Wild Singapore

Morning all,

Here we are again, another blog post, another coffee shop. This time I’m writing from Port Douglas (about an hour north of Cairns in Australia), which is a lovely little tourist town where people tend to go to the great barrier reef, or the daintree rainforest. Unfortunately I’ve been told that visibility on the reef is down to a few meters, due to it being the wet season, and hence rather windy, so it looks like I may be spending a few days relaxing/job hunting/visiting rainforests… Life is tough.

Anyway, this post isn’t going to be about Port Douglas or even Australia. This is a Singaporean post.

As you may know, I started out my journey with a 1 night stop in Singapore, before we went off to Borneo. This was mostly taken up with a celebratory night out with Dan’s uni friends, a few of whom had just submitted theses/passed exams/published papers/decided to have a night out. While this was an extremely fun evening, it taught me that even when you go with Singaporeans who know where and when every happy hour is, alcohol in Singapore is ludicrously expensive… As in obscenely expensive. Especially when compared to the price of food… Anyway, I distract myself.

On our return to Singapore, Dan went back to work (I definitely didn’t mock him for this… Honest), and left me with a few things I might want to do, so with a week and a half to play with, I set about “doing” Singapore. As Singapore is largely urban, you can get anywhere on the island using the (very cheap) MRT (train) system and a bus, but largely the MRT will take you pretty much to the doorstep of where you want to be (a fact which resulted in me getting off a few stops early as I wasn’t getting much exercise).

First on the list were the botanical gardens. I’d been told that these were “quite interesting”, and interesting they were. The garden is split into sections, such as the evolution garden, ginger garden, medicine garden, and (my personal favourite) the fragrant garden, and is free to walk around (except the orchid garden, which, at $5(£2.50) entry was way beyond my budget… And absolutely stuffed with tourists), with a load of lakes, seating, and expensive food and drink available. There’s also a 6 hectare patch of “original” rainforest in the middle, which is very impressive, if somewhat manicured.

Some giant water Lillie's in a lake which was mostly populated by invasive red-eared terrapins (which people buy as pets and then release when they get bored).

Some giant water Lillie’s in a lake which was mostly populated by invasive red-eared terrapins (which people buy as pets and then release when they get bored).

What really hit me though (not literally) was the garden staff. I don’t think I’ve ever seen such an army of gardeners, cleaners, maintenance people and other nondescript persons of a Gardenish nature. This was a good introduction to the way of things in Singapore. It seems that if things can be regulated, standardised, controlled, and/or averaged, then they will be. Unpredictability is difficult to find in Singapore, to the extent that many of the trees in the gardens were tied up (like below) to prevent them falling over… Because millions of years of evolution is not enough, and trees need help to stand up.

The horticultural equivalent of a walking stick.

The horticultural equivalent of a walking stick.

This is also the case with waterways in Singapore, where every single stream I saw was concrete lined and straightened, with the exception of one, which was in Singapore’s one remaining patch of natural forest… And flowed into an artificial reservoir.

While I can see the logic behind it (when the vast majority of the island is a city, you don’t want rivers shifting around, eating buildings etc), this does mean that freshwater habitats, particularly riverine ones, in Singapore are pretty much nonexistant. Considering Singapore’s constant urban regeneration (if I recall correctly, the average life span of a block of flats is approx 20 years), one would hope that they may try incorporating a few more natural approaches to their plans in the near future, as exemplified by some of the examples on daylighting.org.uk for instance (enjoy the shout out Adam).

One of Singapore's many "rural" "babbling brooks".

One of Singapore’s many “rural” “babbling brooks”.

Anyway, enough lecturing and whinging about the Singapore department of city planning. Later on I headed up to MacRitchie reservoir (the site of the aforementioned semi natural river) to have a stroll through one of the few remaining patches of what Singapore once was – rainforest. I followed a walk along a disused railway track to Bukit Temah nature reserve which was being renovated (why am I not surprised), and then followed a lovely path through some semi-natural forest (with a background soundtrack of cars and pneumatic drills) to the reservoir, where there are a set of round walks which take you around various parts of the forest.

