Friday, August 28, 2009

Singapore Sunset

There was a lovely sunset the other day, so I snapped a few pictures from the balcony of our apartment. It's so humid here that there isn't typically very good visibility, so those really nice sunsets are definitely appreciated when they come along.
In the bottom photo in the bottom right corner, you can see the temple that's down the street from our apartment. It's a really lovely temple, and I really want to get some photos of it, but it's always super busy and I don't want to be that obnoxious tourist, snapping pictures while people are trying to attend a religious service. Maybe someday I'll sneak down there early in the morning.

Hungry Ghost

The other day while I was on the bus, I noticed a lot of fires burning in trash cans, which is something I've never seen here before. I also noticed lots of food arranged neatly on the sides of sidewalks, especially little cakes. Sometimes there are even teapots with little teacups, like in the photo below. I asked a guy I work with (Oliver) about it, and he said that it was the first day of the month-long Hungry Ghost festival, a Chinese celebration in which people believe that the gates of hell are opened, and the restless spirits of long-gone ancestors are freed to wander the streets. Feeding the spirits is said to appease them, and also to ward off bad luck. People also light incense and do other things, like put on performances and say special prayers, all to placate the roaming souls.The monkeys love Hungry Ghost time, and respond as though everyone is laying out a little feast for them. They steal the food, and get chased away by angry people that have spent a lot of time cooking and praying, only to have their offerings snatched by little monkey thieves.

When I was out buying fruit the other day, I saw a huge setup of food and tapestries and statues and offerings and all sorts of stuff. One of the guys setting it up said that it was for a Hungry Ghost service, and he let me wander around for awhile, taking these photos. In the one directly below, if you look closely, you can see my favorite part- a guy sleeping under the table with his arm hanging out from under the tablecloth. As you can see, the observation of Hungry Ghost month is very elaborate, with lots of gold and flowers and colors and tons of food.
Hungry Ghost reminds me a lot of the Mexican observation of El Dia de los Muertos (the Day of the Dead). On the Day of the Dead, it is believed that the barrier between the living and the spiritual is more permeable than usual, and the spirits of the dead can cross over to visit the living. The observation of that day includes remembering deceased ancestors and loved ones, burning candles, and building altars which often include offerings of the favorite foods of the deceased. I went to a Day of the Dead celebration when I was living in New Mexico, and the vibe was very similar to what I've seen at Hungry Ghost observations- reverent, but also celebratory. The picture below is an altar that I saw on the Day of the Dead in Mesilla- an homage to someone's dearly departed dog.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Things I Find in the Woods

Today I was in Bukit Timah and I found this fascinating little arthropod:He was, needless to say, huge. My foot is in the bottom picture for reference, but it still doesn't really do it justice. When I first spotted it, I thought it was a snake. And then I realized it wasn't. Then I proceeded to take lots of pictures and stare at it for a really long time. I like bugs, especially when they're not in my apartment. I think it's a giant Asian millipede, but I couldn't find much information about huge insects residing in Singapore, so if you think it might be something else, please let me know (you can post a comment below). When it walked, it looked like its legs were moving in waves. Unlike centipedes, millipedes actually don't move very quickly, so I had a lot of time to watch him.

The other day, I saw this little guy:
He's a many-lined sun skink. He was hanging out on this log, basking (baskink?! haha) in the sunshine. Pretty cute. I ran into him just after I almost stepped on a monitor lizard's tail, and I scared the lizard, and he scared me, and we both ran away from each other.

I walk past this plant/tree thing all the time and it's my favorite. I think it looks like a bad hair day.So, sometimes I don't find the monkeys, but I always find something.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Bukit Timah

I've been doing research with Dr. Michael Gumert at Nanyang Technological University. He does research with long-tailed macaques, and he's been focusing on a group of monkeys at Bukit Timah, a nature reserve relatively close to our apartment. I've been going out there and getting to know the monkeys. As soon as I can identify all of the adults, who already have names, I'm going to start photographing and naming the juveniles, and after they're all identified, I can start collecting data. It'll take a while, but I'm not complaining, because I like to hang out with the monkeys.

