Apart from a few colonial buildings from the times of British colonization in Singapore, pretty much anything that represents the old days of Singapore have been bulldozed to make way for high rise buildings and high density residential buildings. One exception to this modernization, is Kampong Buangkok, the last surviving village on the Island of Singapore.
After a bit of a trek from subway, to bus, to a short walk I arrived at a handwritten sign pointing the way down a dirt path. Juxtaposed between the brown rusting roofs of the houses, and the brand new cars parked alongside, it was an interesting blend of the past and present.
While it took me quite a long time to get there, it took about five minutes to explore the couple hundred feet of road that encompassed the village. I felt it was a little anticlimactic, but I’m very glad I went. I don’t think I’ll find anything like it here in Singapore, and who knows how much longer it’ll even exist.
Housing 28 families, this small little community has managed to survive since the 1950s when it was first settled. Since then its size has almost halved and was even featured in the New York Times about it’s possible destruction by the Singapore Government. Go on out there and see it while you can, but be respectful. It’s not only a piece of Singapore’s history, but a place where people live.
Another video! This time however, it is the result of over 1300 still photos all crammed together to make a one minute moving picture. Watch it fullscreen in HD if you can.
I was testing out a few things on my Canon T2i (550D) so I thought I’d make something of it. The self-recorded footage was filmed on my iPhone 4S. Read more below.
Singapore is not known for its green areas. This is quite obvious. Do a simple image search for Singapore and you’ll find skyline after skyline of tall, fancy buildings or a Merlion vomiting water into Marina Bay. With an entire country’s landmass roughly 3.5 times the size of Washington D.C., almost all the land has been converted from lush rainforests and thriving mangroves into the concrete and steel playgrounds of 21st century robot-people. In fact, according to the all knowing source, Wikipedia, Singapore has grown in size from 581.5 square km in the 1960s, to 723.2 square km today. That means over one fifth of Singapore’s current land has been stolen from the ocean! Within twenty years that figure may grow further by another 100 square km. Just give it thousand years or so and you’ll have kangaroos hopping over from Australia.
With only 5% of island remaining forest and woodlands, I decided to check out one of the few areas I haven’t seen yet. Ironically, it’s perhaps the easiest to get to.
Why this is even called a “mount”, I don’t know. Comparing it with some others that are justly given the title of Mount make it seem quite insignificant. Mount Everest, Mount Fuji, Mount McKinley, Mount Kilimanjaro: All awesome mountains you would be lucky to climb. Mount Faber however, is barely a hill stretching a measly 105 meters (344 ft) into the sky. Calling Mount Faber a mountain is kinda like saying McDonalds has healthy options or Lindsey Lohan is an upstanding member of society.
I started from the VivoCity side, and not being very tall, it took me less than twenty minutes to get to the top. While that sounds quite easy, the term “no sweat” belongs nowhere near Singapore. It looked as if I had just decided to walk through a sprinkler with my clothes on. Faber Point had some decent views, but trees blocked a majority of what could have been seen. Of all the times to not chop down a few trees, this is it?
From there I ran into some giant demon spider that was apparently on vacation from guarding King Tut’s tomb and quickly head down to Henderson Waves. Connecting Mount Faber to Telok Blangah Hill, over Henderson road a hundred or so feet below, the footbridge is perhaps more impressive than the mountain itself. One side of the bridge moves up and down with its metal supports to create some sort of wave that Mr. LeVan, my high school calculus teacher, would be very disappointed I didn’t know. Unfortunately, to get the best angle to view the actual wave pattern you would have to go deep into the bushes and undergrowth where there was probably a family of monkeys and their pet spiders all too eager to make real good friends with my body.
On the other side of the waves, you can check out the Stream Garden, the Terrace Garden, and then the Forest Walk. The Forest Walk is over a kilometer of metal walkways which carry you above the forest floor into the canopy. These take you all the way down to Alexandra Arch, where you can either hop on a bus, or continue the Southern Ridges trail through Hort Park and Kent Ridge Park.
