Wednesday, September 29, 2010

A Creepy Crawly Day at SBWR

Bryan got a new tripod recently, and we decided to go to Sungei Buloh to test it out.  After our awesome luck with wildlife spotting the last time we were there, we were hopeful about seeing some exciting stuff.  I got a little carsick on the taxi ride over, so just inside the reserve, we sat down at the visitor centre cafe and I sipped a 100 Plus while Bryan set up the tripod to capture some water monitor action.  There were seven or eight monitors hanging around the pond next to us, and they were really active.  They kept climbing up on the wooden platforms to sun themselves, but as soon as one would get comfortable, another would come along and chase it off.  It was pretty funny to watch!

The turtle and the lizard on the left were so nice and peaceful, just basking in the sunlight.  Then this guy came along.

As if one unwanted guest wasn't enough, this guy came along to crash the party too:

By then, the original lizard had decided that her little corner of the world was getting too crowded, so she got out of there.

As it turned out, the most recent newcomer wanted the whole place to himself, so he got rid of the other guy too.  But the turtle (a red-eared slider) stayed put, never batting an eye at those big scary lizards.

Eventually we tore ourselves away from the lizard antics and moved on.  As usual, there were flocks of birds around, fishing, squawking at one another, and bathing in the water.  Sungei Buloh is known for its abundance of migratory birds.

The sky was growing darker and darker as we walked along, so we started to look for a shelter to hang out in, not wanting to have a repeat of our last outing, when we got stuck in a huge storm with no shelter.  One of the neat things about the wetlands is that you can see peninsular Malaysia from there.  It looked pretty neat under the stormy sky, but the crummy lighting made it hard to get good photos.

That yellow structure there is the City Square Clock Tower in Johor Bahru.

We did find a shelter, and ducked in for awhile, hoping to avoid the impending bad weather.  I poked around the shelter while Bryan snapped photos of some birds, and I found something exciting in the corner of the roof.  Check it out!

I think this is a Singapore tarantula.  And I believe that icky white thing underneath it is an egg sac!  Apparently when those sacs open up, between 50 and 2000 itty bitty spider babies can come creeping out!  Yikes!  We stood there and watched it for quite awhile, but the hairy bugger never moved much.  I'm guessing they must stay pretty still while caring for those egg sacs.

The storm we were waiting for continued to hold out, so we left the shelter and ventured a little farther.  It wasn't long before we spotted another sizable spider.  This one's a Batik golden web spider.  We see a lot of them in the nature reserves, but this one was pretty big.

Again, a storm looked imminent, so we ducked into another shelter  to hide out for awhile.  There was a mudskipper nearby, and we had a good time watching him clean out his little mud hole.  Mudskippers hang out in these little mud circles that are filled with water in the middle.  They often disappear under water, then pop out and spit mud over the side of the hole, which is why the circles have a strange ring of mud blobs around them.
See the lovely blob of ejected mud in the middle photo?
He's an immaculate housekeeper.
Again, after hiding from rain that never quite came, we left the shelter and continued our walk.  On a somewhat lonely part of the trail where we don't run across a lot of people, we saw a big monitor along the walkway.  Sometimes they just lounge around until you get just close enough to bother them, then they leap up and flick their tails and rush off, making a load of noise and scaring you out of your wits.  I'd had this happen a few times, so I was approaching cautiously, not wanting to get clipped with that whip-like tail.  But as I crept closer and closer, the lizard remained absolutely still.  Bryan thought it was dead, but as we watched it, we could see it breathing in and out, ever so slowly.  We walked right past it on the trail, within inches of it, and it never moved a centimeter.  It looked perfectly healthy other than the fact that it wasn't moving, so I couldn't help but wonder if it had been somehow stunned, maybe by a snake bite.  It was very unusual.

Other odds and ends along the trail included a bright red dragonfly, a slimy snail, and some pretty views.

We headed out of the park right around closing time, and as usual, a huge water monitor popped out of nowhere and scared me half to death.  I don't think I've ever been to Sungei Buloh without having a monitor blindside me.  This one lumbered across my path just as I walked out of the bathroom by the visitor centre.  I guess I thought our nature experience was over for the day, but I was wrong.  I would be proved wrong again one last time.

