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Exploring

Thanks to a bit of downtime after my exhibition opening, I was finally able to check off another thing on my to-do list this year: getting my scuba diving license. As I expect to do more expedition-based projects, I foresee myself having to go underwater at some point. For what project, I still do not know. But! It’s definitely important to be trained for this, especially when there’s some math and physics involved, not to mention encountering endangered species.

The checkout dives were in Anilao, Batangas. The rainbow-tipped cloud wave that we saw on our way to our first dive spot boded well for our weekend.

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I’m happy to have seen a Philippine turtle, nudibranches (hurray!), beautiful yet poisonous fish, multicolored worms, an abundance of starfish, and amazing coral. This opened up a new world for me, and I can’t wait to see what projects will come out of it.

On a side note: it was great to be exposed to the anti-apocalypse. After months of being involved in climate change, I’m just happy to see something that I want to see this time. I hope this place keeps being so.

On a trip to Corregidor Island, the largest of the island defenses west of Manila and a memorial to the Filipino and American forces that fought the Japanese during World War II, I came across this acacia tree that survived one of the bombings. You can tell—there’s a concrete block still stuck to it.

An acacia tree that survived a bomb explosion. Go, tree, go!

An acacia tree that survived a bomb explosion. Go, tree, go!

Let’s take a closer look.

Close up of the concrete block

Close up of the concrete block

It’s quite a poetic thing to see in an island that has seen both grisly and heroic things.

(Pulau Ubin, Singapore)—My final natural excursion in Singapore was a trip to Chek Jewa wetlands in Pulau Ubin, an island northeast of the country and according to people, the second most famous island off of Singapore next to Sentosa, the latter of which I confess I have never been to because of the excess of crowds and commercialization.

Pulau Ubin is as wild as it can get here in the police state. There are insects here I have never seen before:

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I decided to walk all the way to Chek Jawa, an eastern spot on the island that is preserved due to the large amount of biodiversity. I slightly regret that choice—an 8-km bike ride would have been easier than going about it on foot. But I think about my Seoul43 project, and I suppose this far from the hardest thing I’ll ever do. And so I began to walk, and along the way, I came across quirky homes, such as this one with a battered statue of Cookie Monster:

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There were some abandoned houses as well, looking peaceful and gloomy amidst the dense forests:

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Signs warned me of wild animals, such as monkeys and, oh dear, wild boars. There was a little army of monkeys who were following me and some other hikers, having learned to associate people with food. I warily walked past them on the trees. After I passed, they appeared on the trail. I was only able to get this quick blurred shot before I fled.

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Upon reaching Chek Jewa, I saw this lovely coastal forest.

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I also saw these beautiful mangroves, as well as organisms that live near it, such as crabs, sea grass, etc. I groaned at the sight of a discarded plastic bottle, and gave the stink eye to two men smoking nearby.

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Walking back, I passed by a cluster of nipa trees. There was an observation dock you can climb the top of, allowing you to see the tops of the trees and beyond. I felt like a flea finally seeing what lay beyond the realm of a dog:

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And so was my final expedition in the Lion City. Thanks, Singapore! The past four and a half months were oh so very lovely. You kicked my ass, just as I hoped you would. Salut!

The Holiday Hackathon is an exploration/discovery project of me spending my last couple of weeks in Singapore. I just finished an art/science residency, and I’m hoping that asking questions and going to new places will help me figure out that next step/project. 

 

One great thing about having to extend my stay in Singapore is being able to visit the Singapore River Safari, which just had their grand opening this December. I was really excited—it’s an uncommon theme for a nature park, and it was the final one I had to go to here in the Lion City. Let me get down to my favorites:

Ok, hands down, my favorite part was the Amazon Flooded Forest, which simulates the water wonderland that the Amazon turns into during rainy season. I loved seeing the manatees (which are freshwater animals, as opposed to the dugongs, which you can find in saltwater).

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I spent a lot of time there, and it was calming to see them swim, sometimes upside down.

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I think I’ve seen way too much of the Upper Seletar Reservoir. But gasp, I don’t care;  it’s so clear.

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In one of the tunnels, I was thrilled to see a couple of river otters swimming.

