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Published: August 13th 2011
The door of the plane opened and we were hit by a 30 degree heat saturated with humidity, it was 8.50am. The Singapore airport is renowned to be one of the best in the world, so we had high expectations as we were whisked over the travelaters, listening to the plinky plunky music.
The airport is indeed a nice place. I enjoyed my first hot coffee since wearing out Steve's coffee grinder during our lovely stay with them. The second coffee, (we stopped off on the way to the other terminal, okay?!) burnt my throat out. Such is life.
Singapore, being a small, peninsula, city-country, has an efficient public transport network. The train metro network is called the MRT. This is complemented by an equally efficient bus network. We took the MRT to our digs in the centre of the city and spent a bit of time trying to figure out how we were going to leave. What I mean by this is that we had envisaged taking a bus from Singapore to Malaysia, KL, where we were to take a flight to Siem Reap in Cambodia. Loads of bus companies do the route at loads of different prices
Adult - zoomed view
We thought "wow! They're so close!"
but one of the big drawbacks they all seem to have is that they drop you, not at KL Sentral, where we needed to be, to catch the Central Market, which promised all manner of cheap oddities, but at their company offices, dotted all round KL.
Long story short; we could never find a bus were really happy with. The one that came close ended up being $110, for a bus?! Nah. So we ended up flying from Singapore to KL, but I've started at the end, let me backtrack.
We had tried to save a bit of money by taking a fan only room but it turned out that our hostel put us in a room with a/c for the same price. This turned out to be an absolute godsend. Singapore is not only hot, it is humid. Doing anything other than sitting in our fridge resulted in transforming ourselves into ovens. It really was quite the most oppressive heat and humidity combination I think either of us had experienced thus far, apart from possibly Antigua.
Our first night, trying to use our Singapore Tourist card, valid for 2 days only, we spent riding the air-conditioned
MRT to...wherever looked like a place to see on the map! We stumbled upon Little India and its markets of wonderful oriental fabrics and traditional dresses. Next was China Town, with its colourful market of souvenirs, electronics, clothes and ended up, guided by the pungent smell of spices and fried onions to Food Street. As its name suggests, it is a succession of tables, chairs and food stalls, catering all sorts of stir-fries for locals and tourists alike. On the street is where everyone eats in Singapore. As I was queuing for a plate, a Westerner let me know that he came to Singapore every month for business and that was the best place to eat. I was reassured, he looked healthy and suddenly our survival chances looked better. We indeed had a nice meal and strolled back to the hostel, content with having made good use of our transport pass. Further to this, the triumph of returning to an air conditioned room filled us with content as we passed the open door of the miserably hot and noisy swamp masquerading as a dormitory.
Waking, a little chilly, we set about getting ready for the Singapore Zoo, supposedly one
of the best zoos in the world and this morning we had Breakfast with the Orangutans already booked for 9.30am. I opened the door of our room and promptly closed it. I had started sweating already. My T-shirt was damp. We looked at one another. Breakfast with Orangutans, how often does that happen?
Still, it was with some reluctance that I broke the cool-bubble and stepped outside. We had a five minute walk to the station. Three of those were in air-conditioned walkways. It wasn't enough.
The bus from the station to the zoo was also air-conditioned. Waiting for it in the station, which was air-conditioned in parts only, was long, even though it arrived bang on time, to the minute.
We had allowed an hour to get to the zoo, which was the time suggested. For the first time in a long time though, something happened on the journey that delayed us. We got stuck in traffic. This hadn't happened to us in while. It didn't take long to remember what a pain in the ass traffic is though. We arrived at the zoo at 9:20am, the orangutans would be 'at breakfast' with us from 9.30am
effortlessly hanging in what looks an uncomfortable position. The youngsters eyes while looking at objects that interested them were so human.
to 10am. We ran off the bus into the heat soup. We grabbed our entrance tickets and sprinted through the zoo to get to the restaurant where the orangutans would be.
We were guided to our table and were told the orangutans would be with us soon. Just as this was being said I caught sight of a large, hairy man, high up in a tree, about 20 metres away.
The orangutan enclosure is really unique in that, except for the central viewing island with moat, familiar to most zoo goers, the rest of their space is almost free range. There are trees overhanging the central area that lead to other trees around the zoo and they are free to swing, climb and jump from tree branch to tree branch. Of course, I'm sure there are limits to where they can go but there are lots of small platforms for them to sit on and ropes going directly above the human walkways. It is so effective that throughout our day the orangutans seemed to be perpetually round the next corner or above us as we walked from one exhibit to another. Sorry, I've jumped ahead in time again,
One of the older youngsters
Balding and with body hair!
I realise. We had just caught sight of our first 'Man of the Forest'. (From the Malay “Orang” meaning man and “(h)utan” meaning forest.)
After barely pausing to change camera lens, we ran to the point in the restaurant nearest the orangutans and furiously took video and long-rang photos of these HUGE animals. We were desperate not to miss out on a single second of orangutan exposure after thinking that the bus delays might have caused us to miss them. The orangutans kept getting closer; we could pick out individuals characteristics and we were so happy at being able to see them. And they still came closer. And closer still. Finally, one popped up over a tree branch and I couldn't fit her all in my viewfinder. I took the camera from my eye and saw the orangutan look at me from five feet away. Del gasped as it moved from our left to our right and sat on a large perch made of logs, where a keeper was holding some fruit out to it. It took the fruit from his hand using its giant hand, complete with opposable thumb, covered in orange-brown hair and sat there munching it.
