Sunday, February 28, 2010
First and foremost, the big dog. Leo is the alpha male of the group. Long-tailed macaque males migrate from the group in which they were born, and fight for dominance when they enter a new group. Leo came in with some other males and dethroned the previous alpha, Hercules. Thus, the alpha male isn't necessarily the largest, but could be a monkey with strong coalitions with other monkeys who are good fighters. Leo's softer side is pictured here, as he's holding an infant. When people see the males holding infants, they often say "Awww look, that's the daddy holding his baby!" but because many males mate with each female, the males never know for sure which infants are their offspring.This is Hercules, the old alpha. He's very muscular, and I think he looks like a dog.Stumpy, so named for obvious reasons (we don't know what happened to his tail), also joined the group somewhat recently. He was really aggressive for awhile, and I suspect that he came from a group that was less habituated to humans. Over the past few months he's gotten a lot better, and is pretty mellow now. He's one of the most photogenic monkeys I know, so here are a few photos of him.
And then there's Sidious, my least favorite monkey. Sidious is a grouch, and he has charged me several times. I know how to deal with it, but it still scares me, and it does not inspire any love for this ugly monkey. Sidious has a nasty mouth injury that never healed, so his mouth is always agape, and drool constantly soaks his chin, making him look all the more sinister.There are more adult males, but like I said, I won't show all of them. Here's Camille, my favorite female. She's very friendly, and sometimes ambles over to me and plops down by my side, grunting in a friendly way. Some days I grunt back. I love her bright orange eyes and the wide span of fur around her face. This photo was taken the day after her infant was born- if you look closely, you can see that its umbilical cord is still attached. Michelle is an unusual monkey. Her head is permanently cocked to one side, giving her a slightly psychotic appearance, like she's always listening to the voices in her head. She seems to have some social problems, such as standing on her head when the males mate with her, and then running away screaming when they are finished. Michelle often wanders off on her own, and sometimes appears completely lost. A veterinarian said that it's possible that an ear infection while she was young left her with neck injuries and some brain damage. Another hypothesis is that she actually has Down's Syndrome. Sadly, Michelle recently disappeared, and I fear that her solitary wanderings may have made her vulnerable to the stray dogs that have recently been terrorizing the monkeys.There can be bad macaque mothers just like there are bad human mothers, and Nad is one of those. Typically, she's OK- she's attentive and protective, but sometimes she's a little rough...like when she swings her baby by its tail. But she is the top-ranking female, so no one questions her actions. Whereas the males fight for status, females inherit it, so Nad's mother was also high-ranking, and her daughters will be too.
Catherine is another female who's dear to me. She once broke her hand, and it healed crooked so that she now walks on her wrist. It's a little stomach-turning to watch, but it doesn't appear to pain her as she agilely climbs trees just like everyone else. She had an infant when I first got here, but it soon got badly injured and became paralyzed from the waist down. The infant continued to cling to her underside with its arms, legs dangling pathetically. Catherine did her best to care for the pitiful little thing, and she managed to keep it alive for almost a week before it finally succumbed. I've wondered if her busted hand somehow impaired her ability to care for an infant, but I've never seen her struggle with anything else.And then there are the juveniles. They are so fun- their rambunctious rabble-rousing is nonstop, and they just do the funniest things- like playing in the water and turning into little wet puffballs. Macaques learn to swim at a young age, and are very at home in the water.
And sometimes they do things that are kind of gross, like when Trillian caught a lizard and ripped it apart while munching on its innards.The juveniles are very special to me, because I have painstakingly identified and named them over the past few months. In the photo on the right, three of the juveniles carefully groom my pants. I typically don't let the monkeys touch me, but the juveniles are overflowing with energy, and often sneak up on me when I'm distracted. The tug on my pants, chew on my boots, groom my arms, untie my laces, dig in my backpack pockets, and one time, one of them even leaped onto my lap when I was crouched down to take a photo!