The first time I went to Bukit Timah, Bryan came along, and we hiked up to the Bukit Timah summit, which is the highest point in Singapore. It was a fun hike, but there isn't a view from the top because there are so many trees.

The group of long-tailed macaques that we're focusing on includes about 50 monkeys, with about 25 adults. They have a range that is near the edge of the nature reserve- they're often seen hanging out by the visitor center, in the parking lot, at the apartments near the entrance to the nature reserve, and along the roads by there, as well as in a park adjacent to the nature reserve. Because they hang out on the outskirts, they're pretty habituated to human presence, and will get pretty close to humans. Although there are fines for feeding the monkeys, people do it anyway. Feeding the monkeys is bad for a couple of reasons- it makes them dependent on humans for food, and it can make them aggressive toward humans when they don't feed them, or when they are holding food. Plus most of the food that we eat isn't healthy for monkeys, and they are prone to some of the same health problems as humans- heart disease, tooth decay, etc. Okay, I'll get off my soapbox about feeding the monkeys, but it really is bad.

I've had a chance to get to know the monkeys a little bit, and it's been fun. One day, I saw a group of males climb a fence into the backyard of a condo, where some sheets were hanging out to dry. They pulled the clean white sheets off the line and dragged them around the dirty yard, and one of the adults wrapped a sheet around himself and sat on the fence looking pretty cozy. A few minutes later, a lady came out the back door and took a bewildered look at her formerly clean laundry and shouted "NAUGHTY MONKEYS!" before dragging it all back inside to start over.

The monkey sitting on the post is one of the adult females. Her name is Annette. I thought I'd post a photo of her so Annette W. could see her little monkey friend : ) Annette the person might like to know that Annette the monkey is very popular among the male monkeys, haha.

I love watching the juveniles romp around, tackling each other and screeching and pulling each other's tails. They look so much like little kids playing on a playground, it's uncanny. One day I was sitting on a log watching a group of young males. One male was hanging from a branch and a group of five was sitting at the bottom of the tree, tackling each other and chattering. They kept pushing a smaller one, and eventually he ran up to the tree, yanked the tail of the one hanging from the branch and pulled him out of the tree. The one that had been pulled out of the tree started chasing the other one, and pretty soon there was a little pile-up of monkeys rolling around on the grass. It made me think of recess in elementary school.

Some days it's hard to find the monkeys and I wander up and down the path that runs along the side of the nature reserve. Even when I don't find them, there's always something cool to look at- a monitor lizard effortlessly climbing a tree, some colorful flowers on the side of the path, or an abandoned building foundation being overgrown by weeds (not exciting for everyone, but if you know about my love of all things abandoned, you'll probably understand my enthusiasm). Of course, it's always best when I find the monkeys, especially when I see the moms cradling their little babies. The babies have a black natal coat and a long bald spot that goes down the middle of their heads and looks like a little reverse mohawk (you can kind of see it in the photos above). They look like adorable little old men. They spend most of their time clinging to their mothers' undersides, but every once in a while, they get brave and start to wander off. The momma monkeys never let them get far, and will tug them back by their tails if they get too adventurous. Infants are a prized commodity in macaque societies, and mothers without infants often try to get access to other mothers' infants- to touch them and hold them. In one of Dr. Gumert's previous research projects, he found that females without infants will often groom mothers in order to get access to their infants. It's kind of like a trade- some grooming in exchange for a little bit of contact with the infant. The picture above is Catherine sitting on a truck holding her infant. She holds her left hand awkwardly because she broke it once and it never healed properly.