Public transportation out to the park is a little infrequent- it's serviced only by one bus that comes about once every half hour- and taxis are reluctant to go all the way up there, so far out of the way.  So when we saw the bus breeze by just as we approached the bus stop, we decided to walk to a busier bus stop, and to try  to catch a taxi along the way.  It was a pleasant evening, and the walk was nice.  There were loads of bright orange male changeable lizards, and we having fun zigzagging across the empty road, shouting, "THERE'S ONE!!!!"  Eventually we made it to a busier crossroad, and we continued to walk along, looking for a bus stop, as there weren't any taxis around.  As we strolled along the grassy side of the road, I spotted what appeared to be a large tree branch a little ways ahead, right in our path.  We moved closer and it suddenly dawned on me that that was no tree branch.  My throat constricted with fear and excitement and I flung an arm out in front of Bryan and gasped, "SNAKE!  Biiiiiiiiiiig snake.  PYTHON!!!"  I couldn't BELIEVE it.  It was HUGE!!!  And it wasn't moving....

We inched closer a little at a time, and eventually surmised that the snake was dead, although it hadn't been dead long- aside from the dull eyes and a strange kink in its body, it actually looked all right.  It was probably hit by a car.  It was indeed a reticulated python, and it was probably somewhere between five and six feet long- a big snake for sure.  Even though it was dead, it was exciting to see one.  Although they're apparently somewhat common in Singapore (and apparently live in drains, often close to humans), they're nocturnal, and neither Bryan or I have ever laid eyes on one in the wild.  Neat!

So we had a day full of bugs, snails, spiders, lizards, and snakes!  Every little boy's dream!  And this 25-year-old girl's...

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Still Not Running Out- 31 More Things That Are Different!

1) All of the birthday and Mother's Day greeting cards here refer to "Mum" or "Mummy."

2) The stoves are gas-powered and the gas comes from big containers hooked up to the stove (like the ones we use for grills in the U.S.). When the gas runs out, sometimes in the middle of cooking, you have to call the gas man to bring more. If you run out of gas after business hours, you can either scrap the food and make something that doesn't require a stove (or an oven- we don't have those!) or you can ask your neighbors to let you finish cooking on their stove!
Typical Singaporean stove- a tank of gas and no oven!

3) Almost all of the trash in S'pore gets incinerated. It used to go to a landfill on Semakau Island, but according to my friend Tei, the island is in the process of being cleaned up and turned into a nature reserve!

4) Health care is cheap!!  I've spent some time here with no health insurance, and I have to say, Singapore is much kinder to the uninsured than the U.S.  I went to the dentist, where I had a consultation and got my teeth cleaned and X-rayed, and it was only $100 SGD, about $75 USD!  I also needed to have a minor medical procedure done here.  It would have cost me over a thousand dollars in the U.S., but only cost me about $500 USD here!

5) Nearly all of Singapore's food is imported from elsewhere, because there is pretty much no room in S'pore for farms.  A few things, like some eggs and relatively small quantities of fruits and vegetables, do come from Singapore.

6)  In most of the U.S., from season to season and with Daylight Savings Time, the number of hours of daylight changes substantially over the course of a year.  Singapore's lack of DST and position on the equator keep the number of daylight hours pretty static from month to month.

7) In some older buildings in S'pore, elevators only stop every few floors.  For example, you might get into an elevator in a 10-story building and there will be three buttons: 1, 5, and 10.  If you want to go to the fourth floor, you either have to walk up four floors, or take the elevator to the fifth floor and then walk down one floor.

8)  Singapore has a so-called "baby shortage."  The fertility rate for women is really low here, which seems rather unsurprising to me- everyone's always working and commuting; there's no time to make babies!  But the baby shortage is becoming a problem- as the aging population dies off, if Singaporean women don't have children, the population won't be able to sustain itself.  This is NOT a problem in the U.S.  People (often the people that are least able to care for them) are popping out kids right and left.  Some families go to extremes, having huge families- the Gosselins have 8 kids, and the Duggar family of reality TV fame has a whopping 19 children (I think.  I may have lost count.)

9)  More lingo.  Cantaloupe is called "rock melon," shopping carts are "trolleys," and whole wheat is "wholemeal." Instead of ordering something for "take-out" or "to go," you ask for it for "takeaway."  If you say anything else, the person behind the counter will just stare at you until you correct yourself.

