Saturday, May 29, 2010

Orchard Road at Night

Orchard Rd is always a sight to see at night, with all the fluorescent lights and towering buildings.  ION Orchard is the centerpiece of the show, with its futuristic shape and ever-changing light display.  Nearby Wheelock Place looks pretty cool during the day, but I think ION almost eclipses it at night.
I've admired this towering pagoda skyscraper since we first saw Orchard Road, back in July of 2009.  It's a fun nod to Asian history and culture, smack in the middle of the most modern place in S'pore. Recently, I figured out that it's the Singapore Marriott Hotel.  It seems like the place to stay if you're headed to Orchard Road to do some serious shopping and you have plenty of money to blow- it's directly across from ION Orchard and all of its designer stores.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

BiodiverCity Photo Exhibition

As a part of the celebration of the International Year of Biodiversity, NParks held a photo competition in March.  I was pretty bummed that Bryan and I couldn't participate because the contest was only open to citizens and permanent residents, but so it goes.  The results are up now, and some of the photos are truly amazing.  You can see a feature of the photos here, but make sure that you scroll down- there's a gray down arrow at the bottom of the photos that's a little hard to see.  Be sure to check out the Open Category Grand Prize winner, Steven Tor's amazing photo of an otter in action.  If you're Singaporean (that is, if you have an NRIC number), you can vote on the photos as part of a voter's choice round of the competition.  Just by voting, you become eligible for some pretty cool prizes, like a new iPod Touch!

In addition to the web feature, there's also an exhibition of the photos going on Orchard Road, outside Mandarin Gallery.  The exhibition features 55 photos selected from the more than 2,200 entries received by NParks.  It will run from now until June 20th.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

2010 Summer Youth Olympic Games

The 2010 Summer Youth Olympic Games will be held here in Singapore this summer. The Youth Olympic Village will be at Nanyang Technological University. The country has been gearing up for it for months, with banners, flags, signs, and countdowns all over the place. There's even a Youth Olympic Games song that has been playing over and over again, on TV and sometimes in stores. It is IRRESISTIBLY CATCHY, and after you hear it, you'll probably spend the rest of the day repeating "Oh yeah, oh yeah, oh yeah, HEY! Oh yeah, oh yeah, oh yeah, HO!" over and over in your head until you feel like you're about to go insane. At least that's what I do. Anyway, enjoy it.  The song is called "You Are the One, Singapore" and it's written and performed by local artist JJ Lin.

It reminded me of the 2009 National Day song, which also got stuck in my head all the time (maybe I have a problem). I still really like the song, "What Do You See," which was performed by a local band called Electrico. I know that some people thought it was cheesy, but it still gives me goosebumps every time I hear it.  You can see it here:

I watched the second video, but in my head I'm still saying "Oh yeah, oh yeah, oh yeah, HEY!!!!"

Monday, May 24, 2010


I have a new obsession, and it is a restaurant on Orchard Rd called Marché.  It's a Swiss restaurant that we went to with friends a few weeks ago, and I think it is AWESOME.  It's in 313@somerset, and it's right next to the Somerset MRT station.  It's got an unusual setup.  When you walk in, you're handed a card, like a credit card.  Then you get up and walk around to pick out your food, and every time you pick something, they swipe your card to charge it.  There are all these different stations: vegetables, bouillabaisse, pasta, drinks, crepes, rosti, paella, salad, soup, bread, seafood, drinks, a grill, and a huge dessert station with a chocolate fondue fountain.  I'm not usually a fan of buffet style restaurants, but this is different, I think because the food is freshly prepared, and you can have things specifically prepared to your tastes.  The first time we were there I went crazy for the rosti, a freshly prepared potato pancake with sour cream.  It was total comfort food, and not good for you at all, but I tell you what, it was delicious.  I also had some cream of broccoli soup, and I don't dish out compliments like this very often, but it tasted just like the soup my mom makes.
Bryan and I went back again and had some more awesome food.  This time we also shared a freshly prepared crepe with fresh strawberries and chocolate sauce and it was amazing.  The best part about the huge restaurant is the decor.  Seriously, there are animatronics, and we all know how I feel about those.  There's a St Bernard and a bunch of sheep, and one of the animatronic sheep is sucking its mother's teat.  It is, without a doubt, the weirdest animatronic I have ever seen and I love it.  The whole place has a very rustic feel, with exposed wood and Swiss mountain scenes painted on the walls.  Sitting off to one side is an antique sleigh.
 It's also really family friendly, with a play area for little ones, a baby formula warming station, and balloons for the kids to take home.  In addition to being a restaurant, it's also a market where you can pick up fresh fruits, vegetables, and homemade baked goods.  It's so much different than other restaurants that we've been to here, and something about it really reminds me of the U.S., which is so nice.  I love love love it.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

