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(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. 

 

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 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.

This art/science residency is winding down, and my penchant for sentimentality is going up. At the risk of sounding like a Buzzfeed listicle, here are some of the smaller, yet unforgettable moments. Most of these images were taken using a crappy smartphone, but hey, I’ll take it. I’d like to remember Singapore, the fifth country I’ve lived in, with this hodgepodge of memories:

1. The constant mixture of cultures as well as the combination of the traditional and modern.

This guy in Balinese dress was on his smartphone during an intermission. This was a student performance at NUS.

20131120_203343This cosplayer on a photo shoot and the class happening a few feet away. (I’m unsure what the latter is, and I didn’t want to interrupt them. If you think you know what this is, let me know in the comments. I’d like to be enlightened.) This was at Singapore’s Japanese Garden.

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One of my favorite works in the Asian Civilisations Museum: “Mustafa” is written in sini script using a Chinese brush, by a Muslim Chinese calligrapher.

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2. Random people working out.

This guy doing a handstand near the Singapore Art Museum. 

20130925_143032Or these skateboarders at Esplanade Station. They remind me of those outside the MACBA in Barcelona.

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3. Seeing Venus.

Ok, I’ve definitely seen this before. Let me clarify: seeing Venus and knowing it’s Venus. Thanks to the Meetup group that organized this at the Singapore Science Centre.

20131025_2002574. Random things that grew in my apartment.

This seedling peeked out of my kitchen sink.

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A second mushroom  sprouted in my shower.

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5. Professor Greg Clancey’s cat, Misty, who lives next door to me at Tembusu College.

She went from being scared of me to not caring when I walked past.

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6. Being at my desk at the Future Cities Lab and seeing the people walking up and down the stairs.

The lab occupies the sixth and seventh floors. I think that how they use the stairs reflects their personalities.

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(On that note, seeing this guy repeatedly use the hand rail as a ballet bar is the reason why I stopped touching it.)

7. Attending lectures for the sheer enjoyment of them. 

Such as this one by Pico Iyer sponsored by Yale-NUS at UTown.

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Or this one by Jonathan Ledgard at the Future Cities Laboratory, whose book, Giraffe, I read and loved last year.

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8. Working with scientists. 

I loved seeing their less academic side. Like so:

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9. Getting into emoji chats with my taekwondo master in Korea (since we still can’t understand each other). 

I love my current project the most, but I definitely adjusted faster in Seoul.

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Hurray for Kakao Story! Thanks to interaction design, communication between two people who do not speak the other’s language is completely possible. Guess who did pass her second degree black belt test after all. Now to figure out how to ship it to me. Hmm.

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10. Holding Apocalypse Workshops and getting into uncontrollable fits of laughter.

Because, well…

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This gig went by too fast, too soon. I’m in the goodbye-presents-and-thank-you-notes stage. Wasn’t I just doing this a few months ago? Vagabond problems, oh dear.

In the middle of researching for smells for The Apocalypse Project, I came across Sifr Aromatics, an independent niche perfumery located on Arab Street in Singapore.

Oh true apothecary! Johari Kazura of Sifr Aromatics

Oh true apothecary! Johari Kazura of Sifr Aromatics

Mr. Kazura is a third generation perfume maker. He learned the business on the job, and also took some courses in Grasse, the perfume capital of the world. Perusing his shop, I came across all the books I read during the time I was doing some of my graduate school projects on smell. His store is a beautiful cornucopia of beautiful Eqyptian bottles, as well as antiques.

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Thanks to the store, I finally came up with a list of smells for relaxation for The Apocalypse Project. You know, when that time comes when we have to evacuate climate change disaster areas and people are panicking. The list includes lavender and lemon. Rose was a good candidate, too, however, it’s too expensive and thus not a practical choice. Peppermint was added to the list because it promotes alertness.

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Sifr is Arabic for “zero.” Johari says that in perfumery, “You start with nothing … you are a blank slate … and then later you end up with something.” And that something, smell, permeates.

Sifr is located at 42 Arab Street. Contact Johari Kazura at info@sifr.sg and visit their website here. Many thanks to Mr. Kazura and Hanz Monifiero Medina for all the help!