Punk was one of the first juveniles I identified, and he's still my little buddy. Punk is incredibly friendly, and was the first monkey ever to actually touch me. He cautiously walked up to me; then, seeing that I remained still and calm, plunked on the ground in front of me and began gnawing on my hiking boot and pulling on my pants. I have to keep the outside pockets of my backpack empty, because if I turn around, Punk will root around in the pockets, looking for food. Sometimes if I'm not paying attention and he's sitting close to me, he'll reach over and begin grooming my arm. He's definitely one of the most lovable of the bunch.The white above each of the monkeys' eyes is unique. This little guy's white made a heart shape, so I named him Bryan.Kevin is another juvenile to whom I've grown attached. Like Punk, he's very friendly and likes to tug on my pants. He even reaches out to touch the camera or my hands when I try to take photos of him. Kevin was recently badly injured, probably by a car, and was completely unable to use one of his legs for a couple of weeks. He again demonstrated the resilience of the macaques by making a full recovery in under a month, and today he doesn't even limp.
For all that I love the juveniles, there's nothing cuter than an infant macaque- here's Uma's infant, effortlessly adorable as always.Grooming is an important component of macaque society. It helps to reinforce the status hierarchy, to calm everyone down after stressful events, and to strengthen bonds between group members. In this photo, some of the females groom each other on the roof of the Visitor Center. Sometimes the monkeys grooming each other look so relaxed that watching them makes me feel a little sleepy myself.Well, those are some of the monkey highlights. I have a library of macaque photos by now, and these are only a few. More to come!
Wednesday, February 24, 2010
VivoCity is a huge mall located at Harbourfront in southern S'pore. From the mall, you can see over-developed Sentosa Island, covered with resorts and miscellaneous tourist attractions, including Singapore's only casino, which just opened this week. Bryan and I ate paella at a Spanish restaurant called Serenity (I think Bryan only wanted to eat there because of the name- we both love Serenity the movie) while I gawked at Sentosa. Bryan's visited Sentosa already for a team-building day for work, but I still haven't been there, and am not convinced that I ever want to go. Near the restaurant was this monstrous and very incongruous snowman. The palm trees flanking him are a nice touch. After lunch, we roamed the mall for awhile. The mall has an awesome National Geographic store, which is more like a museum than anything else. There are stunning wildlife and travel photos all over the walls and displayed in the middle of the store. We spent a lot of time in there, oohing and aahing over tiger photos. It reminded me of how much fun I used to have at the Natural Wonders store in Belden Village- any Canton people remember that place? The far less inspiring Hot Topic has long since taken over that spot in the mall.
After the Nat Geo store, we strolled the mall some more, and were pleased to see that there were artisans all over- people selling handcrafted tea sets, jewelery, chopsticks, lovely Chinese-style paintings of pandas and koi fish, and all sorts of beautiful things. Eventually we spotted this creepy window display. Intimidating, isn't it?Then we heard drumming. Bryan said it sounded like a lion dance and I got really excited. I've been waiting to see one of these dances forever, and have missed out. Bryan saw one at work so he was a little less enthused, but he obliged me by helping me track down the drumming. Sure enough, there were two lions dancing in front of a store. Hooray!!! Finally, my quest has ended. I snapped photos and video like a stereotypical tourist, but I was OK with it, because it was really fun to watch! The lions' movements reminded me a lot of the way dogs move, right down to the stubby little tail wagging in the back. You can see a video of it here.I have been erroneously referring to the lion dance as the dragon dance for months, but apparently there's a difference. The lion dance is performed by two people who are concealed within the costume, whereas the dragon dance involves more than two people and the dancers operate the dragon with poles, so their heads are typically visible. We didn't see the dragon dance performed, but we did see the dragon costume, which is pictured below. The lion dance is performed frequently for special occasions such as Chinese New Year, and it is said to be very auspicious for the lions to dance in your place of business.So I've finally fulfilled my quest to see the lion dance!! I have several other ongoing searches- one for the world's largest flower, the Rafflesia, one for good pizza in S'pore, and another for a slow loris, the world's only poisonous primate. I'm thinking all three of my quests are for things that are equally elusive- the Rafflesia grows deep in the forest and blooms only briefly before beginning to die; the slow loris is nocturnal and shy; and I'm pretty sure that good pizza in S'pore might not exist at all. I'll keep you posted with my progress!
