Tuesday, September 29, 2009


Bryan and I have done lots of sightseeing since we got here two months ago, and I thought it was about time to share some of the stuff we've seen. We've been to the riverfront a few times, and it's a great place to eat lunch. There are a bunch of outdoor restaurants, and it's great to sit outside by the river and watch the little tour boats go by. The only annoying part is that when you walk along the riverfront, you have to walk by all the restaurants and at most of them, someone walks up to you and tries to get you to eat there, showing you the menu, telling you the specials, and generally just being relentless. This is especially irritating for me, because I'm usually making a beeline for the vegetarian-friendly Indian places, and I don't want to be harangued by places where you can point at a fish in a tank and they'll cook it up for you- that's not my thing. Anyway, to the left is a picture of the riverfront. The photo on the right is Bryan at the riverfront. Behind him is the Fullerton Hotel, which is also below- see the American flag on the left?
Not far from the riverfront is the Esplanade, a huge arts complex that's designed to look like a gigantic durian. You can go up to the roof of the Esplanade and see downtown Singapore all around you. That's what we did, and of course as soon as we got up there, my camera battery died. But the view was fabulous, and I'd like to go back sometime with the new and improved camera and a full battery.We also made an excursion to the Asian Civilizations Museum. The museum was great, but it was huge and we didn't end up seeing all of it. We did show up just in time for a performance of a traditional Indonesian tribe's dance performance, so that was pretty neat. The museum has a huge collection of Buddha figures, and we liked looking at those- it's always fascinating to me to see how many different depictions there can be of Buddha- the laughing Buddha with the big belly is in sharp contrast to the thin Buddha adorned with jewelry and all sorts of ornaments. There were also exhibits of traditional attire from a number of different Asian regions, and some of the jewelry was really intricate and beautiful. My favorite exhibit was the one on loan from Raffles Museum of Biodiversity Research- it was a lot of animal specimens collected in and around Singapore, many of which, like tigers, have since gone locally extinct. Below are a couple pictures from the museum- a statue that I really liked and a washed out one of me and Bryan that I think is neat because of the weird reflection of my face that you can see in the upper left corner.So that's some of the sightseeing we've been up to- I'm sure there's more to come!

Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve

To continue with our tour of every nature reserve in the country, Bryan and I went to Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve, in northwestern Singapore. We tried to take a taxi, but it seemed as though every taxi in the city was occuppied (it was a national holiday- Hari Raya...I'm still not sure what the holiday is, but I'll fill you in once I look into it). So we took the MRT to Kranji and then got on a bus. When you take a bus for the first time, it's always a little confusing, becuase you don't know exactly where to get off or exactly where the bus stops. Normally I would just ask the bus driver to let us know when we got to the right stop, but this particular bus driver seemed to have a personal grievance with everyone on that bus, and was driving as though he intended to kill us all, so I thought it would be best to leave him alone. When Bryan and I saw a sign for the reserve, we got off the bus and then discovered that we were in the middle of nowhere, so we headed off in the direction we thought we should go. It was actually a nice walk, and we saw lots of lizards along the way, including the male (above) and female (below) changeable lizards below. Apparently the males are only this brightly colored during mating season. The black splotch on the neck is also a signal that's only visible during mating season. And the female is eating a grasshopper!
Eventually we found a restaurant and stopped to get something to drink. It was just a random place along a road in the middle of nowhere, but they had the best root beer floats I've ever had in my life. After our super delicious floats, we got back on our way, and found the reserve after only a few more minutes of walking. The reserve is mainly wetland and mangrove habitat, with lots of migratory birds, lizards, fish, and probably snakes, although we didn't see any. When we first walked in, we saw a huge water monitor. We've only seen a water monitor once before, and it was only a baby, so we were totally enthused to see this huge one. Water monitors are so strange- they're huge, and I really think they look like dinosaurs. By the end of the day, we'd seen so many that we weren't even taking photos anymore. We even saw one eating a big fish! These are some of the best photos:There were little hides distributed throughout the park and you could hang out in them and watch the wildlife. When we walked into the first hide, we looked around and didn't see much and then Bryan said "Nothing to see here; let's keep going." That was when I looked over the side and spotted a massive monitor right below us. Bryan and I play a game where we see who can spot the most lizards (or deer, in the U.S.), so sometimes it leads to one of us (me...I'm the loud one) pointing and shouting "TWENTY-ONE!!!!" which probably makes us look crazy to the people around us. Sungei Buloh was record-breaking though; together we'd seen more than 80 lizards by the end of the day, and we had even given up the game because we were surrounded by monitors toward the end. But, for the record, I won. Anyway, here's Bryan peeking out from one of the hides, trying to spot some lizards so he could catch up to my score. We saw a couple of monitor lizards and birds from inside the hides, but mostly we just saw tons of crabs. There were cute little crabs all over the placeLater, as we were walking along the path, we spotted this guy in the water- an estuarine crocodile!So it was a fun-filled day, mostly of reptiles (we did see birds and fish and even a monkey, too). And yes, for those of you that have asked, Bryan and I do, in fact, go places other than the middle of the wilderness, and I will do my best to post some of these more "civilized" locations soon. But for now, enjoy the lizards!