I'm sure more monkey tales will be coming soon, and more high-quality photos will also be coming up, when I borrow Dr. Gumert's high tech camera. Mine is still full of sand from White Sands National Monument in New Mexico, hence the somewhat grainy photos.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

National Day Highlights

So I mentioned previously that National Day was last week and Bryan and I watched it on TV. The whole thing was pretty interesting, and I thought I'd share some of the highlights with you. There was a parade by the bay, and there were thousands of people there. The lucky ones that won the lottery were in a stadium and got to watch a huge show that took place after the parade. The show covered the history of Singapore, so it was pretty educational for us to watch. (For a hilarious and slightly ridiculous interpretation of Singapore history, watch this video by a local comedian. We didn't understand all the references, but it was still pretty funny.)

On National Day, we were playing a board game while passively watching the festivities, so we weren't paying very close attention. And then something happened that got us glued to the TV pretty quick. We heard "Breaking news. Singapore is under terrorist attack. There has been an attack at Marina Bay. Please stay tuned for more information." This announcement was followed by screaming. We were on our feet in a second; Bryan was at the window looking for signs of smoke or fire, and I was on the Internet, trying to find more information, silently hoping that my family wasn't watching the news in the U.S. It was a terrifying few seconds...until we realized that it was all a part of the National Day show. A display of Sinagpore's military power followed. I was not amused.

The other unique thing about Singapore's National Day is that each year they get a band to write a song especially for National Day. The video is played on TV and on the song is on the radio and playing in stores for the weeks leading up to the big day. This year's song was good- it's catchy and inspiring, and it appeals to people of all ages (I love it, and so does our realtor's son, who is 10). You can hear the song and watch the video here:

Anyway, the result is that by the time National Day rolls around, everyone knows all the words to the National Day song. So there is a parade, and then a big show, and it's all building up to this penultimate moment when the band performs the song. It's huge- everyone sings along, and it's a very empowering, patriotic moment in which it feels like the whole nation is happy and singing this song and really feeling united. After the song, at a preset time (8:22 pm) everyone says the pledge. Standing at the window in the apartment, I could hear some of the neighbors reciting the words along with the people on TV. It seemed like everyone walked away from the experience with a renewed sense of national pride, of feeling strong and banded together as Singaporeans. And I thought that it was a pretty clever of the government to arrange the National Day song and to work everything up to such an emotional moment. It seems like a cunning way to instill a sense of patriotism in the people.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

The Apartment!

I have finally taken some photos of the apartment to share with everyone. A word of warning- the photos aren't very high quality. I found it hard to take pictures of the place, maybe because of the lighting, but partly because it's always hard to get good pictures of a whole apartment, as it usually involves squishing yourself into an awkward corner.

This is, obviously, the front door. Like most of the local apartments, there's a gate at the door with a Chinese lock on it, which means that we have to use our keys both to get in and to get out. It seems like a bit of a safety hazard to me, probably because I'm constantly misplacing my keys.
In the event of a fire, FIND YOUR KEYS!

Anyway, here we go:

The living room. We got the place furnished, and the furniture is this beautiful set- rosewood with mother-of-pearl inlay. The photo with the bird is a closeup of the back of the couch. The floors are marble, which is apparently common in Singapore. The fancy furniture and marble floors sometimes make me feel like I'm lounging around a hotel lobby. As you can see, the fans are on full blast- air conditioning in Singapore is by the room, so the two bedrooms have air, but the rest of the place doesn't.
Wooden couch = pretty, not so comfortable

The picture of the buildings is the view from the living room windows. In the distance you can see some green- a nearby nature reserve. We're lucky to have such a great view. Lots of people can only see the apartment block right next to them.
The picture of the table is the dining area, which is off the kitchen and next to the living room. In the background, you can see the bright light, which is the balcony, and the doorway just past the table is the entrance to the master bedroom. The somewhat blurry picture below is the dining area again, and you can see the balcony and the entrance to the spare bedroom (that's for you when you come to visit, Mom & Dad!). The closed door to the left is locked and our landlords use it as a storage room for some furniture, so we don't have access to it. We saw what was in it before we moved in, though, so don't worry- no dead bodies!
A good table for Settlers of Catan!