Tuesday, February 23, 2010
At the restaurant, we had a cozy table outside, with candlelight and rose petals all over. Dinner was an amazing, five-course affair, starting off with sparkling wine, followed by a delicious salad with cute little hard-boiled quail's eggs in it. Then we had each had eggplant stuffed with vegetables and topped with fancy cheese. The sauce on the eggplant was amazing. I was in vegetarian heaven. For our main course, I had spinach and ricotta filo pastries, and Bryan had a risotto cake stacked on a portobello mushroom with a roasted tomato and a small salad on top. We ended up splitting our meals in half and sharing them. Everything looked awesome, but I didn't want to ruin the ambiance of our date by snapping pictures every time another course came to the table- I couldn't resist one photo of his meal though- and doesn't he look nice?!The grand finale of the meal was chocolate melting cake with vanilla ice cream and fresh berries. It was decadent, and like everything else, amazingly delicious. Unlike other places in Singapore, the service at Original Sin is pretty good, and the manager remembered us from the first time we visited there over six months ago, even recalling the table where we were seated! It was a romantic date, and it was nice to relax and enjoy the most scrumptious food I've had in as long as I can remember. I felt very lucky to have a carnivorous boyfriend who's so willing to eat vegetarian most of the time!
Monday, February 22, 2010
2) On food labels, calories are often referred to as "energy," but sometimes the energy information is expressed in kilojoules instead of calories. I discovered this one day when I was eating a can of pumpkin soup and staring at the label. I almost spit it out when I noticed the label appeared to be claiming that the innocent can of soup was packing a ludicrous 900 calories- the caloric equivalent of a McDonald's Big Mac, small fries, and a small Coke. After further investigation, I discovered the kJ/calorie difference- 900 kJ is about 215 calories.
3) The date is written differently here- in the U.S., May 7th, 2009 would be written 5/7/2009, but in Singapore the day goes before the month, so it would be 7/5/2009. I gave up trying to do one or the other and now I just write it out.
4) The paper here is different sizes- not 8.5 X11, but longer and skinnier. So the paper doesn't fit into the folders I brought from the U.S., and binders and folders here are all different sizes.
5) More lingo. Duct tape is "cloth tape" and a woman's period is called her "menses," which always reminds me of my grandmother. A small truck is a "lorry" and a semi truck is a "trailer".
6) S'pore has a substantial Muslim population, so public places make accommodations for Muslims that want to maintain a Halal diet- some restaurants are "Halal certified", and in the lounge of the Psych department at NTU (where I work) there's a microwave for regular food and one for Halal food. When you eat in cafeterias, there are sometimes different colored trays for Halal food, and different places to return the trays. Eating Halal is a little like eating kosher- there are guidelines for how animals should be slaughtered, and pork is forbidden. In addition, alcohol is not considered Halal.
7) There are a lot of juice stands, often located in hawker centers, that make fresh juice out of any kind of fruit imaginable- honeydew melon, strawberries, papaya, pineapple, mango, soursop, sugarcane, avocado, bananas, watermelon, and even carrots or tomatoes. When you order juice, they make it right in front of you, either throwing a bunch of fresh fruit in a blender with some ice, or by squeezing it through a press to extract the juice (this is what they do with pineapple and sugarcane). There are usually no added ingredients like sugar, and the juice tastes naturally delicious. It's also insanely cheap- between S$1 and S$3 for a big mug of it. The only place I can remember getting fresh fruit drinks in the U.S. is from overpriced smoothie places that put a bunch of extra stuff in with the fruit.
8) Most large grocery stores are located inside malls, which can be a bit of a hassle, as you often have to haul all of your groceries through hordes of mall-goers in order to get outside.
9) There are often random performances in malls around here. So far we've seen figure skating, young girls dancing, a Chinese lion dance, and some person dressed up like a moon walking on stilts. Some examples...10) No one lives on the first floors of any of the HDB apartment buildings. In some buildings, the first floor is occupied by a hawker center or some small shops. Other apartment buildings, like ours, have a big open space called a void deck, where kids like to play and events sometimes take place. (edit 4/28/10- actually, sometimes people do live on the first floor of HDBs. It's just not very common in Jurong East, where we live. Tall buildings are more likely to have void decks and there are a lot of tall buildings in this area.)
11) Funerals aren't held in funeral homes- they're often held on the void decks of apartment buildings. Funerals can go on for days, and are rather raucous affairs- people play instruments, eat food, and sometimes parade around in bright outfits. There have been a couple of funerals in the void deck of our building, and I always feel strange when I walk by them. Recently there was one downstairs, and I walked by the casket every time I left the apartment.
12) In the U.S., people go to tanning beds and buy spray-on tan products. I have yet to see a tanning salon in Southeast Asia, but skin whitening products like this one are widely available.
