Tuesday, 20 December 2016

Special people, places and pleasant outings in Singaprore

In no particular time frame but alphabetical order:
At the Phor Kark See Monastery in Ang Mo Kio there is a fabulous statue of the Goddess of Mercy, Guanyin Bodhisattva, and a collection of the cutest baby Buddhas on the grass. The goddess is frequently visited by couples trying for a family as it is believed she will help.
The term 'Ang Mo' has some derogatory connotations, referring to a white person or Western culture in general

We enjoyed so many walks through Bidadari up to 2016. Very nearby to our condo, it was once an estate belonging to one of the wives of the Sultan Aku Bakar of Johore. Her palace, Istana Bidadari, was built on the 18ha of land before the colonial govt acquired the land in 1904 to create a municipal cemetery. It grew to hold more than 140,000 graves before being closed in 1972. The tombs were exhumed in the early 2000's and the rain forest flourished. It always offered good bird watching opportunities, especially during the northern winter migration as it was apparently right on the flight path and a final resting place before the last leg to Indonesia. We were often blessed with unexpected surprises. We met some interesting people there too, including the gurkhas who used it for training runs and a number of other nature enthusiasts.

Bishan Park is special, one of the largest urban parks in central Singapore.  The old concrete canal was removed and the natural waterway restored with lush banks of grasses and wildflowers. The park has something for everyone with playgrounds and ponds, making it a popular choice with locals for walking, cycling and a spot of music or tai chi.

Now I have made myself a limit of only 2 pics for each location I include but that is going to be a difficult choice for this next one; Singapore's Botanic Gardens. In 2014 UNESCO included them on their World Heritage List, the first tropical garden and only the third botanic gardens inscribed in the world. First established in 1959, Singapore’s oldest garden is a treasure trove for plant lovers, or those who simply want to have a good time outdoors. 

We know Bras Basah for its fine museums, national monuments, churches and institutions such as art schools and the university campuses. Yet it derived its name from the Malay term for ‘wet rice’ which was once laid out on the banks of the river here to dry. In August each year the facades of many buildings are transformed by the night festival's interactive light installations.

It would be remiss to overlook the kampong at BuangkokEstablished in 1956, it is the last surviving kampong on mainland Singapore.  The kampong currently houses less than 30 resistant residents, who prefer not to move despite enticements offered. The houses, connected by dirt roads, are mostly made of wood with zinc roofs. The roaming dogs, cats and chickens seem to co-exist with one another as easily as the residents. At first glance it would appear that time has stood still, but even in the few years that we have been here there have been marked changes. In the 60's residents paid $2–$3 rent. They tended to rear their own chickens for food and generally led a carefree and slower pace of life as compared to their urban counterparts. Present day residents are mostly elderly and pay about $13 in rent. That is still significantly less than the regular rate and it appears they continue to enjoy the slower pace of life that the kampong setting offers, but for how much longer?  How long before they are cleaned and greened?

Bugis was named after the seafaring Bugis people from Indonesia who came here to trade with local merchants. Before a massive clean-up in the 1980s, it was notorious as a haunt for sailors and transvestites (who we remember from trips down from Penang). Today it seems to have a real vibe about it with plenty of interesting night life. Almost all of my pictures feature evenings spent with good food and good company. Oh, and the wine fairy from Divine Bar at Park View Square which has recently been closed for renovations. We have heard that the wine fairy will not be returning. Aren't we lucky to have had the opportunity to be served by her?

Our walks have taken us out west to Bukot Batok Nature Park a number of times. It looks a little like a Chinese landscape painting. In fact, there’s a part of Bukit Batok that’s called Little Guilin after the picturesque city of Guilin in southern China. The area used to be a granite quarry and now there is a beautiful lake and plenty of wildlife. This is also a site of historical significance. During the Occupation of Singapore in World War II, the Japanese selected a site that is currently within the Nature Park as a memorial for the soldiers who died and it is now a designated memorial site.