Below are pictures of the kitchen. Some things in the kitchen are different than we're used to. The stove is gas and we have to switch out the gas tanks when we run out, and we have to call the gas man to bring us new tanks. You can see a glimpse of a bright blue tank under the silver stove. Ovens aren't standard in Singaporean kitchens, so we don't have one, but we do have a countertop toaster oven. It works fine for most things, but I suppose I won't be busting out homemade cookies or whipping up casseroles anytime in the next couple of years. The refrigerator is smaller than a full-sized refrigerator, and we also have a clothes washer in the kitchen (it's the large gray box on the right in the picture above- there's a bottle of Tide sitting next to it), but no dishwasher, and no clothes dryer (also not standard in Singapore). We hang our clothes out to dry on the balcony, which we're pretty lucky to have. Most people hang their clothes out on bamboo poles that fit into special slots outside of the windows. Some days it seems like there's laundry hanging all over the city. Also in the kitchen, we have a trash chute (or a rubbish chute, as they refer to it). It's nice not to have to take the trash outside, especially because we live on the 20th floor. People have warned us that cockroaches live in the trash chutes, and sometimes come out when you open them. I haven't seen one yet, but I'm still pretty wary of opening that little blue door. In the picture below, everything looks crooked, but that's because I took the picture with the panoramic setting on my camera so that I could get the whole kitchen in. It's actually a perfectly angular kitchen. Our landlord and landlady, who own our apartment, were kind enough to leave behind all of their kitchen supplies, so we hardly had to buy anything- just a coffee pot, since most people here drink instant coffee. Coffee grounds are less common and a little more expensive.

There's also a bathroom off of the kitchen. I'll explain more about the bathrooms below- they're a little different than they are in the U.S.
The pictures below show the master bedroom. It's air-conditioned, so it's always nice to go to sleep in a nice cool room after a crazy hot, humid day. The second picture is also the master bedroom. Throughout the apartment we have lots of storage space, and the bedroom is no different. It was really nice to not have to worry about acquiring furniture like dressers and beds, especially because we don't have a car.

We also have a bathroom attached to the master bedroom. As I was saying, the bathrooms are a little different here. There's a shower head mounted on the wall in the bathroom (see picture below), and there's no shower stall around the shower head. You basically stand in the bathroom in front of the shower head and shower in the whole bathroom. The bathroom door is a sliding door like you see in some showers. There is a drain in the floor (the white square in the picture) and the floor is angled so that the water drains into it. I felt a little exposed at first- just showering in the middle of a whole room- but I got used to it pretty quickly. Another different thing is that the water heater is mounted on the wall (that's what that white box is), and you have to turn it on. So, there's no hot water in any of the sinks, only in the showers, and then only if you turn on the hot water box. The water heats up as it goes through the box. That's also a little different, but it's more eco-friendly, since hot water heaters are always using energy to keep water hot, and in the U.S. they generally don't get turned off, even when people go on vacation. Here, the water heaters only use energy when they need to, which seems sensible to me.
The picture of the bed is the spare bedroom, which also has air conditioning. It still looks pretty plain- we're trying to find a good way to hang things on our textured walls without putting holes in them.

Next is our balcony. The grates on the balcony (and in the rest of the apartment) open up, and I think they're mostly there for safety because we're so high up; it's possible that they're also there to keep out birds. We did have a little baby lizard crawl in our window the other day, though! The picture of the buildings is the view from the balcony. The buildings in our area are mostly residential like ours- Housing and Development Bureau flats, regulated by the government. We live in a part of the city that doesn't have many foreigners. A lot of the expats live in the trendy (and expensive) Holland Village, but I like it here- it seems like a more authentic way to experience life in Singapore.