A Word on the Monkeys

People have been complaining more and more about the Hindhede monkeys and their wanderings outside the borders of Bukit Timah.  I don't understand what people expect- Bukit Timah isn't a zoo, and they can't keep the monkeys inside.  They're wild animals.  Anyway, I'm hoping that people might be willing to give NParks some POSITIVE feedback about the monkeys.  If you've been to Bukit Timah lately and enjoyed watching the monkeys' antics, or had fun photographing them, or got a laugh out of watching the little ones play, then send NParks a message, telling them how much you like the monkeys.  You can give them feedback on their website at this address.
Also, on a separate note, if you DON'T like the monkeys, then don't move in anywhere near Bukit Timah.  Real estate agents and condo owners seem to fail to mention the monkey problem to people looking to live near Bukit Timah- at Angsana, Raintree, South Haven, Le Wood, or the new Mont Timah.  These places all have problems with the monkeys- the monkeys snatch plastic grocery bags, eat ornamental plants (see photo below), occasionally crawl in open windows, sometimes damage property, raid trash cans (see other photo below) and generally cause a nuisance, especially for people who don't like monkeys.  So, unless you want to deal with the monkeys, don't move into those places.  Otherwise you're just going to complain all the time and cause trouble for the monkeys, and people like me are not going to like you- and your neighbors will probably think you're annoying too.

Friday, May 21, 2010

The Return of Weird Groceries

Awhile ago I posted photos of seaweed, soft-shell crab, and grilled shrimp flavored Pringles.  Ick.  Recently at Central Market in Clarke Quay, I found some possible contenders for weirdest flavors of familiar foods.

Ginger ale-flavored Kit Kat, anyone?

No?  How about this?  Cherry blossom flavor!  I have no idea what cherry blossoms taste like, but I have to admit I'm intrigued.

This last one was a complete mystery to me. (Posters in the comments say it's semi-sweet. Not as exciting as cherry blossom or ginger ale, but interesting nonetheless).

As a person who previously thought that there were two kinds of KitKat (regular and white chocolate), I found this fascinating.  And then I found this Flickr set of photos: Kit Kats of the world- over 100 photos of different flavors of Kit Kat!!  It blew my mind!  I concluded that pineapple was probably the most disgusting flavor.  Apparently Kit Kats are a huge thing in Japan, where most of these strange flavors are sold.  They're supposed to be good luck, and I hear that students often eat them before exams.

Central Market turned out to be utterly fascinating, and I thoroughly embarrassed myself there.  I mean honestly, who takes photos in the grocery store?  I was trying to do it inconspicuously, but I think I just ended up looking like I was trying to shoplift.  It would be so typical if I ended up getting 3 strokes with the rotan for taking pictures of candy.

I also found these chocolate Pandaland biscuits.  The panda looks like the drugged, obese ancestor of the mascot for my favorite Asian treat, Hello Panda crackers.

I'm on the lookout for more weird stuff.  There's plenty in the grocery store- whole bins of tiny dried fish, or fresh tentacles on ice.  But I have to lose my inhibitions enough to take photos.  I already stick out in the local grocery store, so making myself even more obvious isn't easy.  Maybe I should have a couple glasses of wine and then go to the store!