Bukit Brown Chinese Cemetery was established in 1922. It was open for more than half a century until its closure in 1973.  Many well-known and prominent Singaporeans are interred there.  June did a guided walk and then shared what she learnt with the rest of the walking group. It was very interesting to learn about the tomb design. Most graves are adorned with decorations from traditional Chinese mythology such as lion statues, but several have statues of Sikh watchmen which stand guard over the grave instead. It has become a wonderful bird watching site despite roadworks cutting through it. 

Bukit Timah was a regular challenge in our early years here, in fact when we were training for treks we were doing it weekly. I can't say I loved the walks, the deep steps were very hard on my knees, but I did enjoy the challenge and the feeling afterwards. I can't tell you the number of summit photos we have, I chose this one as it includes some dear friends of ours from home and we trekked with all the others. We were appalled to discover it was going to be closed for 2 years while they refurbished all the paths to stop the erosion and protect the small piece of rainforest, and its wildlife, left on the island. Fortunately it reopened just in time for Eric to return a few times before we left. I'm not going to put my knees through that again. 

We have called Cherry Hill Condo home for 5 years. When we first moved in we just had a suitcase each and a few boxes we had sent unaccompanied. The shelves were bare but for a bottle of duty free each and some hats. Eric was impressed to find the wine glasses we bought while staying at the Peninsula Excelsior survived the move. Then Peter gave us a computer desk and somehow we managed to accumulate a lot more to fill the place. From our sprawling lawn and huge verandah at Koolpinyah Cres, we found the transition to an apartment easier than expected. The location has been fabulous and we have been very lucky to make connections with a number of locals across the road in the HDB. 

Chinese New Year is just around the corner again, falling early on Jan 28th. It is undoubtedly the most important event in the Chinese calendar where 3 weeks prior to the start, the festive mood begins with seasonal markets, roudy lion dances and overlaying it all, families reuniting to exchange mandarin oranges for good luck and feasting on special dishes. Our students look forward to this festival most of all because they receive hong bao (red packets stuffed with new, even denomination bank notes) from relatives. I love the energy and colour of the lion dance. Fortunately, our condo management always seems to arrange it for a time when we are free to watch. 

On the purple line of the MRT it is only 8 stops from Serangoon to Chinatown and it lands you into the thick of it on Pagoda Street, a pedestrianized road lined with small shops selling everything from bak kwa (sweet barbecue pork) to digital cameras. If you have some souvenir shopping to do, this is the place to do it. Of course you can’t miss the multi-tiered Buddha Tooth Relic Temple but there are surprises too, including Singapore’s oldest Hindu temple with its roots traced back to 1827 and Masjid Al-Abrar, one of the earliest mosques. Of all places, these is also a Smith St. Chinatown is one of the few places you can still find a cobbler on the corner.

Out west in Jurong are the serene Chinese and Japanese Gardens, lying side by side surrounded by or on the banks of Jurong Lake. With a distant view of the high-rise pagoda and the red entrance bridge symbolizing good luck, the Chinese Garden was established in 1975, showcasing the Imperial Chinese style of landscaping and architecture built in harmony with the existing environment. The beautiful, arched bridge that connects the 2 gardens is called the “White Rainbow Bridge” and is one of my favourite sights. On the Japanese side you immediately notice the lanterns are no longer red but stone and the stone path, the red bridge and a small tori gate are the perfect reminder of the Japanese zen gardens we enjoyed on our trip. 

How many nights have we finished up at Clarke Quay? Untold. Raffles saw this as an ideal river bank trading outpost port. It was this discovery that sparked the birth of modern Singapore. In the early days, all ships offloaded their cargo onto sampans who transported it up the Singapore River to reach the godowns and shophouses at Boat Quay. Trade in spices and other produce that were highly sought after in Europe and China, from pepper and nutmeg to birds’ nests and sharks’ fins exploded. As a result other quays – Clarke Quay and Robertson Quay, were developed. In the 1970's shipping trade was moved and the river underwent a metamorphosis. These days you'd be hard-pressed to find a place that has more socializing options than Clarke Quay and Boat Quay, two of the city’s most lively nightlife spots and home to Sque Bar and The Crazy Elephant of course.