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Symphony in the Park

A couple weekends ago, we met up with some people from Bryan's work at the Singapore Botanical Garden to see the Singapore Symphony Orchestra perform. Apparently the orchestra does this from time to time, as part of a series called "SSO Classics in the Park." The orchestra performs from the Shaw Foundation Symphony Stage (which looks like a giant clam), and the audience sits on a hill that provides pretty much perfect stadium seating. It was a great atmosphere- families and friends sitting on blankets on the grass, picnicking and drinking wine, surrounded by beautiful flowers and lovely music, and it wasn't even as hot as usual!

The pieces were mostly ones that I've heard played by plenty of American orchestras- composers like Dvorak, Mendelssohn, and Debussy. Interestingly, the only piece by an Asian composer was "Rhapsody for Orchestra" by Yuzo Toyama. The composition had a variety of influences, including Japanese Kabuki theater and old Japanese folk songs. It was great, but I think I enjoyed "Clair de lune" just as much- I guess, like a lot of people, I always enjoy music that I recognize.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Pulau Ubin

On Saturday, Bryan and I went on a little excursion. We took the MRT to Pasir Ris (the end of the line) and then got a taxi to the Changi Village Ferry Station, where we got on a bumboat to Pulau Ubin, a nearby island. Public transportation is insanely cheap here- it was only S$2 to take the MRT from one side of Singapore to the other, and the boat ride was only S$2.50. Below are some pictures of the ride over.Pulau (Malay for island) Ubin is technically a part of Singapore, but it's very different. There's no electricity, so the few residents of the island use diesel generators. Most of the island is wilderness, and a lot of people rent bikes from the little village to explore the area. We decided to venture around on foot so that we would be more likely to see some of the resident wildlife. It was lucky that we decided to walk- we ended up walking through a pretty garden with name placards for all of the plants. We saw coffee, ginger, bananas, and something called "Midnight Horror". We also spotted this baby Malayan water monitor right away, perched on the side of an old well. Water monitors are different from the clouded monitors that Bryan and I have seen before. Water monitors can grow to over two meters long, and are among the largest lizards in the world. As their name implies, they spend a lot of time in the water, but like the much smaller clouded monitors, they're also excellent at climbing trees. This one was very young, so he wasn't that big, but it was still really exciting to see one of these guys in the wild. In the second picture, you can see his black forked tongue flicking out.After seeing some wildlife so early in our walk, we were pretty optimistic about our prospects for the rest of the day, and we weren't disappointed. We saw a skink shortly after this, and pretty soon we started catching sight of huge, brightly colored spiders that we later identified as golden wed spiders. The first time we found one it was because I walked directly into its home and ended up with a mouthful of spiderweb. Delicious. Before too long, we started hearing crashing sounds in the woods around us. Although we didn't see anything, we suspected that we might be near the wild boar that our guidebook had warned us about. Sure enough, before long, we caught sight of a huge mama with a bunch of piglets trailing along behind her. We didn't see them very well, as they were obscured by the dense foliage, but we thought it was pretty neat to have seen them at all. We emerged onto a wider path, and saw them standing a ways down- the mom with only two of her piglets. We froze for a second and Bryan snapped a couple of pictures, but when the mom took a couple of intimidating steps toward us, we thought it wise to get out of there. We ended up seeing wild boar two more times that day- once at the wetland reserve at the end of the island, and again on the walk back.On the way to the wetland, we stumbled upon something that I got very excited about...an abandoned building! On the road, someone had written some warnings in rather poor English ("Die Sure!!") with arrows pointing toward the building. Of course, we went and checked it out anyway. One of the things I really like about abandoned things is how nature starts to overtake them before long- plants start to grow through the cracks in the floor, vines climb the walls, etc. Here, in the middle of such lush wilderness, this