10) Singaporeans use the British spellings of some words, like tyre, storey, and centre.

11)  In the U.S., coffee is a part of the daily life of the average American worker.  In most workplaces, there's usually a pot of coffee percolating in the corner, and plenty of people brew coffee in the morning and take it with them on their commute- either in the car or on the subway.  Here in Singapore, coffee isn't nearly as common, and people really don't rely on it in the morning. Even if you find a convenient place to get a carry-out cup of coffee, coffee isn't allowed on the MRT.

12) I've mentioned before that there are a lot of groceries that we used to buy in the U.S. that aren't available here, and also that processed food is higher priced than fresh food.  We've found that some of the processed foods we had in the U.S. ARE available in Singapore, but they're available at specialty stores like Tanglin Marketplace, and they're much more expensive than what we'd pay in the U.S.  They're also presented as sort of gourmet items, which cracks me up.  Seeing Rice-a-roni carefully arranged on a shelf under some mood lighting is just hilarious.  And seeing Mexican Velveeta with a $20 (about $14 USD) price tag underneath is mind-boggling too.

13)  The majority of Singapore's population is Chinese, and Chinese people structure names differently.  The family name comes first, followed by the given name.  As a result, my name on most of my Singaporean documents is Riley Crystal, but my name in my passport and my American documents is Crystal Riley, so there's sometimes confusion about which is really my first name.  Also, a lot of Chinese people give their children a Western name in addition to their Chinese name.  For example, Lee Kuan Yew (former prime minister of S'pore) has the Western name Harry, so his full name is Harry Lee Kuan Yew (Harry= Western name; Lee= surname; Kuan Yew= given name/Chinese name).

14) Some Singaporean friends of ours recently got married.  Unfortunately, Bryan and I were both in the U.S. and couldn't attend, but we learned secondhand about a few of the differences in how weddings are done here.  Apparently it's quite common for the bride and groom to pose to take pictures with a big, beautiful wedding cake, just like we'd expect.  However, typically that wedding cake is in fact a decorated box, used just for show, and no cake is served!  Also, while wedding receptions in the U.S. are typically long affairs with dinner and dancing long into the night, from what we hear, most receptions here are just long meals, and everyone leaves after the last course is all finished!

15) In the U.S., the vast majority of people rely exclusively on modern medicine to cure their ills.  Here in Singapore, a large proportion of people embrace traditional types of medicine, particularly Chinese medicine either as an alternative to Western medicine or as a type of supplement.  As a result, Chinese medicine shops abound.  They sell some creepy things, like little seahorses and animal horns and stuff. 

16) Singapore is one of the most densely populated cities in the entire world.  Most American cities aren't even on the radar in terms of population density.  S'pore is the second most populated country in the world, after Monaco.
Crowded Singapore

17)  The release of new technology generally comes a little slower here, so when the iPad or the new iPhone comes out in the U.S., Singaporean technophiles have to wait impatiently for the delayed release here.

18)  Bryan likes to watch all movies with the subtitles on so he doesn't miss anything.  In the U.S., it made no difference to me one way or the other, but in S'pore I LOVE watching the subtitles, because they're often absurdly wrong!  For example, a character in Wuthering Heights said, "We're as different as frost and fire," which the subtitles interpreted as "We're as different as Boston fire."  The Seven Year Itch was a wealth of subtitle hilarity, with my two favorites being, "It was a regular hootenanny," which turned into, "It was a regular horse melee," and "I'll finish making the cinnamon toast," turned into "I'll finish making the settlement towels." 

19)  The electricity never goes out in Singapore because all of the powerlines are buried.  In the U.S., the power often goes out when it storms, leaving everyone scrambling to remember where they put flashlights and candles.  I've spent many an evening in the U.S. playing Scrabble by candlelight while eating sandwiches and hoping that the power will come back on soon so everything in the freezer doesn't turn into a big, melted mess.

20)  Singapore has one of the lowest crime rates in the WORLD. In comparison, the U.S. has relatively high crime rates, particularly in large cities, and as a country, the U.S. has one of the highest homicide rates in the industrialized world.  As a result, Singaporeans sometimes look at the U.S. as a big, scary den of iniquity.