Deepavali, the Hindu festival celebrating the triumph of good over evil and light over darkness is dazzling with the most intense colours - rich saffron, henna and turmeric - intensified by the light of oil lamps. At night, Serangoon Rd in Little India is transformed into a fantasy land of colourful arches and stunning lights. Each year they are a little different and in 2016 they were graced by two 20m tall giant peacocks. All this goes hand in hand with the scent of marigolds, roses and jasmine, thickly braided into lush floral garlands mingling with the perfume of sweet incense. You could be forgiven for sensory overload in the hectic lane way market stalls. In 2013 we were invited to join one of the Indian families whose son Nidharshan attended my classes for a Deepavli dinner. It was a privilege to share the evening with their extended family and his Tamil tutor.

There's nothing quite like Duxton Hill to show the dramatic changes taking place in Singapore as the cityscape changes from low rise to high rise. The Pinnacle@Duxton HDB soars 50 storeys up and features the world's two longest sky gardens of 500 metres each, on both the 26th and 50th floors. From there you overlook the business district but it dwarfs the squat 2 and 3 storey shophouses and terraces of the neighbouring Chinatown district.  The Duxton Plain Park leads you to Outram and The Wine Mansion where we have enjoyed many evenings with good food and friends. 

Eco Green Park at Tampines is an eco-friendly park that offers a sanctuary for flora and fauna with various natural habitats such as open grasslands, freshwater wetlands and a secondary rainforest. It's a great place for visitors to enjoy the best of nature, even the odd storm. We've been caught unprepared more than once.  We have also found it the best place to observe the weaver birds building their intricate nests. 

Going anywhere from Cherry Hill invariably means walking through the Lew Lian Gardens HDB, often more than once a day and we have seen a number of Chinese funeral wakes taking place in the void decks. According to Chinese customs, nightly vigils are held to prevent evil occurrences such as spirits stealing the soul of the deceased, or a black cat jumping over the coffin and causing the corpse to rise. A common ritual conducted during wakes is the chanting of prayers by priests on the first and last days of the wake. The final day of the wake often involves live music by drum-and-gongs troupes from various associations as well as the burning of paper offerings such as paper houses, cars etc. Chinese funerals are usually held over an odd-number of days so are usually three or five days. Then a noisy procession moves with the hearse to the crematorium. These are then usually stored in a columbarium since all the cemeteries are now closed.  

Who would think visiting a garden would find you simply standing, open-mouthed in awe? Well, Gardens by the Bay can do just that. Apart from the bio domes which feature plants from around the world and the world's tallest indoor waterfall, the supertrees are absolutely monumental, the tallest being 15 storeys tall. Underlying the concept of Gardens by the Bay are the principles of environmental sustainability so each supertree is designed to mimic the function of a real tree, with photovoltaic cells to echo photosynthesis and contribute energy to run the park. The trees also collect water during the frequent heavy rains and channel it throughout the park for irrigation or fountains. In the evenings there is a sound and light show to watch called Garden Rhapsody, where the lights change color in sync to music. Stunning.

Geylang is a colourful district and not only for its architecture. Contrary to popular belief, the commercial sex scene thrives here in this Designated Redlight Area, having been moved on from Bugis Street. For a country known for its clean and green image, this came as quite a surprise to me. The government has taken the very pragmatic view that it is better to legalise prostitution in certain defined areas so that it can be controlled to a certain degree rather than outlaw it completely which would only drive it underground. Apparently if you are looking for this sort of action you need to go to the even numbered streets where the legal brothels (chicken houses) are numbered in white on a red background. On the street corners of Geylang you might find girls loitering but they are likely to be illegal migrants or have come to Singapore on a tourist pass and are not part of the government monitored DRA. Apart from this seedy side, the district is highly regarded as a foodies haven. Frog porridge anyone?