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Upper and Lower Peirce

 Last weekend was time for more fun with the new camera!  On Saturday, we decided to explore the Central Catchment Nature Reserve in the hope of finding some exciting wildlife to photograph.  We've gone to the Central Catchment through MacRitchie Reservoir in the past, so we decided to try the Upper Peirce entrance this time.  Before we even got all the way to the Upper Peirce Reservoir Park, we found some monkeys along the road, eyeing passing cars in the hope that someone would toss them some food.  We stopped our taxi and hung out with the monkeys for awhile.  Bryan photographed the monkeys while I hung back, hoping to see some more unusual wildlife.  It only took about ten minutes before I spied a snake slithering along the path.  YES!  
The snake was moving quickly and the light was pretty bad, but Bryan got a photo that was good enough to identify it.  It was a white-bellied rat snake again!  We've seen these twice before at Bukit Timah, but snakes are always exciting to us, even when we've seen the same kind before.

One of my favorite photos of the day was this stunning dragonfly that Bryan saw.  It looks metallic!

After spending some time with the monkeys and the snake, we began to walk up the road to the entrance of the park.  The park itself isn't too exciting- just some pavilions along the shore of the reservoir.  We decided to try to find somewhere a little more wild, but as we were walking out of the park, I spotted some movement in a tall tree.  I looked up and saw....a SUMATRAN FLYING DRAGON!  We had just spotted this type of lizard for the first time last week, so I was surpirsed to see the same kind again so soon.  As I stood, staring straight up into the tree, Bryan pointed out another one!  There were two in the tree, a male and a female, and as we watched them, the male began displaying for the female, stretching out his colorful throat flap over and over again.  I was practically giddy at seeing such interesting behavior, and Bryan was clicking away with the camera.  People walking by gave us strange looks, but it's certainly not the first time Bryan and I have gotten sidelong glances for drooling over wildlife.  The male is in the top photo, and the slightly less exciting female is in the second photo.  If you look closely, you can see some loose skin along the sides of the lizards.  That skin is what extends to form the patagium, which allows them to glide from place to place.

Eventually we tore ourselves away from the flying dragons.  We'd only walked a short distance when we stumbled upon another monkey and this collared kingfisher.  I love the royal blue shade of their wings.

I took control of the camera for awhile, but my attention waned when I noticed some monkeys off in the distance, roaming the grounds of a country club and golf course.  I felt a stab of sympathy for them- the Bukit Timah monkeys have been getting a lot of complaints lately, and people have become increasingly intolerant of their roamings outside the reserve.  I imagine the monkeys that I saw at Upper Peirce aren't very welcome at the country club either.  Poor monkeys.

After awhile, we decided to walk down the road toward Lower Peirce.  On the way, we walked off the road to get around some construction.  When we looked under a bridge that we were passing by, Bryan spotted a little water monitor, peering out from a hole in the bridge.  Cute!

A storm drain ran under the bridge where the monitor was hiding out, and we found a bunch of frogs and tadpoles in the stream of water running through the drain.  Some of the frogs were still transitioning from tadpoles, so they had legs as well as tails.  They looked kind of weird.  I still haven't identified what type of frogs they are for sure- their eyes look like the eyes of an American bullfrog, which is a common invasive species here in Singapore, but I think their bodies look more like a puddle frog or a field frog.  It was a little hard for me to tell because most of the ones around were juveniles, so they didn't have the most recognizable adult characteristics.

Near the frogs were these insane creatures.  At first I was sure they were some strange type of millipede, but after looking more closely, they appear to be wireworms- the larval stage of click beetles.  I like their pattern!

Eventually we went back out to the road.  Old Upper Thompson Rd is kind of a hot spot for the monkeys.  A lot of them hang out along the road, hoping to be fed by passersby.  You often hear people say that macaques and people live closely together, but I think these photos really drive the point home.

This guy was pretty roughed up. He had nasty scars on his face, especially on his mouth, and I think he's missing his right eye.  Life isn't easy for the monkeys of Singapore.

After a brief detour to rehydrate (100 Plus!!), we picked up the Lower Peirce Nature Trail.  It was pretty dim.  The whole day had been kind of hazy, which is annoying when you have a new camera to test out, but as the evening set in it was threatening to rain, and the light got even worse.  We didn't see much wildlife on the nature trail, but there were some cool plants around.  I liked these new red leaves.