And finally, that's me hanging out in the living room one night, working on the blog. Anyway, that's the tour of the apartment! If you want a better tour, come on over and I'll give you one!

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Little India

While Bryan and I were still staying on Orchard Road, we made an excursion to Little India, mostly because I wanted to check out the food there. I was surprised at how much different Little India was from the rest of Singapore. It was very crowded- the sidewalks were packed with people and shops, and sometimes we just had to walk on the street. The streets were also pretty littered, which is uncommon in most of Singapore, especially in the areas that tourists frequent. In the very first store that we went into, we saw two mice, and in the next store, I turned a corner and was surprised by a pigeon flying directly at my face. It seems as though the boundary between "inside" and "outside" is pretty fluid in Little India.

With all of its quirks, Little India was a great place to visit. The streets smelled like fresh spices, and the shops were full of all sorts of colorful and beautiful things- whole shops full of bangle bracelets, others packed with vividly colored bolts of cloth, stalls selling tropical fruits and strands of fresh flowers. We stopped into a shop and bought some super cheap spices (bags of cumin, coriander, turmeric, garam masala, black mustard seeds, and more- for less than $5 USD total). And of course, there was food everywhere- little streetside stands with snacks like curry puffs and vegetable pakora, and larger restaurants with full menus. We went into one of the restaurants and had some of the best Indian food I've ever had. Bryan and I each got thalis, which are big meals that are often served at traditional Indian weddings (that's my vegetarian meal above). While we were enjoying our huge meals, we had a chance to take in our surrundings a little bit- the restaurant was beautifully decorated, and we were sitting in front of a huge mural of Ganesh, the Hindu god with an elephant head. There was a TV on in the background, playing videos of Indian musicals.

After lunch, we walked around town and found this super colorful little temple. It wasn't open but we hung around outside and snapped a few pictures. The little place had a big name- the Sri Veeramakaliamman Temple. It's dedicated to the Hindu goddess Kali, the dark and violent goddess who is often portrayed holding up severed heads or wearing a necklace of skulls.

As we walked through Little India, I felt like a lot of people were staring at us, and I assumed it was just because we're white and therefore we stick out sometimes. Later, Bryan pointed out that it was only the men that were staring, and they weren't really paying him any attention. Since then, at the market and while walking aroung town, I've often felt like I was being stared at by Indian men in particular (note: I get stared at a lot by a variety of people, because I'm often doing something out of the norm, like sweating profusely, which Singaporeans don't seem to do, or breaking the rules in the produce section at the grocery store, which is a whole other story. So I attract some attention sometimes, but I feel like a large proportion of that attention comes from Indian men). Anyway, I consulted the travel book, which I would be lost without, and it said that a lot of Indian men are in the habit of ogling Western women, which actually made me feel a little better. I was starting to wonder if there was something wrong with me.

On another subject entirely, as I was writing this blog, I heard a crazy ruckus outside so I got up and looked out the window and there was a parade-like procession marching down the street. I was watching and trying to figure out what the occassion was when I noticed a casket being carried on a litter by several men walking behind a band playing music. I'm not sure if this is a typical practice for funerals in Singapore, but I'll look into it.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Happy 44th Birthday, Singapore!

In honor of National Day, which is today, I thought I'd share the Singaporean flag with everyone. The white on the bottom stands for purity and virtue; the red on top for universal brotherhood and equality. The waxing moon represents a young nation on the rise and the five stars stand for five of the nations values: peace, progress, justice, equality, and democracy. The flags have been flying outside of flats all over the city as everyone has gotten all psyched up for National Day. There was a parade and a huge show with fireworks and singing and dancing and skydivers and more. Apparently you had to enter a lottery months ago in order to get tickets, so we stayed home and watched it on TV, but it was pretty impressive nonetheless.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Chinese Garden

As I mentioned, Bryan and I got an apartment, and we've been pretty busy settling in. I know that people want to see pictures of the place, and I'll get some up soon, I promise. I just want everything to be put away before I take pictures. We're getting there.