Morris Allen English has a tradition of holding an annual Great Race which is a little like the old car rallies we used to participate in as a family when I was a kid. I think the last one we ever did was while we were at teachers college. The Great Race was on foot though and the idea was to take people just one or 2 streets away from the well-walked tourist and shopping beats to see a different view of this sensational city. The first year we were here it was cancelled through lack of interest. The next year we got it up and running again and it is still going strong. We really enjoyed organizing it with the help of just a few others or participating. Apart from scoring points on the day, teams dressed up in themed costumes and we introduced also a pre-event quiz to fire the competitive spirits of the competitors.

Marking the end of the Islamic holy month of Ramadan is the festival of Eid, known in Singapore as Hari Raya Aidilfitri or Hari Raya Puasa which falls in July. Ramadan is a period of sober repentance for Muslims, with approximately 30 days of dawn-to-dusk fasting. Adherents of the faith also devote much of the month to worship, charitable deeds and acts of compassion. Many Malay families in Singapore wear new clothes in the same colour – men in loose shirts with trousers known as 'baju Melayu' and the women in 'baju kurung', a loose-fitting full-length blouse and skirt combination. As a result huge pop-up bazaars are erected in the heartlands selling clothing in every colour combination imaginable. In September Muslims in Singapore remember their faith with prayer and reflection during Hari Raya Haji, also known as the Festival of Sacrifice. It also marks the end of 'hajj', which every able-bodied Muslim with financial means is expected to complete at least once in his or her life. 

Over the past 20 years Haw Par Villa, the not-your-usual theme park, has been through a number of transformations to make it more marketable to the newer generation but the strategy seems to have failed as admission is now free. With close to a thousand statues, the place would require young, spirited kids to liven up the place yet we haven't found many there. It was built by an elder brother (Boon Haw) for his younger brother (Boon Par) as a residence in 1937. These boys made their fortune selling the world famous Tiger Balm ointment.  I am not sure if it was open to the public then, but I think it would be strange to have so many statues and dioramas showcasing Chinese legends and traditions if it was just for the family. 

In September the local Chinese celebrate the Hungry Ghost Festival, when the souls of the dead are believed to roam the earth. According to custom, these ghosts can get up to mischief if ignored, so all sorts of offerings are made during this period, which is the seventh month in the lunar calendar. It is a time of frenzied activity in the HDB across the road as stacks of hell money and paper offerings, such as cars, ipads and jewelry, are burned by relatives to appease their deceased family members – taking care of their material needs even in the afterlife. Food offerings, from oranges to suckling pigs are laid out on altars and joss sticks and other items are commonly tucked into the side of footpaths or even alongside trees. Large tents are set up in the grounds to host raucous dinners and auctions. There are performances too, such as Chinese operas and live stage performances, which feature, bawdy stand-up comedy as well as song and dance numbers.

 Joo Chiat's identifying feature is its unique pre-war Peranakan architecture – it must be one of the most well preserved and colourful districts full of two-storey shophouses and terrace houses with ornate facades, intricate motifs and ceramic tiles. We love wandering through this area as Joo Chiat and Katong are also well known for the endless choices of Nonya food sold in popular coffee shops and cafes. This is where you can also browse through the traditional Nonya handicrafts like embroidered kebayas, batik sarongs, beaded slippers and other accessories. 

Kampong Glam is historically the home of the Native Malay and Muslim Community with the minarets of the Masjid Sultan dominating the skyline. Inside it features a carpet donated by the Prince of Saudi Arabia and is where pilgrims going to Mecca for the Haj would traditionally meet. Next door is the Malay Heritage Museum housed in the original Sultan's Istana. In the streets nearby you find plenty of textile shops and fabulous middle eastern food. Then there's the increasingly hip neighbourhood of Haji Lane, a small alleyway of quaint boutiques, vintage record shops and international bars. Our favourite remains Blu Jaz.