While not very remote, and hardly a hike, it was a nice break from the rest of the city, and extremely easy to get to. If you don’t feel like sweating up the million stairs to the top, you can grab the cable car from Sentosa Island or HarbourFront up to Mount Faber. You can even stuff your face on top at a restaurant to reward your lazy ass.
However, If you’re looking for something a bit wilder or authentic feeling you may not be very impressed. Instead, I would check out Pulau Ubun, MacRitchie Reservoir, or Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve. Even better yet, get the hell out of Singapore.
So I read somewhere that the Giant Water Monitor Lizard is harmless to humans. I really need to stop reading these sort of things.
On my day off, here in Singapore, after a nice swim in the morning, I decided to go check out the Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve. It’s way up on the North-West end of the Island near Malaysia, so getting there is a trek on it’s own. After thirty minutes on the MRT, twenty minutes on the bus, and then a twenty minute 1.5km walk to the entrance of the reserve, I finally made it. Did you know Singapore had a Crocodile farm? I didn’t. At least if I was murdered out there, I felt comfort knowing someone could always follow the long trail of sweat to my dead, naked body (don’t worry, I wasn’t taken advantage of, I just walk the streets of Singapore in the nude because it’s the only way I can handle the heat.)
Near the start of the trails there were several groups of school children screaming like someone had just been…well, murdered. Naturally I pushed them out of the way to see what the hullabaloo was all about. There it was, the first of many Giant Water Monitor Lizards I would see. I thought it was pretty big, being about three feet long, but a girl was quick to to take the opportunity to prove they were much smarter than a stupid white American, and informed me they get “much bigger”.
I quickly escaped the overly happy cries of children who have at last escaped the daily monotony of “maths”, science, & inappropriate staring, and made my way into the wetlands. For Singapore standards, it was quite nice. A break away from the urban uprising and slow walking robot people who approach escalators like its the first time they’ve ever seen a set of stairs move.
I did, however, expect to see more birds. For the little bit of wetland Singapore has remaining, you’d think every creature with wings would crowd from near and far to get a piece of this sweet wetland action. There were a handful of white egrets and a few other tiny brown shore birds, but they were all too far away to identify. I caught a glimpse of a bright blue King Fisher, and some other hipster bird that looked like it was wearing a bright red scarf, but they were snotty little pretentious birds and quickly flitted off into the dense jungle growth. Probably to cackle about which migratory route has the best bird baths.
The wetland is quite large. Much larger than I first anticipated. After coming across a sign that read “WATCH IT!” with a little graphic of a crocodile, I told myself that if I didn’t cover every square inch of this place, I could potentially miss out on seeing one of these rare beasties (which has probably never been actually seen since the 1950s.) Sadly, I never found a crocodile, but after getting stung by about a thousand mosquitoes (I didn’t have my friend Autumn’s sweet blood around to distract them), I did stumble across a giant aquatic lizard of another kind.
This Giant Water Monitor Lizard was, in technical terms, “much bigger” than the one found by the school children; around five feet in length it looked like it had a nasty habit for cheese burgers. He was just sprawled out, relaxing next to his little pond, and minding his own no-good lizardy business; probably trying to come up with even more adjectives to tack on in front its name.
I took a few pictures from afar, but that wasn’t good enough. I remembered reading somewhere that they were pretty much harmless to humans, so I got a bit closer. And by “a bit”, I mean close enough to see a tiny ant cruising around making a jungle gym of its face. It didn’t care about the ant, and for the most part it didn’t care about me. For the most part…
You see, when I decided that we needed a photo together for our profile pics, so I got out the remote for my camera and all of a sudden he got all pissy. He started grumbling, flicking his tongue around, hissed at me a few times, so like any normal person wouldn’t do, I got closer. They’re harmless right? And I figured we were pretty much besties by now, so it was all good. IT WAS NOT ALL GOOD. Whipping his tail around he outright threw our minutes of friendship in the trash and tried to slap me! He slung his huge tail over and if it wasn’t for my cat-like reflexes, I would have gotten a face full of scales. Needless to say, I got the hint. After a couple more pictures I bid him and the reserve farewell.