13) Janitors here work during the regular working day, rather than in the mornings or evenings when businesses are closed. This means that at NTU there are often bags of trash waiting to be taken out in the hallways in the middle of the day. More noticeably, at malls that are packed full of people on the weekends, custodians can be found nudging them aside with floor-cleaning machines. It really just adds to the chaos.
14) Unlike in the U.S., but similar to many other countries, motorcycles do not follow regular traffic laws. They weave in and out of traffic, squeezing between vehicles and ignoring designated lanes. It looks dangerous, but I sometimes envy the motorcyclists when they scoot by as I sit stuck in traffic on a bus.
15) The standard work day is longer here- generally about 8:30 am to 6 pm rather than the typical American 9 to 5.
16) Processed food, such as Kraft macaroni and cheese (the famous blue box! Yum!) and frozen pizza, is expensive here, but fresh food and basic ingredients- fruits, vegetables, rice, etc. are all very cheap- so cheap that Bryan and I frequently joke that they're "basically free." The high processed food prices also apply to things like canned beans or canned vegetables, which can be purchased in their raw form very cheaply, but require a little more work.
17) Most people in S'pore are bilingual, speaking English as well as their "mother-tongue."
18) I saw something here in Singapore that I've never seen anywhere else. I stopped at the public library one day a little before 10 AM, and there was a big crowd of people outside. I immediately assumed that something was wrong- perhaps some sort of crime had been committed or something. You can imagine my surprise when I found that everything was fine- everyone was standing around patiently waiting for the library to open. By opening time, a crowd of over 50 had gathered, and I was having a hard time suppressing my giggles. The only instances I could recall of people in the U.S. waiting outside for a place to open were 1) people waiting to wait for ticket counters to open and 2) lines waiting for sales on Black Friday. When the doors finally opened to let us all into the library, all of the employees were standing in the lobby, waving and saying "Good morning! Welcome to the library!" At that point, I did laugh. A horde of people, waiting to get into the library on a random Thursday morning!! It just seemed so funny to me, especially because I had immediately assumed the worst. I thought it was so great that I took a picture with my phone.19) When you go to the ER in Singapore (don't worry, we're OK), someone stops you at the front door and takes your temperature. If you have a fever, you go into a separate area called the "Fever Ward". I think this is a great idea- it definitely seems like it would help prevent the spread of infectious diseases. Plus, who wants to sit next to someone while they sweat profusely? Gross.
20) On websites, there are advertisements targeted at Singaporeans. The ones advertising an opportunity to win a Green Card for the US really strike me as bizarre.21) Ambulances wait at traffic lights just like everyone else- they have their lights on but they don't weave in and out of traffic, and people don't move out of the way. One day I was sitting in a taxi and an ambulance with its lights on sat patiently behind us, waiting for the light to change. It was so foreign to me; I wanted to roll down the window and scream"HURRY UP!!!! SOMEONE COULD BE DYING!!!!" I've seen it a lot since then, and I think I'm finally getting used to it.
22) Apartment buildings like ours have spots where you pick up your mail, just like American apartment buildings. However, if you want to mail something, you can't do it at the mailboxes at your apartment building, you have to find a public one. The public ones have two slots- one for Singapore mail, and one for mail going to other countries.
23) Some of the music that is super common in the U.S. isn't well-known here. For example, someone asked me the other day if I'd ever heard of the Grateful Dead, because they'd just heard that a lot of Americans love some band called the Grateful Dead.
24) In the U.S., the most commonly used illegal drug is marijuana. In Singapore, it's heroin. But of course, illegal drug use is less common in S'pore overall.
25) When you go to the doctor in S'pore, you usually don't have to make an appointment.
26) I asked a friend about what S'poreans do with their dead- the island is so small, it seems impossible that everyone would be buried. He said that there are some graveyards, but most people are cremated. Some people still wish to be buried for traditional reasons, but it's compulsory that those people be exhumed after a period of 15 years- that way there will be room for more people to be buried, or, more likely, for more buildings to be erected in Singapore's endless quest for construction.
27) A lot of people here employ domestic helpers- most often these are live-in maids that come from Indonesia or the Philippines. The women stay for a few years- unless they get pregnant, in which case they are promptly deported.
28) A high proportion of women (compared to what I've seen in the U.S.) don't shave their legs.