I have just finished 5 years at the one branch of MAE at Kovan. Of all the locations they have branches, Kovan is the least attractive in some respects. It is in a traditional Heartlands Mall, built within the bounds of an HDB, rather than a swanky new shopping plaza. It's where you can find many average Singaporean families staying in subsidized flats that are built by the government. Heartlands areas always feature a decent sized market where residents get their daily produce and hawker centres where all kinds of local food can be found, at a reasonable price. Not much nighttime entertainment can be found in these areas except for a seasonal pop-up night market and neighborhood bar. The mall has had an exterior paint job in my time but the rest of the maintenance of our top floor branch leaves a lot to be desired. None the less, I've loved working with the students and fitting in to the staff team. 

Of all the locations in Singapore Kranji evokes the extremes. We have attended a number of ANZAC Dawn Services at the Kranji War Memorial to honour the men and women from the Commonwealth who died in the line of duty during World War II. We found these services very moving, set in the serene hillside cemetery where more than 4,400 white gravestones are lined up in rows on the gentle slope. On the otherhand we have enjoyed a couple of very entertaining days at the Singapore Turf Club on the first Tuesday in November courtesy of ANZA (Aust and NZ Association) who support their members through networking, social and recreational as well as professional opportunities. They have bookmakers and 'Fashions on the Field' but without a horse in sight. Finally, Kranji is now also home to the Kranji Marshes, recently opened to the public and one of the largest freshwater marshes in Singapore and home to a rich array of flora and fauna, including more than 170 species of birds.

Little India is one of Singapore's most colorful districts spreading out along Serangoon Rd, populated by the descendants of the Indians who arrived in Singapore in the mid 1800’s. It is the focal point of Singapore's Indian community where hundreds of Indians assemble on Serangoon Road on Sundays to share the news received from 'home'. The crush can be a little overwhelming. Once you leave the MRT you are instantly immersed in he scents of spice and flower garlands, the treasure trove of silverware and brassware, the ethnic jewelry and silk saris. We have returned time and time again to New Everest Kitchen for traditional northern Indian fare over the years and had some wonderful evenings. 

Located in the centre of the island is Singapore’s Central Catchment Nature Reserve which includes Upper and Lower Pierce Reservoirs, Upper Seletar Reservoir as well as MacRitchie Reservoir, Singapore’s oldest. They are surrounded by 28 sq km of forest with trails cut through for walkers and fitness enthusiasts. On public holidays the trails are often crowded but since we walked them most often on a Monday we had them pretty much to ourselves. MacRitchie has a TreeTop Walk (not open on Mondays though) and the Jelutong Tower which give visitors the opportunity to view the expansive greenery from above the tropical rain forest’s canopy. Macritchie is the only place where we have seen the Bat Lily in bloom. 

Marina Bay Sands. I do freely admit than when I first saw it on an earlier trip through here, I was somewhat unimpressed. I thought it was a bit like Dubai striving to have the biggest and glitziest of everything. Completely over the top. Fact is, I soon fell in love with it. I find myself looking for it as a point of reference and just because I truly love it. Thanks to our bestman at that wedding in 1979 we had the opportunity to get up to the pool deck. I am trying to come up with an appropriate superlative to describe the feeling of swimming in an infinity pool with that view.

Marking the end of the autumn harvest, the Mid-Autumn Festival (also known as the Lantern Festival) was traditionally a time to give thanks to the gods. The lanterns were made and decorated by children. Nowadays it is a time for people to greet each other and express their gratitude as friends, relatives, or business partners. Local Chinese send moon cakes to each other to express their greetings and good wishes. It is also a time of year when the moon is at its brightest, which is why lunar legends have always been attached to the celebration. Elaaborate colorful lanterns are put up in many places around Singapore including Clarke Quay, Gardens by the Bay, Chinatown and temples to name a few. Over our years here we have seen complex dioramas of international countries, celestial beings, cartoon characters and lunar legends. 