If you have an afternoon free in Singapore, check Sungei Buloh out. Sure beats battling the masses on Orchard road, and it’ll leave your wallet (as well as your waist size) much happier. You might even make friends with a lizard or two, and you’ll probably see more birds than I did. At the very least you’ll discover one of the few natural places Singapore has left. As I neared the bus stop to return home I looked back at the sun setting over the mangroves. For a split moment I forgot I was in Singapore… I escaped the island of durian and digital devices to a place I always imagined Southeast Asia to be… And then it was gone. With the clanging of metal on rock, I was sprung back to reality as a back hoe ripped up the earth to make way for a new parking lot.
A few more photos from the day
In other words, Saturday is the worst day to go. More info can be found on the Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve website.
One nice thing about my job is that I get to work with people from all around the globe. We’ve got some from the good ol’ USA, England, the Philippines, Hong Kong, New Zealand, but more than anything else, there are Aussies. Tons of them! I would say three-quarters of the people I work with are Australian. For the most part I love them; they’re laid back, fun people, but at times I swear they are speaking another language. Sure their accent may be out of the ordinary, but I’m talking about brand new words all together. Autumn, one of the other Americans, and I made it a goal to make fun of them as much as possible, because it most of the time, it sounds like they’re just making up words on the spot.
Some of what they say makes sense, as just another way of saying things. For example, I’m keen.Which would be a way to say, Sure, that sounds good. You can even bring it up another notch with Heaps keen. Another is How you going? Which is kinda like a mix between How’s it going? and How are you doing?.
Another thing they love to do is shorten a word or phrase in any way they can. Everyone has heard the classic Aussie phrase “Put another shrimp on the barbie!” (Barbie of course meaning barbecue , not that one should place one more shellfish on a disproportioned plastic misrepresentation of the female figure.) Some other ones I’ve heard are brekkie, meaning breakfast, and sickie, meaning you’ve gone home ill. Basically you can take the first syllable of a word and add I-E on the end of it and you’re good to go.
I picked up on these pretty quick, because there was some sort of logic behind them. However, when my friend Rob, asked one morning, “What are you up to this Arvo?” I was baffled.
“What the hell is ARVO?”
Ok, now had he said something like afto, or even afties I would have thought it was a bit excessive, but brushed it off. I’m used to it. But arvo?! Where the hell does that come from? I asked him to explain, but he seemed entirely confused I was questioning this at all.
“It’s afternoon, shortened!”
“Alright, Rob.” I replied, “I guess I’ll see you “TomARVO, then.”
“Tomarvo! Tomorrow Afternoon!”
“No. That’s just crazy.”
I guess I’ll just have to put this one in the list of unsolved mysteries in the universe, right up there with what a male lady bug is called. And gravity.
Another one I had trouble with seems to come down to outright laziness. I asked my Aussie friend how this new pizza place was. Boy did I get myself into trouble there:
“Man, you should have come! Those pizzas were big as!”
My response of course was,”Big as what?”
A plate? A planet? A planet sized pizza!? Here I am slobbering over the thought of a planet sized pizza, when apparently that’s just another way of saying something is really big—How big? Big as. They left it up to me, so I’m just going to assume it’s planet sized. Additionally, this apparently applies to pretty much any adjective. Big as, good as, fast as… confused as?
So they’ve taken what used to be a simile, a comparison likening one thing with another, and just entirely removed, the other. So if a simile uses like or as then I could also say, “Holy balls! Taking a bite into this burrito is like!” ?
I’m pretty sure, this lack of description must have been instigated by some guy who was either laziest person on the planet, or so stoned he got distracted mid sentence by what he thought was a planet sized pizza coming down the beach. “Man, did you see that? Those waves were crazy as—” And he’s gone, off in another world of tasty delicious pizza… (Damn it! I really need to eat food before I write.)
Meanwhile, his friend (also stoned) thinks he’s just being super deep. “I know bro. Crazy as…”
It’s been five months now. I don’t quite understand why, but I think I understand what they’re saying at least. I can’t wait to watch the Australian version of Forrest Gump where Forrest sits on the bench and says one of the most quotable lines in movie history:
“G’darvo. My Mum always said, life was like.”
