Saturday, September 08, 2007

the elephant, the pig, & the frog.

my first full week actually IN Singapore was consumed with work craziness - helping with some regional training, and dealing with some issues up in Japan. though i was fortunate to make it out and about every night of the week, slowly expanding my knowledge of the city. Sunday was Korean on Dhempsey Road with my visiting Aussie colleague Kshitij. tapas on Monday w/ work peoples, the Polo Club on Tuesday w/ even MORE work peoples (weak food, neat locale), Muthu’s Curry (Sri Lankan Crab) w/ Kshitij in Little India on Wednesday (prefaced by a quick trip to Mustafa), Japanese fast food for lunch Thursday, and then Vietnamese w/ Tricia at Somerset Thursday night. Friday night I met up again w/ Tricia + a handful of her agency friends for drinks at Clarke Quay, and had dinner afterwards w/ Deepa (Mala’s friend) in the Arab Quarter, which was followed up w/ ice cream + a bunch of Singaporean lawyers (a few of which i hopefully convinced to join the local WIR cause).

despite the many urban experiences, I was quickly becoming eager for an escape, so made plans to retreat to Pulau Ubin for my Saturday. Pulau Ubin is an island off the northern coast ("Pulau" literally meaning "island"), in the straits just between Singapore and Malaysia. so while Pulau Ubin is sovereign to Singapore, you’d apparantly never know, given it lush wetlands and bike paths. something i looked forward to all week. [NOTE: for all pics from Pulau Ubin click the elephant >


the beautiful thing about weekends is not so much sleeping in, it’s waking without an alarm. that being said, the unfortunate thing i've noticed since i've moved to this side of the world is that i CAN'T sleep in on the weekends, always waking up at 9am-ish. for shame.

so up early, milled about, read, made an early lunch, and got a move on. a ~20 min MRT ride to the far east side of town. from there, a 25 min double-decker bus ride to the "Changi Village" just near the airport. from the bus stop, a quick cut through a MUCH more local market than anything seen in + around downtown (hard to not get distracted), and down some stairs to the ferry point, where i enjoyed a coke light + a kitkat as i waited for the "bumboat" captain to gather enough people to make the trip.

once 12 finally gathered, we piled into the back of a small boat with benches along the side. i brought an old friend along with me, so took a photo as appropriate. more to follow, as he now resides in my camera bag. the bumboat was filled with couples young and old, and even some kids (who found my red partner amusing). the captain took S$2 from everyone and we were off. it was just a short ride off the coast, 15 mins to get there. near the landing point, you could the other bumboats lined up next to eachother, their "captains" sitting around, smoking and chatting. basically a bunch of old guys kicking back and enjoying the water. i wondered what they did in a previous life, or if this was it.

through the main "gate" and i was surrounded by cafes, and bike rental shops, my surroundings resembling more the outskirts of a 3rd world village than anything seen in Singapore. i quickly grabbed a map from the information desk, shoved it in my back pocket, and began perusing the bikes. despite the poor appearance of the surrounding, 80% of the bikes were brand new, which i found to be an odd juxtaposition. i guess what i'd expect from an island halfway between Singapore and Malaysia. i found a bike, negotiated a price (S$5), gave it a quick test ride, and was off.

the entire island only spans a few KM, so i planned to see every trail. i started by heading to the far east side of the island, which was a wetland nature preserve. i rode through several muddy hills covered in tropical canopy. along the way were several run down houses, which doubled as respites for weary riders. most memorable was Cookie Monster waving at me as I rode by. C is for Cookie indeed my friend.

eventually, i found my way to the preserve's entrance, which was surrounded by discarded bikes. much of the preserve was a proper platform/pier, keeping the visitors from disturbing the habitat. an old German house, facing both the water and mainland Singa, now served as the visitor center. stretching out from the house was a long pier towards Pulau Sekud, otherwise known as "Frog Island." the proper story of Pulau Ubin was that long ago, a pig, elephant, and a frog challenged either to a swim across the straits, the loser to become a rock. none of them could make it, so the elephant and the pig became Pulau Ubin (2 islands connected my man-made bunds), and the frog, was left further behind to become what is now "Frog Island."

