TV shows like America’s Got Talent; how does one measure the talent of a singer versus that of a sword-swallower? The basic premise of such a contest is flawed right from the beginning.

The 12-year-old Singaporean boy who rushed to the aid of a pregnant woman involved in a car accident – while others were busy taking photos with their cell phones – is no less heroic than the 54-year-old security officer who underwent 10 hours of surgery to donate 60% of his liver to a complete stranger or the 50-year-old mechanic who generously gave 6,000 bucks to fund the studies of a former drug addict he met at a bus stop.

Similarly, the cook who led a team of six to clinch a historic victory for Singapore at the Culinary Olympics in Germany is no less a hero than those doctors who alerted us to Zika.

And surely our persevering paralympic swimmers are no less worthy of exaltation than Joseph Schooling’s devoted and farsighted mum and dad.

Isn’t it more meaningful to simply recognize say, 12 Outstanding Singaporeans of the Year on an annual basis instead of voting just one nominee as Singaporean of the Year?

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Meet Singapore’s Most Sensitive CEO

Mr Wong Heang Fine, what you did ain’t fine!

Wong Heang Fine, Surbana Jurong’s CEO, is a real sensitive guy. When 54 of his employees were sacked, he couldn’t sleep for a week, lost his appetite for his Chinese New Year reunion dinner and donated his entire year’s salary to help the families of the 54.

In addition, like Mordecai of the Old Testament (see Esther 4:1), Wong tore off his clothes, put on sackcloth, rubbed ashes on his head and face and walked out into the city wailing loudly and bitterly while beating his chest.

Yeah, right.

Fat hope!

Fat fucking hope indeed.

The cold, hard, brutal truth is that Wong had those 54 sacked BEFORE Chinese New Year and in a Hitlerite email uncovered by the press, Wong made the pronouncement that “the company could not allow a small proportion of poor performers to drag down the rest of the organization.”

The tactic of the bottom 1% having to go for the sake of the other 99% is the oldest trick in the book. It used to be fashionable – in American companies especially – to fire the bottom 1% every year to keep the rest on their toes.

Surbana Jurong’s board is said to be a list of who’s who in the corporate sector, and its senior management includes a former top civil servant who previously headed two statutory boards.

But the Temasek Holdings-owned company was openly rapped last week in Parliament by no less than Manpower Minister Lim Swee Say, who declared that it was unacceptable for Surbana Jurong to publicly label the 54 employees it recently axed as “poor performers.”

The two unions that represent the company’s workers hit back as well.

One union leader claimed that Surbana Jurong did not follow due process and challenged the company’s assertion that the axed workers were poor performers, saying that eight were either re-employed after they reached retirement age or had their contracts renewed.

And Singapore Industrial and Services Employees’ Union general secretary Philip Lee called the company “heartless to the extreme” for sacking 54 employees just before Chinese New Year.

(Other shenanigans emerged from employees’ complaints – one, whose company was acquired by Surbana Jurong, wrote to the press saying that Surbana Jurong – unlike many other companies – does not have the practice of paying salaries earlier during festive months.)

As for the sackings, the company later admitted grudgingly that the process could have been better managed.

Too late.

The damage’s done.

If this is how a Temasek-linked company does its HR, one wonders what other companies are getting away with.

If indeed poor performance is an issue, employers share the blame too.

Straits Times’ manpower correspondent Toh Yong Chuan weighed in by saying that “The dismissals came at a time when the economy is slowing and more workers are losing their jobs. The prospect of the sacked workers finding new jobs is dim. The timing also compounds workers’ fear that Surbana might have axed them to avoid paying retrenchment benefits.”

He added: “And, for the rest of the employers in Singapore who watch this saga from the sidelines, the bottom line is clear. Employers have the power to hire and fire, and no employer owes any worker a living. But, it does not hurt for them to treat workers with sensitivity, compassion and dignity, especially when the workers have to be let go.” Wise words.

The Manpower Ministry’s investigations into the Surbana Jurong cases are supposed to be ongoing.

I hope the Ministry has the moral courage to do the right thing.

One question it must ask is what is the role of HR, the so-called custodian of organizational conscience in all of this? I suspect, most times; heartless, cold-blooded HR is being willingly used as henchman of the equally heartless and cold-blooded clods who run the company perched comfortably at the top of the ivory tower. And is it sheer coincidence that Surbana Jurong’s Group Chief HR Officer used to work for an American company for 17 years?

Surbana Jurong’s HR should be sacked.

Along with the CEO.

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