We've had a chance to do some exploring around our apartment, and the coolest thing we've found so far is that we're a mere 15-minute walk from the beautiful Chinese Garden. The garden is located on an island in the middle of Jurong Lake, and you walk across a bridge to get to it. A separate island next to the Chinese Garden has the Japanese Garden, but we haven't explored that yet, mostly because we got caught up in the first garden and spent a lot of time there. Apparently the gardens together take up 13.5 hectares, which I guess is a lot, but I actually have no clue what a hectare is. As soon as you walk into the Chinese Garden, you're confronted by this striking seven-story pagoda (which I unfailingly pronounce as "padoga," making myself sound like a fool). It has a neat spiral staircase on the inside, and we went all the way to the top and checked out the view. We could see our apartment building from up there, so that was pretty exciting. I love buildings that have traditional Chinese architecture- the curved roofs and carvings on the doorways and things, so I really enjoyed all of the buildings in the garden...even the door handles.

Within the garden was an area that featured bonsai arrangements. We read a little bit about it when we were there. I've always been amazed at how much bonsai trees and arrangements look like smaller versions of things that occur in nature- trees look like mini versions of real trees, rock arrangements look like small mountain ranges. The information we read said that's actually the point of the ancient art, which shows how little I knew about it. It's an art that the Chinese learned from the Japanese, and the Chinese version is called penjing, not bonsai. Some of the arrangements in the garden were as old as 300 years. It seems strange to think that the care of these plants has been passed down through generations- it's pretty awe-inspiring. The penjing arrangements were in a garden with several really neat buildings and a koi pond. The koi swam right up to us- apparently they've grown used to having people feed them. We were a disappointment though, because we had no food, and eventually they lost interest and swam off. It was all so peaceful- colorful fish and bubbling waterfalls and charming buildings and beautiful plants without many people around. I felt like we'd wandered far out of the city, but we were really only a few blocks from our apartment. It was nice to get away for awhile. (Below is a picture of Bryan in the area with the bonsai- I think he looks like Da Vinci's Vitruvian Man, haha).

There was a series of sculptures in the garden as well, portraying important figures in Chinese history. I was a little ashamed of my lack of history knowledge when I only recognized two of the names (Confucius and Mulan), and I only knew one because of a Disney movie. The picture on the left is Confucius, looking very wise indeed.

But I've saved the most exciting part for last. As we walked around the garden, we started seeing signs for the "Live Turtle and Tortoise Museum". Those of you who know me well know how I feel about turtles. For those of you who don't, I have a childlike adoration for all things turtle-associated. I get giddy about turtles; I think they are fascinating and cute and funny-looking and I love them. Needless to say, I was pretty excited about the idea of a gigantic turtle oasis fifteen minutes from my apartment. I was not disappointed. The museum is in the Guinness Book of World Recordsas having the largest collection of turtles anywhere in the world. The collection includes things like jade turtle figurines and turtles made out of seashells in addition to the substantial collection of live turtles. It was a quirky little place, and I loved it. I had a fabulous time, and I think Bryan enjoyed it too. At the very least, I think he enjoyed watching me act like a 5-year old at a playground. For me, the highlights were 1) pig-nosed turtles, which are hilarious-looking 2) an albino red-eared slider and 3) a pond literally teeming with turtles, which you can feed with turtle food. When you walk over the bridge where people stand to feed the turtles, they pretty much swarm it. The turtles try to climb on top of each other to get to the food, and their shells all clack together. It's so cute and kind of funny to watch. I fed the turtles and they were very eager (I even got my finger munched on, which was mostly my fault). Bryan told me I looked a little bit like a turtle goddess being worshipped by my loyal subjects.

All in all, it was a pretty fabulous day. I'm really excited to have such an awesome place so close to where we live. Hopefully we'll be going back soon.