Morris Allen English gave us the opportunity to spend 5 years in Singapore. We were tutoring in English Enrichment but to tell you the truth our lives were equally enriched by meeting those families, the colleagues we worked with, the food we loved and the places on the tiny island we have explored. One of the most colourful experiences was learning a bollywood dance and then performing at the Annual Dinner. We had so many laughs. Lesson No 1: Don't position yourself bnear Richard in the lesson, he always goes the wrong way. We dressed up in our Indian gladrags only to be met by Bernard at the florist shop on the way to the MRT to be asked why we were dressed as Pakistanis? Didn't get that quite right.

The first 9 days of the 9th lunar month is when Taoists celebrate the Nine Emperor Gods Festival and we were very lucky to live right by the Tou Mu Kung Temple, the oldest temple to hold the festival, which has been gazetted as a national monument due to its special historic and traditional value. The festival begins with the welcoming of the gods into the temple where they are to be worshipped for nine days, and ends when the gods are sent off on the ninth day. The festival is known for the temple processions that take place each night during the celebrations and cause terrible traffic jams but nobody seems to mind too much. 

Orchard Road is known as the premiere shopping destination in Singapore. I’m not known as a shopaholic but I have enjoyed strolling along this celebrated shopping mecca on occasion. We've enjoyed High Tea in a number of the nearby flash hotels, tried out the food at Jamie's Italian at the Tanglin end and movies at Shaw Cinemas. Recently we were given vouchers to spend in Kinokuniya Bookstore in the massive Takashimya Mall. The malls these days all seem to strive to outdo each other, either by sheer size or eye-catching architecture. A far cry from the days of bargain hunting in Lucky Plaza during the 80s. There are no real bargains to be found in this district these days, the rents are far too high. We always tried to fit in a drive through there in Dec-Jan though because the Christmas lights are amazing. 

Pasir Ris Park is a lovely, sprawling beach park with wide open lawn spaces as well as shaded areas under the many beautiful mature rain trees. It is a great place for a bike ride. There is the sea and beach too, although the waters are murky and there isn’t much of a sandy beach to speak of. Of more interest is the “kelong” (floating platform fish farm) just off the coast here. The park has a number of zones for everyone's enjoyment and one is a 6 ha mangrove swamp, one of only two protected mangrove swamps in Singapore, the other being the Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve. When Pasir Ris Park was built on reclaimed land in the late 1970s, this patch of mature mangrove forest was retained as part of ecological efforts to conserve Singapore’s remaining biodiversity. It is ringed by a wooden boardwalk so you can safely explore the wildlife including mudskipper fish, tree climbing crabs and birds. Our favourite resident birds in this park though are the pair of Spotted Wood-Owls. 

Sitting just off the north-eastern 
corner of mainland Singapore is 
Pulau Ubin, somewhat like

a time-travel experience back to more than half a century ago, when people depended on wells for water, diesel generators for electricity and farming and fishing as a means of making a living. To get there you must first get to Changi Village then wait to take a bum boat ferry which includes waiting until 12 people are doing the same thing. You pay the captain S$3 for a one way ticket which takes about 10 mins and I haven't yet been sea sick. On arrival you are greeted by a row of bicycle rental services where you can rent a bike for the whole day for about S$8. There are some hilly and rough parts on the cycling trail which tests one’s cycling skills. Every visit includes a ride out to Chek Jawa Wetlands and then cycling back via the Blue Lake, one of several abandoned granite quarries on the island. Pulau Ubin means Granite Island in Malay, as the rocks from the island were previously used to make tile flooring. There are several different routes you can take and you are quite likely to come across roaming wild boar, monkeys and monitors, not to mention birdlife. We usually make a half day of it then share lunch at the stalls in the village or more recently at Little Island Brewing Co. at Changi Village.