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Like many people, I queued for a long time to get tickets to the Amazon River Quest boat ride. And later, another queue to get in during my timeslot. I was a bit underwhelmed, but it was nice to see some of the rare animals, such as this capybara. I hadn’t seen one since the New Orleans zoo.

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The squirrel monkey forest was also fun to walk in, although I’m a bit scared of monkeys in general.

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Next to the flooded forest, my favorite part was seeing the pandas. It was another (!) queue, but one that’s necessary, as the pandas were sensitive to noise and only a group of people can get in at a time. I loved seeing the red pandas:

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It was also nice to see Singapore’s first two pandas. Here’s Kai-Kai:

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And here’s Jia-jia:

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I think it’s my favorite part of Singapore. Don’t miss it!

The Holiday Hackathon is an exploration/discovery project of me spending my last couple of weeks in Singapore. I just finished an art/science residency, and I’m hoping that asking questions and going to new places will help me figure out that next step/project. 

 

This past Christmas, I was again away from family. Holidays have lost their, well, holiday spirit over the years, but I suppose that’s just me getting old. In more recent years, Christmas has been more about introspection. And what could induce this more than a hike at Singapore’s Bukit Timah Nature Reserve? It was another check mark off of my Lion CIty to-do list, which has nothing to do with luxury shopping and eating.

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I think my favorite part about Singapore trees is that they can go quite high. And the variety can be quite spectacular.

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Okay, the summit itself was not very high.

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I stopped for a bit to see the monkeys who lived there.

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Along the way, I saw that someone was putting on a face on this fallen tree trunk. Can you see it?

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This curved branch seems to be an omen.

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After I doubled back, I went on another trail and found the reservoir. I love Singapore’s reservoirs because they are so clear, it’s sometimes hard to tell the real thing from the reflection.

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I watched a little turtle swim peacefully near the shore.

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In lieu of family, I think the holidays should be spent as close to nature as possible. The earth, after all, is our family, no?

The Holiday Hackathon is an exploration/discovery project of me spending my last couple of weeks in Singapore. I just finished an art/science residency, and I’m hoping that asking questions and going to new places will help me figure out that next step/project. 

 

The great thing about being on holiday is that I finally found time to venture future north of Singapore, where the Singapore Zoo is in. I love animals, and this rainforest zoo is definitely one of the best things about Singapore for me. My mom was a university professor in zoology (among other subjects), and I remember the textbook she used, Integrated Principles of Zoology (the edition with the deer and the blue sky on the cover). Here are some of my favorites:

I adore big cats, so this white tiger got a lot of visits from me.

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I love elephants as well, and the zoo had a few of them. I learned to distinguish the species based on their ears.

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They also had an elephant art school of a sort. This is a painting by an elephant:

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I was lucky to spot an orangutan get into a sack and roll down as a form of play:

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I was expecting these synchronized marmosets to break into a Broadway song:

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Chimpanzees are fascinating to watch—they’re so smart.

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And here’s a Malayan sun bear—the smallest bear in the world, and is also nicknamed the “honey bear”.

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And finally, one of my favorite animals in the world: a tapir! I saw one previously, in Singapore’s Night Safari which is nearby.

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The Holiday Hackathon is an exploration/discovery project of me spending my last couple of weeks in Singapore. I just finished an art/science residency, and I’m hoping that asking questions and going to new places will help me figure out that next step/project. 

 

The Holiday Hackathon is an excellent excuse to do all the touristy things in Singapore I’ve always wanted to do but never had the time. Today was a trip to Jurong Bird Park, Asia’s largest aviary.

I had a great afternoon surrounded by beautiful birds and three iguanas sunning themselves. I learned new things—a group of pelicans is a squadron, ostrich only have two toes, scarlet ibises get their color from the carotene in their diet, etc.

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I love penguins, but I do wonder about animals kept in climates obviously not meant for them. This isn’t the first time; in Seoul’s Children’s Zoo, I saw a polar bear and a camel. But if their original habitats are disappearing, is it justifiable that they’re here, fed and watered at least? People who may never get a chance to go to polar regions only have places like these to go to. And maybe it would inspire some kids to be conservationists. I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments. I just hope these animals are happy.

