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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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