When we finished the trail, we found even more monkeys.  This was really our day for monkeys. We hung around for awhile, taking action shots of the active monkeys as the last bit of daylight faded.   My favorites were this mama monkey running with her baby (that little baby's tail sticking up in the air is adorable), and the juvenile jumping out of the tree without even looking in the direction of his leap! 

Snakes, lizards, birds, monkeys, frogs, and crazy inscects- not bad for a single day in the Central Catchment!

Friday, May 14, 2010

Mt Faber and a New Camera

Last Saturday, Bryan and I were looking for a convenient place to test out our new camera (a Canon 550 D- very exciting!!).  We needed a place close to VivoCity because we were planning to attend Dr. Gumert's lecture at the National Geographic Store in the afternoon.  We had intended to go to Telok Blangah, but we took a wrong turn on the way from the MRT to the bus, and happened upon a sign for Mt Faber, so we decided to follow that instead. Bryan's below with the new camera, and I'm below, snapping a shot of a pigeon.  Most of the pictures are taken with the new camera, but there are some from the Lumix mixed in.

 Right away we walked into an area with a bunch of changeable lizards, and Bryan enjoyed photographing them.  Having a new camera made the common lizards exciting all over again!

We finally got a photo of some Javan mynas, also known as white-vented mynas.  The Javan myna is an invasive species that was introduced in S'pore in the 1920's.  The species has obviously flourished since then, overtaking the island and becoming the most common bird in Singapore.  They're everywhere, and you can see them as well as hear them- they have a rather loud (some might say obnoxious) song.  They thrive in urban environments, so we see them perched on buildings, eating along the road, and scrounging trash.  I see them on the forest edges too.  In fact one day one of them dive-bombed one of the monkeys!  The bird really startled him, but it had already flown out of his reach, so he just slammed on the ground in frustration. 

There were lots of birds at Mt Faber.  We saw a banded woodpecker, which I've posted pictures of before, and I believe this is a female olive-backed sunbird.

And then we stumbled upon a turtle pond!!!  I know that red-eared sliders are incredibly common, and they're an invasive species that chokes out native turtles.  But that isn't their fault, and they're still really cute.  And who can resist these cuddling turtles?!  People just need to learn not to release them into the wild.  Some of these guys had leftover paint on their backs, making me wonder if they had been released as part of a religious ritual.

Near the turtle pond, we found this hanging bird nest.  I was pretty surprised at its location.  It was in a pretty high-traffic area, right near a restaurant that's in the park.  In fact, you can see the steps in the background.  Despite its unfortunate location, the nest appeared to be undisturbed.  It seems like pretty swanky digs for a bird!  Judging from some photos I saw in the book Pulau Ubin: Ours to Treasure, I assume that it's the nest of a sunbird.

 At a little park area, Bryan spotted a lizard whizzing through the air over our heads!  It turned out to be a Sumatran flying dragon, which I believe to be one of the coolest names in the animal kingdom.  They're called flying dragons because they have a special skin flap (called a patagium) that they spread out, which allows them to glide from place to place.  It was difficult to get photos since the little guy wouldn't stop moving, and he blended in with the tree very well.

These skytrain cars were placed throughout the park, and seemed a bit random to me.

 This next bird is also very common in Singapore, but I think it's a little more attractive than the myna.  The yellow-vented bulbul has a cute little yellow patch right under its tail, which you can glimpse in this photo of it preening.

A little later, we found a pretty butterfly!  This is the Malayan five ring.

I see common sun skinks all the time at Bukit Timah, but the photos with the new camera were much better than the ones I've taken in the past.

Of course, animals weren't the only thing we saw on our walk.  We also stopped to appreciate some plants.  I especially liked these purple and green leaves.  They look like someone applied rouge to them!  The tree with the petite yellow flowers was delightful as well.

Even though we didn't set out for Mt Faber, it turned out to be a great place to get accustomed to the new camera.  We still have a lot to learn-  you might be able to tell that we were having some issues with depth of field and focus, but for our first day, I'd say it went all right!