my hike continued along through the wetlands, which continued to become more and impressive as i got further away from the strait coastal, and deeper into the forest. i eventually came across a viewing tower, which provided a good view of the canopied terrain. along the way were many Chinese little kids w/ their parents, and the fair amount of Indian tourists. everyone got the Raman smile. the kids even got a wave. most of them waved back. the rest were delinquent brats in my book (or just shy).

exiting the preserve, i was relieved to find my bike still there, jumped back on, and made my way north. along the way were several impressive lagoons/quarries, which were fenced off by the authorities to keep people from heading in for a dip. though my natural suspicion had me wondering how mother nature got an EXACT match for "miniature golf lagoon blue." i eventually found my way to Marnim Beach, where i took my first real break at what can be best described as a shack (the sort of thing i was more adept at seeing on the side of the road in Alabama than in Singapore). buying a water from the resident old couple, i wandered their grounds, coming across bunnies, laundry, lilypads, and clay pots. a few kids sat at picnic tables were playing their PSPs - which i've seen ALL over Singa, making me want one (despite my DS...).

the trail beyond the beaches was closed off, so i turned around and headed back south to the next fork in the trail. i made my way back north, into the center of the island, coming across many odd sites and shrines, frequently stopping to take photos. the hills continued to go up and down (giving my knees and brakes a good workout), as the path alternated between narrower and wider (somehow always narrower when a van/truck would come along). back towards the top of the island i stopped at Noordin Beach - which was full of campers, cadet training (16/17 year old boys), and fishers. in the distance you could clearly make out Malaysia.

back towards the island center, i came to my final fork, taking me to the northwest stretches of the island, towards more quarries. this part of the island was much more barren, and the trails were lacking. but i pressed on, hoping i'd find something new and interesting. there were actually a handful of shrines and interesting stops along the way. at one point i even hopped back off the bike to venture into the forest to find "des Schrein des deutschen M├Ądchen" (shrine of the German girl), which i had read about earlier. basically, years ago (just after WW2) a German girl (whose parents settled on the island fleeing the British) was wandering about and went missing. turns out she had fallen into a well and died. a she was soon found by Chinese laborers who gave her a proper burial. somewhere along the way, the daughter of a Roman Catholic family became a Taoist deity who many Chinese Singaporean regularly make the trek to Pulau Ubin to pay their respects for good fortune. well i hiked and hacked through quite a bit of thick brush to find said shrine, and all i found was mud, water, and alot of scratches.

stupid German girl.

having covered nearly every angle of the island, i made my way south to the docks. enjoying what was left for me of the hilly paths, blue quarries, and surrounding nature. but by the end of my ride, i was ready to call it a day, returning my bike quickly, and waiting at the docks impatiently for enough people to gather for a ride back to the mainland. the ride back seemed significantly longer. not just the bumboat ride, but also the bus and MRT ride. i guess the thing i was looking forward to was a known entity (home), whereas earlier in the day it was the unknown, making the excitement make the time go faster (though i've typically found anticipation tends to slow things to a snail's pace). i must have been in an anomaly of the space-time continuum.

a few detours on the way home. first to Orchard to stop by Borders. i found what i was looking for (top secret), and made my way to the graphic novels, where i noticed something similar to what i had seen in Manila - ALL the graphic novels were shrink-wrapped. so while everyone else was perusing through their books, etc, i would not be able to read comics for free at the breakneck pace at which i read them back home. disappointed (and frustrated), i made my way over to the magazine aisle, picked up the latest Rolling Stone, going straight for the "national affairs" column (if you don't regularly read this, you should). the column discussed in detail the gross-spending in fraud the government has made in Iraq.

troubling and infuriating indeed.

rather than more MRT, i decided to try to walk my way back home. the MRT (or any mass transit in ANY city) tends to "black box" the rest of a city from you, keeping you from ultimately having any sense of direction in a city. going forward, i plan to make it a point to skip a few stops on the train + try to walk the extra instead, so i can figure out how the streets and neighborhoods connect here. a stop at the hawker center in my back yard (Newton Circus), where i finally treated myself to the oft-recommended chile crab. and what a large crab it was - S$28 worth (~$18 US) - more than i spent on the entire day's events preceding it. combined with a fresh glass of watermelon juice, a reward well worth the money.

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