Penguins. In the tropics. Hmm.

Penguins. In the tropics. Hmm.

I loved seeing birds I didn’t know existed, such as a cassowary, which is a descendant from the dinosaurs. (Or as I like to call it, a rainbow turkey.) This one was a bit shy. Or perhaps because it was a really hot afternoon and needed the shade.

My first cassowary!

My first cassowary!

Another bird I had no idea existed. Here is a rare shoebill from Sudan. There was only a fence between it and me. It did not look happy to see me. Or did it?

A rare shoebill.

A rare shoebill.

And for the heck of it, I tracked my trail around the park when I was: A. In the tram, and B. Walking.

Happy Trails. (L) Track made by riding the tram. (R) Track made by walking.

Happy Trails. (L) Track made by riding the tram. (R) Track made by walking.

Obviously, the latter made me look at more things, but by how much? The tram ride was about 15 minutes and walking and mindful looking took me about two hours, walking more than twice the distance the tram covered. The experience designer in me is taking notes.

The Holiday Hackathon is an exploration/discovery project of me spending my last couple of weeks in Singapore. I just finished an art/science residency, and I’m hoping that asking questions and going to new places will help me figure out that next step/project. 

 

Today, I headed out to Bukit Brown, a Chinese cemetery here in Singapore that is going to be torn down to make way for a road. It is the first Chinese cemetery in colonial Singapore—lots of pioneers are buried here. It has been listed as at risk site on the 2014 World Monuments Watch.

I really hope I never have to do this to any of my dead relatives.

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It is such a lovely cemetery. I like coming across the ones under huge trees. It was a very peaceful oasis, surrounded by a country club and homes for rich people.

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There were many graves where I saw recent offerings of food, as though an apology to those who were to be exhumed. The unclaimed ones, I read on the signs, were to be cremated and the ashes cast into the sea.

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I loved these pinwheels in this graveyard.

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There is something about walking that untangles my thoughts and gives me clarity. Such a beautiful place! Go see it before it’s gone.

Due to strange circumstances in the past 24 hours, my flight tonight from Singapore has been moved to December 31. After the last few weeks of being on full throttle—giving talks, doing photo and video shoots, running around Singapore getting materials, storyboarding, prototyping, packing, and vainly figuring out what my next step is—I just hit the brakes.

I am quite relieved. No, excited! My exhaustion from this residency was from a managerial standpoint, as this was project where I had a lot of collaborators. This was unlike the last one, where the stress was more from physical sources: I still can’t believe I hiked more than 43 mountains in less than 2 months. Still, in both cases, exhaustion bordered on nausea. But hey, I regret nothing.

I can’t believe it—two weeks of hermetic silence, completing The Apocalypse Project and prototyping new ones while avoiding the holiday rush. Now this is my version of a holiday miracle. To make this retreat a bit more fun, I will try to see this as the Great Holiday Hackathon. Unlike most hackathons, I’m still not sure what I’ll have in the end. My goal is to do certain tasks all over Singapore, asking specific questions or turning some urban expeditions into a photographic data gathering session of a sort. I want to know some things I’ve been mildly curious about in the past months I’ve lived here. Perhaps in this short time of experimentation, I will be able to see what I’m supposed to do afterwards.

So for Holiday Hackathon Day One, I wanted to ask the question, What happens when you go through all of the subway stops in Singapore’s Circle Line?

The Circle Line of Singapore MRT comprises 28 stations. I started at Harbourfront (on the lower left) and went clockwise. Sadly, GPS doesn’t work at this underground level, so the only data I have is the time of the journey. It’s not a complete circle, so to get back to Harbourfront, I got off (well, “alighted” as they say here) at Dhoby Ghaut station and transferred to the North East line (the purple line), riding 4 stations to go back to my original point. I killed time by reading a book. You can see my route via the black dots:

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So, 32 stations, 0 displacement, and a few dozen pages later,  I learned that this journey takes 1 hour and 22 minutes, and that it costs 0.78 cents. I’m sure my transit card doesn’t know I rode all those—I imagine I’d be charged the same if I accidentally entered the station and left it again, thinking it was a mistake.

I have no clue when this information will be useful, but I was just itching to know.

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