Tomorrow is Singapore's National Day, so I think we're going to try to venture out to enjoy some of the festivities. I expect that public transit might be rather nightmarish tomorrow, but we'll give it our best shot.

Picture of the apartment are coming soon, I promise!

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Central Catchment Nature Reserve

So this first week has been jam-packed full of fun and exciting new things, and I'm way behind. Most importantly, Bryan and I found an apartment!! It's lovely, it's a bargain, and I'll hold off on any other details until I have pictures to share. We're both really excited to move in tomorrow, which is also Bryan's first day at his new job!! He's excited to get started with that too.

The other day we went hiking at the Central Catchment Nature Reserve. We started out at MacRitchie Reservoir Park and hiked a 6-mile loop that included a treetop walk, which is basically like a suspension bridge up in the tree canopy. It's supposed to allow you to see different kinds of wildlife because of the unique vantage point, but all we really saw were a couple of little birds and some huge black bugs. The view itself was really cool though- lots of lush green, with the skyscrapers far off in the distance. It was kind of a strange juxtaposition- it felt like we were in the middle of the wilderness, but from the tress, we could see the city.

Our travel guidebook had pretty much promised that we would see monkeys in the area, so we weren't too surprised when we heard screeching up in the trees. We looked up and saw our first group of long-tailed macaques swinging and jumping through the trees. We got to see them grooming each other and we even got to see an adorable little baby clinging on to her mother. We were so occupied watching the ones up in the tress that I hardly noticed a strange sound behind me. I turned around and saw a male, noticeably larger than the others, sitting on a low branch very near the trail. I got the feeling that he didn't like having us around, so we didn't stay there much longer. It didn't matter though, we saw many more monkeys throughout the day- I was surprised at how unafraid some were of humans. We saw several right in the middle of the trail, and when people stopped to take pictures, the monkeys were totally unconcerned, sometimes even moving closer to the people. It was really exhilarating to get to be so close to the monkeys as they went about their business- eating fruit from the trees, and swinging on vines, but it was sad to think that their wilderness is so infiltrated by humans that they've become totally desensitized to us.Aside from the monkeys we saw lots of other wildlife: 11 clouded monitor lizards (one before we even got on the trail! We even got to see one chasing another- the picture to the right is a monitor), a bunch of plantain squirrels, a common tree shrew, a garden supple skink, a common sun skink (we're really getting our money's worth out of our wildlife book), and various other unidentified animals, including a bright red snake that I have been unable to identify, despite exhaustive Google searches (any ideas? It was bright red with a yellow stripe down its side, and it was rather small- about as big around as two shoelaces laid side by side).

The other notable wildlife sighting happened just after the treetop walk. I heard something rustle in the leaves and looked down just in time to see something furry disappear under the boardwalk I was standing on. Although I didn't see what it was, the sound drew my attention to the leaves next to my feet. Sitting perfectly still, coiled around a leaf stem, was a miniature green snake with red and yellow bands. Its bright colors and triangular head warned me to keep my distance, but I snapped a few pictures (left) and, of course, busted out the wildlife book. Turns out, it was (don't freak out, Mom and Dad) a juvenile Wagler's pit viper, a highly venomous species of snake. Before Bryan and I had figured out what it was, I had pointed it out to a passing family, and the young son had gotten dangerously close to it, snapping pictures with his phone. I was relieved that the snake never moved; apparently they're notoriously lethargic in the afternoons.

By the time our hike was over, we were exhausted. We've been walking a lot since we got here- every time we want food, we have to walk around Orchard in search of someplace reasonably priced, and there are, of course, the daily treks back and forth from the MRT. So, the hike was piled on top of our daily walking regimen, and we were tired and hungry. We got American food (pasta for me and a sandwich for Bryan...surprisingly tasty after a stint of Asian food) on our way back to our room. We took it back with us, and chowed down while watching some TV (the news and MTV China, my new obsession), and I was fast asleep by 9 pm. I'm still working on this whole jet lag thing...