Whoa. Screw the box of chockies. Life is now like a giant, planet sized pizza folks.
Damn, life is good. Heaps good.
Side Note: Rob told me this video might help. So I’ll share it as well.
You know that feeling when you’re at a party and you toss a handful of delicious, cheesy Doritos chips in your mouth only to shockingly find out they are some discount off-brand nonsense that was on sale at Wal Mart? That sinking feeling that you’ve just been fooled—taken advantage of. That feeling of going into the friendly looking restroom at the truck stop only to have the door locked behind you by a man as tall as a jeffrey pine and… ok, I won’t get into that, but you know what I mean. You expect one thing, and you get something reminiscent… but just wrong. That’s how Christmas is in Singapore.
Here in Singapore, Doritos do have a cheesy MSG filled coating, but only have a hint of the Doritos taste I know. They don’t even look the same, and on top of that, are made in Taiwan with a small icon that says “IMPORTED” on the bag. I feel like they also latch onto and import other traditions and ideals purely to appear more western and therefore “first-world” in status. Unlike other places where Christmas actually has some tradition, and religious significance, the idea behind Christmas in Singapore stems from pretty much every other non-asian thing here: Money. Sure, Christmas has become excessively commercialized elsewhere, but I still feel like a majority of people actually celebrate it, rather than USE it as an excuse to buy that new iPad case that folds into a Hello Kitty playhouse.
According to Wikipedia, or as I like to call it, “The Truthtionary”, 18.3% of Singaporeans consider themselves Christian compared to the 76% of American’s that practice Christianity. Of course I’m not implying in anyway that that people here shouldn’t celebrate it. Overall, the point I’m trying to make is they are celebrating it wrong. To me, the most important part the Jolly Fat Man’s season is lying in bed in an eggnog induced coma. Seriously Singapore, where is the eggnog? The only carton I could find was $18. EIGHTEEN DOLLARS, for less than a quart of delicious creamy nutmeg tastiness? To buy that would be getting sucked into the exact forced-into-buying-just-because-someone-says-it’s-“Christmas” I have been talking about. And even if I did buy it, it would probably end up tasting like imitation Taiwanese Doritos anyway.
*Just to clarify (so I don’t sound like a total Grinch), I did have a great Christmas Eve sharing dessert with friends. With a majority from Australia and The States, I don’t believe any were from Singapore, but that’s not the point. If you can’t find the Christmas you know and love, you just have to make one for yourself with friends and loved ones and, THAT is what Christmas is REALLY about, right?
A few photos taken at and around my work at Christmas
I’m not sure where to start here, since I’ve been slacking quite hard here on the updates. One overarching constant however has been the shocking absolute disrespect from the monkeys here.
Within the last week, I’ve basically done the two hikes possible here in Singapore. Both times, my good friend Autumn and I have encountered some cute looking monkeys. All we wanted, was to take a few innocent pictures and stare deep past their hazel monkey eyes in to their monkey souls, but every time we tried to get close they get all whiney about it and try to attack us. Well, by us I mean mainly Autumn.
You see, Autumn has this amazing long blonde hair, which apparently has never been seen in this land of jet black hair and brown eyes. My only guess is that to Asians, her hair looks like liquid gold, birthing baby phoenix babies which fly around her head singing the songs of sirens. While a piercing stare is an every day occurrence in Autumn’s Singaporean residence, the call of the baby phoenix siren is just too powerful for the monkeys (and some creepy men) to merely gaze; they just can’t help but try to get a piece of her golden locks. And like a spoiled child that has his favorite pet pony taken away, anger ensues from the withholding.
If anything, Singapore needs to step up it’s game and really invest some money into this epidemic of unruly tree-beasts with opposable toes. While I’m no expert, I’m sure there’s someone out there who could figure out whether it’s a couple sessions of anger management, social interaction classes, or just a few basic lessons in modeling poses that the monkeys need to really fit into the modern Singapore. The forests are coming down, monkeys. It’s your choice whether you are going to stay in that high tree of yours as it topples to the concrete, or brush up your social skills and make a few coins on the street posing with a few idiotic tourists (and a couple insane expats).