house was certainly already being reclaimed by the surrounding forest, even though there was still furniture and even some clothes left inside. That's another reason I like forgotten places like this one- it's always interesting to think about why the building is there: Did someone live there? When? Why did they leave? Sometimes things are left behind- a little girls shoe or an old, tattered book- that give you hints about what the inhabitants of the building- it's like modern-day anthropology. Abandoned buildings are rare in Singapore, where space is such a commodity, so I took this one in for awhile, knowing that it might be the last one that I see for a bit.After taking a rather circuitous route, we finally got to the wetland reserve. The visitor center there was a beautiful old Tudor-style home from the era when Singapore was a British colony. The home boasted what a sign said is "likely the only working fireplace in Singapore." I had to wonder what the Brits were thinking. Just looking at it made me feel hotter. The visitor center had a great view of the ocean and we even found a snake (a striped brozeback- the first of two that we saw that day) hanging out in the backyard. The below pictures are the visitor center, the snake (obviously), and me and Bryan out on a walkway on the ocean, in back of the visitor center.Throught the day, we kept encountering these odd-looking creatures. Bryan thought they might be mudskippers, but said he's never seen ones this large before. I was totally baffled and halfway convinced that we'd discovered the evolutionary ancestor of the frog. Turns out Bryan was right (as usual haha). They were indeed mudskippers- giant mudskippers to be exact- and are actually a type of fish with some bizarre adaptations that enable them to breathe and get around out of water. Very strange.
We finally started to head back to the bumboat to go home. It was a long walk, but we saw some more wildlife on the way back, including this hornbill and this very vicious-looking (but dead) scorpion, so it was worth it. We thought about getting dinner on the island but the few open-air restaurants weren't exactly vegetarian-friendly (lots and lots of seafood), so we headed back to the mainland and got the first decent Mexican food we've had in Asia- at a place called Tequila Blue in Changi Village. It was quite a day, and after the long MRT ride, it was nice to finally get home and kick back.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

A Belated Introduction

I recently realized that I had never written a basic introduction to Singapore. If you're anything like me, when you first heard that I was moving here, you probably weren't quite sure where it was. In fact, I spent several days telling people that I was moving to Singapore, in Malaysia. As it turns out, Singapore is not in Malaysia at all. It is located in Southeast Asia, directly below peninsular Malaysia, which is directly below Thailand. Singapore is so small that it doesn't really show up in the map below, but the arrow points to where it is. Singapore is an island nation, and one of the world's few city-states (Monaco and Vatican City are two others).A few quick facts about Singapore- the island itself is about 26 miles wide and 14 miles top to bottom, about 271 square miles total- approximately three and a half times the size of Washington, D.C. In that 271 square miles, there are over 4 and a half million people, making it one of the most densely populated cities in the world. The people of Singapore are from a variety of different backgrounds- the majority (over three-quarters) are Chinese, 14% of the population is Malay, and about 8% Indian.

Because Singapore was previously a British colony, the official language of Singapore is English, and it is used for all business and education purposes. However, the Singaporean version of English isn't quite like the English that Bryan and I are so familiar with- our accents sound different from the ones we're surrounded by everyday, and Singaporeans use some words we don't know- Singaporean English is so distinct that it's often referred to as "Singlish." For example, Singaporeans often use words such as "lah," "lor," and "lai dat" for emphasis, as in, "This food is very good lah." Also, Singaporeans seem to truncate words, especially when they end in consonants. So, if a Singaporean is saying the word "sidewalk," it might sound to me like they are saying "sidewah." This has led to a variety of hilarious interactions for me, in which I say "What? Excuse me? Can you repeat yourself?" about 20 times while people smile and shake their heads. So it goes.