Eric has spent most of the last 4 years at the Punggol Branch while he has been leader at both there and Kovan. It is situated in the far north east, at the end of the Purple NE MRT line. It was one of the oldest settlements, predominantly home to Malay farmers and fishermen. The early Chinese immigrants, who settled in the mid 19th century onwards, were engaged in rubber plantation work and farming. During the Second World War in 1942, about 400 Chinese civilians were massacred by the Japanese military forces at Punggol Point, the northern tip of the area, in what was to become known as the Punggol Beach Massacre. These days there is a new Waterway Point Shopping Mall and a Waterway Park which links into the island-wide park connector network. 

What would a audit of Singapore be without a mention of the classic Raffles Hotel?  We have visited the Long Bar (home of the iconic Singapore Sling) with friends and skidded about on the discarded peanut shells, enjoyed High Tea in the Tiffin Room and a drink in the Beer Garden. They have all been outrageously expensive outings but fun to envisage life here in the colonial era. We have even led the Great race teams through the carefully manicured grounds. It is hard to imagine that this iconic luxury hotel was originally established in on a plot of land on what was Singapore’s waterfront in the 1880's. These days it is surrounded by shopping malls and office buildings on all sides as the island has been extended. 

Raffles Place is one of those locations where there is something for everyone. For classic Singapore food options you can't beat Lau Pa Sat Hawker Centre. It is situated in the heart of the financial district under the roof of the original Telok Ayer Market pavilion, built in the 19th century, with its distinctive octagonal shape and ornamental wrought iron columns. It is one of the few places I was still able to find thunder tea rice yet more often than not we sat by the smoky satay stalls on the street. Right nearby is One Raffles Place with its al fresco '1 Altitude Bar' on the 63rd floor which boasts the highest 360-degree views in Singapore with only a shoulder-height glass panel to stop you falling off the edge. It certainly does give you a top of the world feeling. 

After celebrating Melbourne Cup at Kranji Racetrack for a few years we made the move to the function hosted by Boomerang Cafe in Robertson Quay, just upriver from Clarke Quay. These were always colourful affairs with our dear friend Jo insisting Eric accompany her in the 'Fashions on the Field' in which they were successful more often than not. Another favourite dinning option here was Wine Connection whose meals and wine list were hard to beat. 

Sembawang Park is a tranquil retreat in the north, shaded by well established leafy trees, overlooking the Straits of Johor. A lovely feature of this park is the installation of a number of hornbill nesting boxes. The Singapore Hornbill Project has been experimenting with nesting boxes due to a shortage in naturally occurring nesting cavities. Lets face it, there is no place for a dead tree with hollows in Singapore gardens. The park is also home to the stunning neo-classical styled Beaulieu House which was acquired, along with its surrounding land, in 1923 by the colonial Government for the construction of the Sembawang Naval Base, then handed back in 1968 to the Singapore Government and it is now operating as a restaurant.  Located all around Sembawang are enclaves of the distinctive black and white colonial buildings, once homes of British naval officers and their families from the fifties to the early seventies.

Where do local families go for a weekend getaway? Sentosa: the island of fun in the sun. When we visited in the 80's all I remember was a diorama depicting the war and many static concrete statues. These have now been replaced with resorts, a casino, Universal Studios Theme Park and much more. The walkers have occasionally taken an evening stroll along Siloso Beach and we have enjoyed watching the stunning Crane Dance, a sound and light show with amazing water effects.

We have so often reflected on what a good decision we made when we settled on our condo of choice in Serangoon. It wasn't as flash as others but the location on the Purple and Yellow MRT interchange and the HDB across the road were very important to us. We made a lot of terrific contacts with the local store holders and in the hawker centres of Lew Lian Gardens HDB. I recently wrote a blog entry as a tribute to them. We also discovered that Serangoon is home to the Gurkha Contingent at Mt Vernon Camp, a nice connection with Nepal after our three treks there. If we didn't eat at the hawker centres we could always choose from Teck Chye Food Street, Nectar and Vine or Saturday House, all within easy walking distance from our front foyer. 