If I get put down by a couple of hit-monkeys in the middle of the night, you know who to blame.
It’s been one week in Singapore, and I’ve barely had a chance to sit down apart from sleeping. Here’s a quick breakdown of what’s been going on for those curious, or just want to do a bit of healthy stalking.
Wednesday: Arrived around noon Singapore time and checked into our hotel where we will be staying for the next month. Then got some blood taken to make sure we weren’t disease mules, clambering across the border to infect a nation with HIV, Hepatitis, and Republicanism.
Thursday: We got up, ate some free hotel breakfast and got our bank accounts set up and our badges made for Resorts World Sentosa. When I asked how it looked the nice man taking the pictures said, “Looks good!” Apparently looking like a serial killer is desirable here.
For dinner we went to The Banana Leaf Apolo in little india where instead of plates, you eat off a giant banana leaf. The food was fantastic, but considering the fact that it was my first real meal in singapore, and Indian on top of that, lets just say I spent a fair share of time sitting on a white throne later that night.
Friday: With friday off we went down and explored Sentosa Island. Rode the cable car across, hit up the gym, and went to a party with a bunch of the current Universal cast in Clarke Quay. It is here that I came to discover that 90% of my coworkers were gorgeous Australians. Even better, apparently straight men are a rare commodity in this crowd. Even better than that, I’ve got the serial-killer-vibe DOWN.
Saturday: A few of the other newcomers and I, hit up Mustafa Centre. HOLY BALLS. Okay, it’s really hard to describe this place without actually going in. But if you can imagine a Walmart, Target, K-Mart, Safeway, Sears, Best Buy, Wallgreens, Home Depot, and a homeless shelter combined, it would be about half the size of this place. It just keeps going, and going and going. I’m pretty sure I changed time zones while walking from one side to another.
Later that night, we went to this place called the Blu Jaz Cafe, an awesome restaurant and music venue over in the Arab District. Spanning three floors with great food, it was hard not to have a good time here. First floor – main area of sit down eating with live jazz and violin. Second floor – dance club and full bar. Third floor – live music venue with full bar along with the menu from the first floor. I’ll definitely be back.
Walking around a mile at 3:30AM back home, it never for an instant felt that some creepy man with combover would step out of an alley way and request I be their sex slave in a sultan’s pleasure room. We did however run into five or six friendly Germans who were headed to Orchard Towers, otherwise known as the “Four Floors or Whores.” (Prostitution is legalized and controlled here.) They were very confused as to why we were headed home.
Sunday: I went and hit up the Singapore Botanical gardens including the National Orchid Garden of Singapore. With grassy fields, turtle and swan filled lakes, and lush sections of rainforest it was a hard place to leave. Later that night we hit up a place on Marina Bay for dinner. Amazing view of Downtown Singapore.
Monday / Tuesday: First day of work! Well, not really work. Corporate Induction. That says enough.
Wednesday: Training! Basically I get to just play a live video game all day. Can’t beat that. It was also staff preview night for Halloween Horror Nights here at Universal Singapore. AMAZING. I cannot imagine the work that goes into this thing. There were pits of bubbling lava, creepy demons on bungee cords leaping into sight and disappearing less than a second later, and padded rooms with strobes going off so bright that they would literally blind you for 10 seconds. You stumble around blind with the last image you saw imprinted in the back of your retina – a bloody figure in a straight jacket lumbering toward you. While never experiencing Horror Nights at Universal Hollywood, a couple people I work with said this was a MILLION times better.
And that brings us back current. So far Singapore has been a blast. It is an insanely beautiful city, filled with a surprising amount of greenery everywhere, and not a single bit of trash to be seen. If you like shopping and eating, this is the place for you. The art community seems to be quite large here with huge amount of expats. And when you do see a white person, chances are they’re Australian… and beautiful… and single… and want my body. More to come on that shortly.
With mall after mall after mall that all seem to connect to each other in the ice cold air-conditioned atmosphere underground, Singapore becomes an interconnected web of infinite shopping, tasty affordable food, and square toilets. Trust me. The toilets and I know each other quite well by now.