Since English is the offiicial language of business, most people (but not everyone) speak it, and they often speak another language as well. Mandarin is the most common, followed by Malay, Hokkien, Cantonese, and Tamil. The abundance of languages results in signs that say the same thing multiple times in different languages, like the one below:Singapore is an established country with a stable economy, and it is still rapidly developing. Construction is going on all over the place- one local comedian jokes "Singapore's a great city- I can't wait to see what it looks like when they finish it!" One perk of living here is that it has one of the lowest crime rates in the entire world, which is likely due in part to its notorious and severe punishments for breaking the law. There are hefty fines for offenses like littering or eating on the MRT. For more serious offenses such as stealing and vandalism, one can be sentenced to a caning. And for drug smuggling, the penalty is death. Singapore's harsh punishments received international attention in 1994 after American teenager Michael P. Fay was sentenced to a caning after vandalizing cars, stealing signs, and generally acting like a spoiled rotten little brat. Everyone freaked out about the sentence, which included jail time in addition to the caning. After many appeals, Michael was excused from his jail time, and the number of cane strokes that he was to receive was reduced from 12 to four. In my opinion, he should have paid the full cost for his crime- if you go to another country, you agree to abide by their rules, regardless of how harsh they are. And as I said, he was being a brat anyway, and making a bad name for Americans abroad. OK, off the soapbox.

Due to the diversity of Singapore's population, there are a number of religions represented here-slightly less than half the population is Buddhist, 15% are Muslim, 9% are Taoist, and 4% Hindu. In fact, our flat is smack in the middle of Singapore's religious panoply- there is a mosque across the street, a Hindu temple in the other direction, and a Tao temple behind our building. Of course, each of the unique cultures represented in Singapore brings along its own food, and we've eaten some delicious meals since we got here- Indian is the favorite of both Bryan and me, but we've also eaten Middle Eastern food (see my tasty meal below, from Al-Hamra in Holland Village), Chinese, Thai, Japanese, Western, and even some attempts at Mexican food (we're pretty hard to please in that department, after having lived an hour from Mexico).A few more random facts- all males in Singapore are required to complete two years in the military. Almost all of the food in Singapore is imported from somewhere else. The temperature doesn't change much throughout the year and hovers right around UNBEARABLY HOT. Haha, just kidding- it's usually in the 80's, but the sun beats down (we're close to the equator), and the humidity is insanely high- often above 90%. There are some areas of primary rainforest remaining in Singapore, but there used to be a lot more before the wheels of progress started turning here. And there are several smaller islands off of Singapore, such as Sentosa and Pulau Ubin, that are part of Singapore.

So that's the overview! Let me know if you have any questions about Singapore- I know more about it than I ever thought I would. It's hard to believe that just a few short months ago, I was so confident that it was in Malaysia!

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

A New Look

I've changed the format of the blog because I disliked how the previous format squeezed everything into the middle of the screen. This format will work better for all of the pictures that I post. However, if you look back through the blog, the new template affected the formatting of previous posts, so some of the pictures are out of order. I'll probably fix it eventually, but for now it looks a little disorganized. Sorry about that.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Japanese Garden

Last weekend, Bryan and I went and hung out at the Japanese Garden for awhile. The Japanese Garden is near the Chinese Garden. Both are on islands, and they're connected by bridges. We walked through the Chinese Garden on our way, and found this little sculpture garden that we hadn't seen before. It had statues of all of the Chinese zodiac animals, and we walked around and found our own zodiac symbols. I was born in 1984, the year of the rat. According to the Chinese astrology, those born in the year of the rat are energetic, talkative, charming, witty, curious, and perceptive about social situations. Also, rats are supposedly prone to aggression. I don't really buy into astrology (at all), so I'll let you decide if you think the description suits me. The picture below is me pretending to be a rat : )
Bryan was born in 1975, the year of the rabbit. Rabbits are thought to be sensitive, creative, compassionate, friendly, stylish, and non-confrontational. I think the stylish part is particularly humorous, considering the tattered cut-off jean shorts Bryan is wearing in this picture, haha. Rabbits are also described as outgoing, while Bryan is more of an introvert. Apparently Bryan doesn't fit the mold of the typical rabbit, but he is very creative and compassionate. Below is Bryan with the cute bunny statue.When we crossed into the Japanese Garden, we found a picturesque little pond with a lot of pink and purple water lilies growing in it. They were very pretty, and they reminded me a lot of the Boundary Waters, which made me smile. It's hard to believe that I had just left the Boundary Waters at this time last year! It seems like a lifetime ago.
Then we found turtles!! There are three of them sitting on the rock in the water. These little ponds are everywhere throughout both of the gardens, and they're all full of wildlife- turtles, koi fish, and all sorts of fun stuff. I liked this pond because it was surrounded by these big boulders and there was a bright red bridge that went across the middle of it.And finally, we stopped by yet another lovely pond to read for awhile, and Bryan sneaked a couple of photos of me being nerdy. We didn't read for long- we kept getting distracted by the pond's wildlife- dragonflies landing on my toes, a turtle poking its head out of the water near us, and fish darting in and out of sight. All in all, it was a very peaceful afternoon.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Silly Signs

