Is This Really Still Singapore?

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August 17th 2018
Published: August 17th 2018
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I've been thinking about the existence of the nation of Singapore. The whole country is built entirely on caloric surplus. Very little of what the country does, pretty much nothing, has inherent value for people, and it depends entirely on the caloric surpluses of the world allowing these inherently worthless and intangible things to be given extreme value. It's a very interesting route of thought to go down that leads to some difficult and unanswerable questions about much of modern society, and Singapore really epitomises this whole concept and idea. A lot of this thought is inspired by John Green's excellent new podcast The Anthropocene Reviewed which is inspiring and deeply troubling at the same time and mixes a positive tone with an extremely depressing one. Well worth a listen.

It's certainly a complicated route of thought that I've been going down these last few days while on MRT trains etc. about the existence of Singapore. A strange sort of country. (The other thing I've been pondering is Singapore's mandatory National Service which I find deeply, deeply troubling in a lot of fundamental ways but I won't get into that now).

Anyway, I left early to head to Changi Point Ferry Terminal to go to Pulau Ubin which is an island off the coast of Singapore that is much more rural and undeveloped than the rest of the country. I was slower than expected getting across, which is unfortunate because I wanted as long as possible on the island. I still got there in what you'd call early morning of course, but not crack of dawn like I wanted. This was due partly to me being over optimistic about how quickly I could get to places on public transport and also because a bunch of university stuff came up last night that I had to deal with so I wasn't able to get to bed quite as early as hoped. The issue is that I'm doing gap year type travel in the summer holiday between finishing school and starting university.

Around Changi before getting the ferry, I looked at the many Red-breasted Parakeets flying around, and I also located a few Tanimbar Corellas on one of the large trees. Since my white bird on Sentosa turned out to be a Lesser Sulphur Crested Cockatoo not a Tanimbar, both of these species were new. I then took a $3 bumboat ride across to Pulau Ubin. The boats hold 12 people and after presumably called bumboats because that's the sort of person who would ride one. They're very unsingaporean in apparent safety given the number of cable ties holding exposed wires together and the about-to-fall-apartness of the wood. The driver was also seemingly just a private guy who left when he felt like it or the boat was full and sat on the boat smoking at other times. Is this really still Singapore? Upon arrival on Pulau Ubin I was mobbed by people loaning out bikes for day hire. Chronic oversupply meant the original $8 price dropped to $2.50for a day. No helmet either of course. I decided to hire a bike to cruise around the island for the day which was a good move. The paths are pretty much all paved and there are fair distances that would take a long time on foot. The whole island is covered in rainforest and mangroves with occasional small shacks for the small number of residents. There were lots of birds in the rainforest as well as some reptiles like a cute little Green Crested Lizard and even wild boar and macaques! The wild boar were actually really common and I even saw a group of stripy little piglets.

The whole place was so incredibly far removed from Singapore and my phone agreed because I got a message welcoming me to Malaysia since I was obviously picking up a cell tower on the other side of the strait. The whole place felt much more Malaysia than Singaporean and I really enjoyed cruising around slowly on a bike. There were very few other people around so I could just stop anywhere in the middle of the road if I saw or heard anything interesting. For a $2.50 with no deposit bike, it worked extremely well. The gears didn't quite do what I would have expected and the bike changing gear seemed largely unrelated to when I pulled the lever, but it went where I wanted which is all I need.

Luckily, it was a relatively cool day today too, although completely overcast and it did rain a fair bit which does get you soaked when you're on a bike but it's not too bad. At one point in the late afternoon after quite a heavy shower and while there was still thunder and the sky was completely dark grey, but it was not actually raining, it all of a sudden got so obscenely humid. I don't think I've ever felt such high humidity. It was next to a reservoir too and everything was soaked but the air was totally and completely saturated. The birding was good though even in the day with woodpeckers and drongos and Oriental Pied Hornbills, and the forest had loads of fruiting rambutan.

I biked to the Chek Jawa Wetlands to have my lunch of boiled eggs nicked from the free breakfast at the accommodation. This was a good move for staying out in the forest longer, although seven boiled eggs in a day is quite a bit. Anyway, the wetlands are an area of mangroves and rainforest on the far Eastern tip of the island with some nice boardwalks and a historical house thing. Just across from the viewing deck is Changi Airport and the city, and it feels like a completely different country. Unlike Singapore which shouldn't exist and is built on caloric surplus as vaguely discussed above, Ubin feels like a normal place with an orchard and fish farms and village huts surrounded by rainforest. Not that I find the city of Singapore a particularly unpleasant place, but it is an odd country. Ubin seems much more normal.

There were lots of Red Junglefowl in the nearby woodland, real Junglefowl rather than chickens, the numerous White-bellied Sea-eagles were very impressive, and a Malaysian Plover on the mudflats was a long overdue lifer.

You can tell that Ubin is a very different place from the main island because the tap water is not potable here, unlike the rest of Singapore, so a drink dispenser at the wetlands entrance was very handy.

There are otters (Smooth Coated) here too which I kept my eyes open for, and I saw a trail of otter tracks, but didn't see any otters, despite looping back around to the wetlands again before leaving to look around. It was certainly an enjoyable day on Pulau Ubin and an excellent very different day trip from the city. Quite tiring too, because I covered quite a long distance on the bike and my body's not used to biking.

On the way back I looked around Changi Village again briefly for the introduced parrots and saw the Red-breasteds but not the Tanimbars, and took the same bus+train route back. I should probably have had dinner at Changi before going back but didn’t and I ate in Chinatown instead. I only mention this, because just down the road from where I’m staying I found a really particularly good place to eat which was probably one of the best meals of the trip of a sweet and spicy tofu hot plate and salt and pepper battered sweetcorn which was especially good.

Tomorrow: Bukit Timah + Gardens by the Bay

New birds:
Red-breasted Parakeet
Tanimbar Corella
Malaysian Plover
Red-whiskered Bulbul

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