21)  Mold is a big problem here.  Every time we shower, we have to leave the bathroom door open or the bathroom floor and our towels will get moldy.  The same goes for the coffee pot and the electric teapot- both of those have to be left open after use or they'll get moldy.  One day I opened a bottle of paprika and found that even IT had turned into a big mass of mold.  Gross!  I've never had this problem in the U.S., but the air here is so humid that mold is just aggressive. Ick!

22)  Singaporeans tend to have a great deal of respect for their elders, and often refer to older individuals, even unrelated ones, as "Auntie" and "Uncle."  Our young neighbor kids don't speak much English, but whenever Bryan and I get home, they run to their door shouting, "HI AUNTIE!!!!  HI UNCLE!!!!"  It's super cute!

23)  In the U.S., people regularly criticize the government, and their right to do so is protected by the Bill of Rights.  People often say stupid, ill-informed things, but the U.S. protects our rights to spout our uninformed criticisms of the government.  In Singapore, criticism of the government, whether ill-informed or not, is illegal.  Think the prime minister sucks?  Well, you'd just better keep that under your hat!

24)  Singaporean casinos charge steep admission rates ($75 USD and up) for Singaporean citizens and permanent residents as a way to discourage gambling addictions in the local population.  But you can waltz right in if you're a tourist!  It's a sharp contrast to places like Montana, where anyone 18 or over can gamble in the gas station!
Marina Bay Sands Resort & Casino

25)  PDA is mush more frowned upon here than in the U.S., where amorous couples sometimes do unspeakable things in movie theaters, back alleys, buses, and more.  It happens here from time to time that a couple will be seen making out, but it's a much bigger deal- so big in fact that you just might end up being frowned upon by half the country when your picture gets posted on Stomp under the S'pore Seen section!  Watch out, couples!  You could end up like these unfortunate souls:
Couple #1, Couple #2, Couple #3

26)  For some education-oriented Singaporeans, the government agrees to pay for their post-graduate education abroad, provided that they agree to return to Singapore to work for a few years after obtaining their degree.  So some Singaporeans get their PhD's in Europe or the U.S. on Singapore's tab, then return to Singapore to fulfill their obligation to work here for awhile.

27)  Prostitution is legal in Singapore, but there are restrictions.  Prostitutes are only allowed to work out of licensed brothels in red-light districts- they're not allowed to solicit sex on the street.  They are required to present themselves for regular health checks, and to carry a health card to record their health history.  In the U.S., prostitution is unlawful everywhere except in some parts of Nevada, where prostitution out of licensed brothels is legal.

28) The U.S.'s divorce rate is about five times the divorce rate of Singapore.

29) It appears that Singapore's method of execution for criminals sentenced to death is hanging.  It's difficult to find information on this online, but it appears that hangings were occurring at least as recently as 2007.  Hanging fell by the wayside in the U.S. quite awhile ago, with lethal injection being the preferred method of execution in American criminal institutions.

30)  Singapore has more millionaires per capita than any other country in the world, including the U.S.

31) Paper here gets punched with TWO holes instead of THREE and then goes into a binder with two rings!  I know this is a minor difference, but it bugs me.  I brought a couple of binders here from the U.S., and I can't put any more paper in them because I don't have a three-ring hole punch or any paper with three holes in it!

Monday, September 20, 2010

Monkey Baby Boom!

The Hindhede monkeys at Bukit Timah are in the midst of a baby boom!  Although macaques don't really have a breeding season- they breed year-round, having babies whenever they're able- they tend to have a peak during which they're especially prolific, and that's going on right now.  If you head to Bukit Timah in the next few weeks, you may get lucky and spot the Hindhede monkeys, toting around their eight adorable, pink-skinned, black-furred infants.

