Friday, February 24, 2012

Chingay @ Heartlands

Bryan and I were enjoying a quiet Sunday at home when we heard quite a commotion outside. This isn't entirely unusual considering that we live opposite a sometimes raucous Hindu temple, but this was louder than average. When we went to the window to check it out, there was a whole line of floats queuing up on the street!!
A colorful view

On the green down the street, loud music was playing and dragon dancers were performing. Lots of people were milling about waiting for the parade to get going, and the traffic was backing up around the block. The floats got moving and they came right past our flat. We had a great view from our twentieth story window!
Check it out! Dragons AND the Singapore Flyer!

From the side of one of the floats, we learned that the parade was for Chingay. I don't know how I've managed to live in Singapore for two and a half years without ever hearing of Chingay, but apparently it's a parade held every year as part of the Chinese New Year's festivities. It originated in Malaysia as a celebration of Chinese deities' birthdays, and eventually made its way to Singapore, where it became a multicultural celebration and was incorporated into Chinese New Year.
Lots of the floats had elaborately costumed dancers

The main Chingay parade is a big affair held downtown, but the smaller parade we saw was part of an effort to bring Chingay to the heartlands. Similar parades were also held in Ang Mo Kio, Chinatown, Bukit Panjang, and elsewhere.
My favorite float!

NUS's float had a fantastic butterfly! It looked like it came right out of a coloring book!
So pretty! Way to go, NUS!

There were eleven floats in all, each more colorful than the last.
New Creation Church's float was covered in BALLOONS!
Another float was sea creature-themed!

Bryan and I really enjoyed the last couple of floats, which looked like old-fashioned ships!
The waves looked really pretty
The hearts on the sail are a nice touch!

The parade definitely brightened up our Sunday. It was nice to have entertainment just outside our window!

P.S. Matt, a fellow blogger also did a post about the Chingay parade he saw in Bukit Panjang. Check it out here.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Things We Find in the Woods Part Ten

Field work is in full swing, and that means ample opportunities to see neat new nature and wildlife! First of all, how about this super weird thing we saw in the water at Pulau Ubin?! It was long and squiggly and undulated all over the place. At first it looked like a long pink ribbon drifting through the water, but a closer look revealed that it was generating its own rhythmic movements. I think it's some kind of sea worm, but I couldn't find any more information about it in my handy dandy Singapore Biodiversity Encyclopedia.
I've never seen a sea creature that looks like a ribbon dancer!

Speaking of things that squirm and slither, how about THIS thing?! It's a terrestrial flatworm. Yes, that orange thing is its head. As my supervisor so accurately stated, "That thing looks like something out of X-Files." True. It behaves strangely too, eating up earthworms like they're going out of style!
Probably the weirdest wildlife I've seen in SE Asia. About 15 cm long.

At first we weren't seeing many snakes, but one day at Bukit Timah I saw an elegant bronzeback. I love those snakes - they're long and super skinny, and they're harmless, so I feel pretty safe observing them.
Who can resist this cute little guy?!

My bronzeback sighting seems to have broken our snake dry spell, because the next week we had a two-snake day! First I spotted this guy in the weeds off the trail. He's the venomous Wagler's pit viper, so we gave him a wide berth and moved on.
Not a great picture, but you get the idea!

A couple of hours later, I found ANOTHER snake. And guess what! It was a snake I've never seen before! When I first spotted its bright colors, I definitely thought it was venomous, but then I remembered a little rhyme my dad learned in the army,

Red to yellow, kill a fellow
Red to black, friend of Jack

I'm not sure if it's 100% accurate, but in this case, it was right. This red-to-black reptile is the harmless twin-barred tree snake, which is capable of gliding through the air, just like the paradise tree snake!
A NEW SNAKE!!! HOORAY! I wish Bryan could've seen it!

OK, I made it halfway through a nature post without mentioning monkeys. That's the best I can do. So. One day in MacRitchie we encountered a group of monkeys we'd never followed before. We'd been around them for about 5 minutes when they started alarm calling. That usually means that there's some kind of threat around - if the monkeys aren't habituated to people, they might alarm call at them. They also alarm call at other groups of monkeys and a variety of potential predators, including dogs, snakes, crocodiles, large monitor lizards, birds of prey, and more. We were pretty sure that we weren't the source of their distress, so we started looking around for what they were all worked up about. We didn't see anything, but the alarm calling went on and on for about a half an hour. We finally saw the root of all the excitement when this guy lumbered slowly around the bend in a little forest stream!!!
He was HUGE!
He was bigger than an adult monkey. I don't blame them for alarm calling!