In the time that we've been here, we've noticed some unusual signs, and we thought it would be fun to share some of them with you. We thought that Bryan's mom might especially enjoy these, since she has an interest in quirky signage. The plan is to keep collecting silly sign pictures so that we can try to post them regularly.

This first one is posted in the Buona Vista MRT station, where Bryan gets off to go to work. As you can see, there are lots of rules for riding the MRT, and there are pretty serious fines for breaking the rules. My favorite is the "no durian" restriction. Durians are a fruit and they're banned from the MRT because they really, really smell. They're usually sold already cut and sliced, and wrapped in saran wrap to keep the odor under control. We haven't tried them yet, but we have definitely caught a few whiffs of their distinctive aroma.
The next one is Bryan's favorite. He really gets a kick out of it, but I guess I don't quite get it. Anyway, a raised zebra crossing is a pedestrian crossing that's raised up like a speed bump. It's striped like a zebra too, hence the name. It is not, in fact, a crossing for wild zebras.The sign below says "CLIFF EDGE DANGER DO NOT GO BEYOND THIS POINT"
And, of course, that's me, going beyond that point. My favorite is the person flailing on the sign...the cliff really isn't that steep.
This one's one of my favorites. It's at Bukit Timah, where I study the monkeys. As I mentioned before, the monkeys often do get fed by humans, and it does make them more aggressive, which I learned the hard way the other day. I had wandered away from the monkeys to have some lunch. I walked far enough that I was sure they wouldn't notice me having a sandwich. However, I failed to spot the big male (the monkey that we call Stumpy due to his irregularly short tail. He's second in the male dominance hierarchy) that had silently stalked along with me. As I pulled out my sandwich, he was suddenly right there, coming toward me and making aggression displays. I hid my sandwich behind my notebook and walked backwards with my eyes down (standard protocol for trying to avoid an aggressive monkey confrontation). He kept coming at me, and pretty soon, I was running backwards. I ended up scarfing down the sandwich and he left me alone once it was gone. I guess next time I'll be more careful to conduct a full-scale monkey search before trying to have a snack. Anyway, the sign is right- once the monkeys learn that people are food sources, they will get aggressive in an effort to get you to surrender your tasty treats.

This next sign kind of freaked us out the first time we saw it. Bryan and I were hiking at MacRitchie Reservoir when we saw a big fenced-in compound with this sign hanging on the fence. That was intimidating in itself, but nearby were some heavily armed military men, and that made us a lot more wary. Since then I've seen the sign in lots of places, and I don't think it's scary anymore; although, I certainly won't be trespassing in any of these areas.
The urination sign is in the stairwell of an HDB complex near ours. I saw the sign one day when I was walking to the MRT station, and I walked up to get a picture of it. Hilariously enough, on the steps near the sign was a big wet puddle. I'm not sure if it was pee, but I'm guessing that there's a good chance that it was.
The next one is a street sign that we found by the riverside. Yay Canton! It was nice to see a reminder of home, even on the other side of the world (Canton, OH is my hometown).This picture was taken at a beauty parlor at a bus station (bus stations and MRT stations have a lot of weird services). My niece's name is Bella, so I thought this sign was just perfect. And finally, this sign is our building. Home, sweet home! This picture and the zebra crossing picture were taken with our snazzy new camera, so the quality is way better. I'll still be posting pictures taken from the old cameras because I'm behind on the blogging, but pretty soon I'll have some more of these crisp, high-quality photos instead of the grainy ones from my sand-filled camera.