Sunny's one of the monkeys with her hands full with a new little one.  She's a first-time mommy, and so far she appears to be taking to the job quite well.  Like all the other new babies, hers is healthy, bright-eyed, and energetic..
A little protective....
There are differences in monkey parenting styles just like there are differences in how parents treat their children.  Some of the moms, especially the ones with their first baby, can be a little over-protective, following their infant everywhere, and tugging them back by the tail if they get too far away.  Other moms are laid-back, keeping an eye on their kids, but letting them do their own exploring.  A few of the moms even appear irresponsible at times, letting their babies wander out of eyesight when they're still too young to be off on their own, or failing to come to their rescue when they cry out for help.
Different kinds of moms
Some of the moms let their infants wander a little ways away to play with the older juveniles.  If the play gets too tough, the babies squeal and the moms usually come running to scold whoever got rough and tumble.  It can be dangerous for people to get too close to the infants, especially when they're wandering off on their own.  If those babies give a squeak, mommy might blame the nearest person for the baby's distress, and the person will get charged.  If the baby's protest is loud enough, the males might join in the charge- after all, they're protective too.
Wanna play?!
The highest-ranked female, Nad, also had a new baby recently.  Macaques are interesting because the females love babies, and they all want to hold them, groom them, and cuddle them.  For the privilege of touching another mom's baby, the other females will groom the mother.  In exchange, the mom will usually let the groomer handle the baby a little bit- some holding or grooming.  Sometimes females try to steal away another mom's baby without paying the price first- they make this strange little coughing sound, and grab at the baby, who sometimes gets caught in an awkward tug-of-war, yanked in one direction by each greedy female.  It's a little ridiculous to watch.
Nad looking queenly while being groomed by Catherine
Izzy, Bryan's favorite monkey, also recently became a first-time mother.  Her baby, Ivan, was born at the beginning of the baby boom, so he's a little older than the others.  You can see that he's already starting to grow out of his black natal coat- his shiny, fine black fur will soon be all gone and only the coarser brown fur will remain.  Ivan's curious and rambunctious, and he keeps Izzy busy.
Brave Baby Ivan
We hung out with the monkeys for quite awhile, and they seemed to be pretty mellow.  They didn't travel very far, and the juveniles spent the whole day romping around and playing.  At two separate points in the day, two different adult males, Luke and Achilles, successfully managed to steal ice cream cones from passersby.  (Seriously, people, have your kids finish their food BEFORE walking by the monkeys.  There's nothing scarier to a toddler than having a big, scary monkey run straight at you just to snatch your ice cream cone right out of your sticky little hand.  And screaming "Swiper, no swiping!" doesn't work).  Anyway, both monkeys looked pretty pleased as they expertly maneuvered the ice cream, holding it just like a person would.
Luke really prefers chocolate, but he'll take vanilla in a pinch...

Mmmm...Cornetto.  Not so good for Achilles' figure.
The juveniles seemed to be in high-gear play mode.  Sometimes the bigger monkeys play a little too rough with the younger ones, which leads to hilarious "HELP ME" faces like these pitiful ones here:

But mostly it was just good, clean monkey fun. clean as you can get in a storm drain.

Even Achilles got in on the fun.  He was just wrestling, even though  it looks like attempted murder. And no, he isn't secretly a vampire.

We managed to tear ourselves away from the monkeys long enough to go on a hike around Bukit Timah.  The other wildlife wasn't really out in force, but we did see a few clouded monitors sunning themselves along the path, and I spotted this sweet little baby monitor foraging around deep in the weeds.  I ensconced myself in a shrub and acquired a preposterous number of mosquito bites to get a closer look and a photo.

We wandered out to Rifle Range Rd where I got a special bonus for the day- abandoned buildings!  And with bars, no less!  Creepy, eh?

If you get as excited about abandoned buildings as I do, don't forget to go see Haunted Changi while it's still out in theaters!

After our hike, we headed out of the reserve to go get some dinner, and we ran into the monkeys again, still lounging around the same spot they'd been in all afternoon.  Bryan got some more photography practice in, and I watched the babies romping around, testing their shaky new limbs.  While I was engrossed in baby-watching, a juvenile sidled up next to me and started grooming my arm.  What a sweetheart!
Feel free to admire his awesome Ranger Rick hat
Monkey Love
To our surprise, the wildlife encounters didn't end at Bukit Timah.  Back in our neighborhood, Jurong East, we spotted a caterpillar invasion!!  These fat, black caterpillars are all over the undersides of the leaves on the plants lining the roads in our area.  The leaves of the plants have been chewed to shreds by the hungry caterpillars.  Under some of the leaves were little cocoons, which looked awfully tiny to be sheltering such fat creatures.  I'm not sure if they were for the same type of caterpillar, or maybe for a smaller variety?  Either way, Jurong East should soon be inundated with butterflies.  I can't wait!

What a good day for nature!