If you know me well, you probably know that I ADORE turtles. They're probably my favorite animal after monkeys. Singapore has lots of red-eared sliders, but unfortunately I haven't observed many other turtles in the wild here, so this was really a treat. I think this is a Malayan flat-shelled terrapin, but I could be wrong, so any other suggestions are welcome!

Up until a few months ago, Singapore had a railway that connected to Malaysia (read a neat blog post about it here). The train tracks ran right next to Bukit Timah, and there were lots of fruit trees along the tracks, so the monkeys spent a lot of time there munching on fruits. When the train service stopped, Singapore decided to remove the tracks, and there's discussion of turning the old rail path into a green corridor (hooray!). I followed the monkeys to the site of the old tracks one day, and was astonished to see how well the land had recovered from the tracks. It looks like there was never anything there!! The section of tracks in the photo was left behind presumably because it runs across an overpass and would have been more difficult to remove.
Hard to believe trains were running here 6 months ago!

Of course, no nature post is complete without monkey photos! The road that leads up to the Visitor Center at Bukit Timah recently had new drains installed and the monkeys discovered that the drains make an excellent fort! They played in them for hours, popping in one hole and out the other, tackling each other, and wrestling.
Check out mah new FORT!
Go find your OWN playhouse. This one belongs to the Hindhede monkeys!

Watch out for lots more wildlife posts in the months ahead!

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Bukit Batok Town Park

I bet you thought that Bryan and I had already been to every park and nature reserve in Singapore by now...but we haven't! There are still a few places we haven't visited yet. Bukit Batok Town Park was on our list of places to go (I also had to go there for work, to look for monkeys). So we headed over there one day. I hadn't heard much about the park, except that it's always confused with Bukit Batok Nature Park (clarification: BBNP is in Bukit Batok, near Bukit Timah. BBTP is near Bukit Gombak MRT station). I was pleasantly surprised by this little park. It's beautiful!!

These dramatic cliffs descend right into the water. The park is also called Little Guilin, apparently because the scenery is similar to Guilin, China. But it reminded me a little of Phang Nga Bay in Thailand. It's not as huge and breathtaking, but it's lovely nonetheless...and it's right here, right by the MRT!
Surprising scenery for Singapore

The park had lots of little alcoves and benches and places to hang out. It seemed like a nice place to relax or have a picnic (but watch out...there are reports of food-snatching monkeys hanging around!)
Cozy little nook
Someone left this cute little elephant behind

There was some wildlife in the park too. As I sat along the water, I heard some movement along the shore. It was a huge water monitor in the process of catching and eating a huge silver fish! And of course Bryan was off on his own with the camera, so we totally missed the photo op. But while he was off looking around, he got some cool shots of a bold green crested lizard that was hanging out right by his feet.
Hey, man. Got any bugs I can eat?

We also caught some butterflies in a private moment! We snapped a photo and left them to their business. I'm pretty sure these butterflies are a type called "Common Mormons," which is one of the more unusual butterfly monikers I've heard.
Common Mormon butterflies

My colleague recently introduced me to a neat plant called a touch-me-not (aka sensitive plant, humble plant, or sleeping grass). Once she showed it to me, I saw that it's super common and occurs all over Singapore: along sidewalks, in nature reserves, all over the place. The plants are fascinating. When you touch the leaves, they quickly fold in on themselves. If you leave them alone for awhile, the leaves slowly open up again. It seems to be a type of defense mechanism. I think this is awesome and I have developed a bit of an obsession with these plants!!!
The touch-me-not, my second favorite plant (after pitcher plants, of course)
After I touched it, it closed up on itself!!

If you step on the plant when you're walking, the whole plant closes up. The plant becomes so much more compact that it can be hard to even see it!
Open touch-me-not
Same exact spot after stepping on the can hardly even see it!

OK, that's the end of my rant on the awesomeness of the touch-me-not. If you get a chance, I recommend heading over to Bukit Batok Town Park to check out the scenery, the fun plants, and (if you're lucky) a little wildlife!