29) Most college kids in S'pore don't live on campus. They just keep living with their parents.
30) It's not uncommon for businesses here to leave their doors open, allowing the air-conditioned air to leak out onto the street (I guess that's why they call it the Air-Conditioned City). It seems horribly wasteful, and every time I walk through a cold patch of air on the sidewalk, I hear my dad's voice saying, "Close that door!! You're lettin' out all the bought air!"
31) The driving age is 18 in Singapore, whereas it's 16 in the U.S., with some states allowing you to drive with a learner's permit at 15 1/2.
Sunday, February 21, 2010
We'd been smelling durian for months- it has a cloyingly sweet aroma. To me, it smells like one part overripe fruit and one part rotting flesh. The smell is so overwhelmingly strong that it's banned from public transportation- you can't take it on the MRT or on a bus without risking a fine, and a lot of hotels post signs asking you not to bring durian inside. When its sold in grocery stores, it's usually prepared by the grocery store for you to limit the permeating smell- they cut up the fruit and put it in a styrofoam container that they seal with plastic wrap. Because they don't sell it whole, I've had a hard time getting a good photo, so the one on the left is borrowed from another website (www.timwu.org).
Singaporeans are durian crazy. You can buy durian at most grocery stores and at wet markets. There are tons of durian products- dried durian chips, durian ice cream, durian drinks, durian candy, and more. In a mall near our flat, there's a whole food shop-Durian Mpire- that only serves food that contains durian. The monkeys love it too- durian grows in the jungle and the macaques happily munch away when it's in season.
With all this hype, naturally we had to try it. So we got some at the grocery store, and it was surprisingly expensive. It's hard to buy just a little (this is a common problem with fresh food in Singapore), so we had to buy a relatively large amount. When we got it home, I took it out on the balcony and trapped it under a bucket- I figured that 5 minutes in the apartment might turn into 5 days of trying to eradicate the stench. And then we gave it a try.Bryan responded to his taste like an adult, with a pinched face and, "That wasn't as icky as I thought it would be." After Bryan's encouraging words, I vowed to take a bigger bite than he did, and immediately regretted it. If you want to see me struggle to swallow the durian for about a minute, click here (I'm posting videos on Youtube for now- I've been having more problems with Blogger). It tasted pretty much like it smelled- nasty. But when you add in the bizarre, fleshy texture things really get disgusting. It has a skin on it but it's mushy on the inside, and you end up with a mouthful of gooey, mushy, stink with some skin mixed in. I think it's safe to say that I've had my fill of durian for awhile. I guess I should've listened to my brother. Story of my life...
Saturday, February 20, 2010
This picture is of Leo, the alpha of the group that I work with. He’s like the monkey king.
I thought it might be fun for Flat Gavin to see the monkeys, so I took him along with me when I went to work one day. We took public transportation to get to Bukit Timah Nature Reserve, where the monkeys live.
And here he is with the sign to for Bukit Timah. If you look closely, you can see that the sign is in four different languages. English is the official language of
And Flat Gavin got to meet the monkeys!! The monkeys in the pictures are young males that are old enough to go off and play by themselves. They like to wrestle and play-fight.
Bukit Timah Nature Reserve isn’t just home to the monkeys- it’s a rich jungle full of all kinds of plants, lizards, snakes, birds, and more! It doesn’t have any really big animals like tigers because
I had a great time taking Flat Gavin with me to meet the monkeys!! I’m not sure how long your class will be learning about geography, but I travel around
So that was my first adventure with Flat Gavin and Alice. I enjoyed the strange looks that I got when people would spot me, holding a plastic doll up and trying to position her exactly right to get a good picture. At one point, I was going to put Alice back in my backpack, but I had to run to catch my bus, and I ended up just carrying her. I kind of forgot about her and a while later I realized that I'd been sitting on the bus, absentmindedly staring out the window, clutching a garishly colored doll on my lap. I must have looked demented. Anyway, I think I'm going to start taking Flat Gavin and Alice along when Bryan and I go on trips. I don't know how long Flat Gavin will last- he's paper and he's already looking a little ragged from our first outing, but Alice is pretty robust, so I'm hoping to drag her all over the place. Look for more awesome pictures of my new friends in the future!P.S. Sorry the fonts are messed up for this post- I copy/pasted some of this from Word, and apparently Blogger can't deal with that.