We watched with interest as the new Singapore National Stadium took shape in Kallang and then opened its doors in mid 2014. It features a retractable domed roof and seating that can be reconfigured on the lowest tier to make it the only stadium in the world that is custom designed to host football, rugby, cricket and athletics events. Typical of the clever planning employed here, the stadium is part of the Singapore Sports Hub which comprises the Aquatic Centre, the multi-purpose Arena, the Singapore Sports Museum, the Sports Hub library, the Kallang Wave shopping mall and the Singapore Indoor Stadium. It is located beside the Water Sports Centre at the Kallang River and is easily accessed by train and bike path. A number of our walks have featured this interesting location.

More than 260 local and migratory bird species have been recorded at Sungei Buloh Wetlands Reserve making it a must see for us. The coastal areas of Singapore were largely swamp land in the 1800s, with mangroves especially abundant in the north and west coasts. As Singapore developed rapidly over the years however, the island became increasingly urbanized, and much of the coastal areas were redeveloped and cleaned up. In 1986 a group of nature-loving bird enthusiasts realised the importance of the swamp area around the Sungei Buloh river as a migratory bird stopping ground, and petitioned the government to protect the site and surprisingly they agreed, and the Sungei Buloh Nature Park was created. The reserve’s annual bird census has recorded up to 5000 birds in a month at the reserve, although in recent years the numbers have declined significantly. Birds on the East Asian-Australasian flyaway use the mangroves as an important refuelling stop. Recently they have completed an upgrade with improved facilities including these lovely 'pod' bird hides. 

How does a colonial trading post develop into a high-tech metropolis of nearly 6 million people (and growing)? With so many people in so little space, every detail of Singapore’s growth needs to be carefully planned and the URA (Urban Redevelopment Authority) are the people who do it. The URA Centre Gallery in Tanjung Pagar is always an interesting stop with exhibits covering all aspects of Singapore’s growth, from public housing to planning the MRT network. It might sound a bit dull, but the exhibits are surprisingly interesting. My favourite is the model of the entire island which outlines new and proposed developments. There's also the miniature model of downtown Singapore with impeccable detail, right down to the outdoor pools at the hotels along Orchard Road. Across the road is the very highly regarded Maxwell Road Food Centre which is always busy. Also just nearby is the old Jinrickisha Station, a magnificent building located at a busy road junction, which once served as a central depot for rickshaws. This is also the neighbourhood for the fabulous Buddha Tooth Relic Temple. 

You really appreciate how the physical shape of Singapore has changed when you take a walk through Telok Ayer. In Malay, telok means bay and ayer is water, referring to the seafront beside which Telok Ayer Street ran. The seafront and docking bay served as one of the earliest landing sites for Chinese immigrants, especially the Hokkiens from the Fujian province. As a result a number of temples were erected nearby to give thanks to the gods who protected the survivors of those arduous voyages. These are each quite unique in that one is built completely without nails and for incense some use coils instead of sticks. In the mid-19th century, Indian convicts were conscripted for the land reclamation from the Singapore River mouth to Telok Ayer. By the early 1900s, the street no longer faced the waterfront; the coastline was shifted several hundreds of metres away. These days it is quite a lively precinct with many eateries for the nearby office blocks and there are many choices for nightlife including Food on Fire and the Cazbar which we have enjoyed.

Lined with row after row of quaint, low-rise art deco shophouses, the residential estate of Tiong Bahru is one of the oldest public housingl estates but also one of the trendiest these days. You find curious little shops selling offbeat and stylish home wares, independent bookshops, cafes and bakeries to name a few. There are many bird corners in Singapore but probably none is as old as the one at Tiong Bahru  which has been around for more than 50 years since the sixties, and was once a favourite gathering place for countless bird lovers from all around Singapore. A number of the streets are now adorned with heritage-themed murals created by local artist Yip Yew Chong. 

I could go on and on, so many other places and interesting sights or experiences we have been privileged to share. We are home in Darwin now so this is the end of Serangoon Snippets. Thanks for joining us.