Singapore's solitary natural stream (as far as I could find).

Singapore’s solitary natural stream (as far as I could find).

Among these were a canopy walk (100+m in the air), and a lovely boardwalk around part of the shore of the reservoir. Unfortunately I was uncharacteristically unprepared, and my camera ran out of battery half way round… So you’ll just have to take my word for it.

A view from the canopy walk, seconds before my camera died.

A view from the canopy walk, seconds before my camera died.

Finally, as Dan works on Mangroves, he decided to take me out to see two of Singapore’s mangroves at the weekend, one in Pulau Ubin (an island to the east of Singapore), and one at Sungei Buloh wetland reserve (squeezed between Singapore and Malaysia at the north of the island). These were both very new to me, having never been to a mangrove before, and I was amazed by the wealth of life in these seaside forests. We saw crabs at every turn, mudskippers at every other other turn, tons of fish, a few big monitor lizards, and a wealth of bird life including egrets, herons, and white bellied eagles. Of course being in Singapore, the access to these comparatively inaccessible places was excellent, with boardwalks taking you out into the depths of the forest (though predictably, some of these were closed due to renovations), and the information boards were extremely interesting, giving information on what you might see, its role in the ecosystem, and its historic use by the local people.

Some delightful mangrove.

Some delightful mangrove.

A couple of crabs hiding from the assorted denizens of the mangrove while the tide is in.

A couple of crabs hiding from the assorted denizens of the mangrove while the tide is in.

A monitor cruising through the mangrove.

A monitor cruising through the mangrove.

And that’s where I’ll leave it for today. There’s plenty more of the culture of Singapore, but that can wait for a future post. As ever, feedback is very welcome.

Until next time


3 responses to “Wild Singapore

  1. Hi Dave,
    Great post. The very controlled management of nature is not my cup of tea either. In fact I am reading Feral by Monbiot at the moment (which is brilliant) and I’ve been whipped into a fervour for wild spaces. It sounded in your earlier posts like your exposure to the rainforest in Borneo was fairly controlled as well. Perhaps it needs to be to ensure the safety of the tourists. When I’ve been to China I’ve been exasperated at nature reserves by the levels of development (e.g. hotels, restaurants, chair lifts, shops, stalls, pagodas, chair lifts, ski slopes) and that you must stick to a limited amount of concrete fenced off paths. Often you are required to be driven around in buses so the authorities have an excuse to charge you more money. Combine with large numbers of tourists and litter and it is all but impossible to feel the wildness.
    That being said I think I would be grateful for a boardwalk at the mangroves…
    The monitor lizard is very cool.

    • Feral is on my list of books to read too (I think it’s the next one on the list, or I might read “Wild” first). I agree a level of accessibility for tourists is a useful and in many cases necessary aspect of wild places (otherwise you end up with the argument of “why have it there if we can’t interact with it”), and you’re right, even in Borneo where we were ” off the beaten track”, we were still on tracks which were beaten roughly once per day even in the quiet season. I suppose subconsciously there’s a line between what I perceive to be walking through “nature”, and what I perceive to be walking through a manicured park… But only my subconscious knows where the line falls (and on a philosophical level, does it matter where the line falls? Does the line fall at all, or is it an illusion dependent on where I’m standing? Should I avoid trying to be philosophical immediately before I go to bed?).

  2. Well I’ve finished Feral and I think it’s excellent from beginning to end. It even covers a little material relevant to your next post, which I might just have to comment about.
    Wildness is such a difficult concept. I know I love it, but I don’t really know what it is. I know that for me it has retreated. When I was a child the moorlands and woodlands of Britain were wild, but then slowly I began to appreciate just how managed they were. Any lingering feelings of wildness associated with the uplands have been well and truly killed off by Monbiot. But even the Amazonian and Bornean Rainforests and the forest and tundra of Siberia are a lot less wild (or a lot more impacted by humans) than I used to imagine.
    Anyway, enjoy exploring the ‘wilds’ of Australia, which are pretty close to ‘perfect wildness’. And don’t forget to pack your sun cream and mosquito spray…

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