I distinctly remember Del and I looking at each other with our chins on the floor and staying that way all throughout our encounter with them.
A young lady's voice comes over the tannoy, welcoming us to 'Breakfast with the Orangutans' and goes on to explain that they will be here for half an hour, that we can have our photos taken with them and explains that they have both species; Sumatran and Bornean organutans here. The Sumatran organutans have beards, even the females, and the Borneans tend to have a darker complexion and darker hair. As she is speaking the perch becomes populated with several large adults, that I later realise are all females, as none have the cheek pads present on the faces of males. Several youngsters jump around and investigate everything in their vicinity, hyperactive compared to their very relaxed elders who reside, magnificently, on the perch and munch all the fruit offered to them and some that isn't, completely accepting that it is the way of the world to be so lauded over.
Orangutans are the largest tree living mammal in the world, spending close on all their time in the trees, rarely touching
After just eating a fruit.
down on the ground, as their super long arms, longer than their body (twice as long as their arms), such an incredible adaptation for living at height in the rainforest, are serious hindrances on the ground. Great Apes, they share a staggering 96.4% of their DNA with us. Looking at them looking at some of us, with our ipads, they look as good-naturedly bemused by us all, as one would expect to see an anthropologist when studying the quaint and distinctive habits of a particular species. They reach almost continually for fruit, they must get through tonnes of it each day, and we learn it makes up between 60% and 90% of their diet.
They look so human. I am fascinated by the youngsters, as they look both old and young at the same time; wispy hair on their heads, balding in places, covered in body hair, and some have beards, even though they are only a 6 months or a year old, and so obviously diminutive in stature when compared to the giants they clamber over and around. With this, they are undoubtedly young, they move fast, investigate everything, look wide-eyed, do things the difficult way; hanging upside
down by one foot while eating fruit, then righting themselves in an instant. Their bodies, surely stronger than they look, are slight, their arms slender when compared to the vast sitting strength resting beside them.
Organutans live for between 35-40 years in the wild, extending to their middle 50s in captivity. Their faces and expressions are so akin to ours that I found it impossible not to empathise with them and try to read their thoughts through their body language. For orangutans do think. It has been proven in studies that they think and reason, use tools and dislike getting wet so much they fashion umbrellas. More than that though; It is obvious as soon as we see them that we are looking at sentient, thinking beings. I had the exact same impression when I saw elephants in the wild, up-close, for the first time. It looks at you and you know it is thinking, it knows it is here, in this moment and it looks back at you. Something within us must be hard-wired to recognise sentience immediately. Maybe it comes from the past, when other human species walked the globe and interacted and it was necessary to
register that they were not animals in the same way as the other sharp-toothed things out there. However we have the ability, it is strong and accurate and we should listen to it. I am quite at a loss to understand how unscrupulous people can see a female orangutan looking after her youngster, which she does for six years, and not see human emotions being exhibited and so take the baby away for the illegal pet trade and in the process kill the mother. It is utterly beyond me to understand this.
On a lighter note, we had the unbelievable experience of having our photos taken with them; we're facing the camera, or at least partially, as we can't help turning round and looking at these wonderful animals from so close. The video and photos reflect this and you can quite clearly see, we are still gaping at the them in amazement.
After the organutans left so did most of the breakfast guests. Both Del and I then swooped in to enjoy the buffet breakfast laid out. Remember, we had been eating rice and fish for two weeks in Indonesia and Asian portions are generally smaller than Western
ones, so we were all over the platters of food. An English Breakfast for me, with beef bacon (slightly odd – but good) and a mountain of scrambled eggs, with real coffee, unlimited coffee, and so many pastries we half-inched a few for a coffee break later. Awesome.
So after fuelling up we headed out to see this huge zoo. Highlights: pygmy hippopotamus – surprisingly cute; white tigers – all a descendent from one individual tiger; Komodo Dragons – we couldn't get over to Komodo when we were in Indonesia as it was a full (hard and expensive) 24 hour journey from Gili Air and we just couldn't fit it in amongst the sun lounging, tuna kebab eating and snorkelling. The elephant show, demonstrating how elephants were used in the logging industry, tastefully showcasing their strength and dexterity and the relationship between them and their mahouts.
We walked all day apart from a coffee break with some of the hijacked pastries from breakfast in serious heat and humidity. They're currently building a polar bear exhibit, which really would be an amazing change in temperature. Apart from the zoo and the marvellous street eateries we found Singapore much like
Trying to face the camera
but we keep looking back at these HUGE animals just behind us.
any other city. Although it is true that we only spent a few days there and had to do it on the cheap.
It was the cleanest city we have been in in Asia; the fines for littering, for example, are extreme. We were sitting on the pavement one evening, sharing a cigarette and a little further down the road, towards a few restaurants, three local lads were quietly doing the same thing, flicking their ash in the small bushes by the road. I saw a group of ten policeman come walking purposefully in their direction. I picked Del up by the arm and we walked casually to a cigarette bin in the opposite direction. When we'd finished and equally casually walked past them, the lads were surrounded and one of the cops was taking out his citation book. $500 fine. Ouch. Not quite an emu expense but we were glad to have a lucky escape all the same.
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