Greetings from... Singapore?

Trip Start Dec 29, 2009
1
6
14
Trip End May 13, 2010


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Flag of Malaysia  , Johor,
Sunday, January 31, 2010

Yeah, I didn't leave the country for the past couple weeks, but I have done a fair bit of traveling within the state's borders that I feel is worthy of comment. First I traveled to Arab Street and Little India. I was told that it is like any other Arab town or Little India in any city, but I’ve never been to a city that had one before, so it was an interesting experience for me. Arab Street was small and consisted mostly of fabric stores, a Mosque and Shisha joints. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hookah)



I ate at Arab Street, having what I’ve seen is a rather common Muslim meal, Nasi Lemak. I say this not because I am familiar with Muslim meals, but because it is a top item at nearly every Muslim Food Stall I’ve seen. I believe it is also Malaysia’s National Dish, which is a predominately Muslim country. Nasi means rice and Lemak means milk (or cream), so literally the dish is milk rice. I think it is aptly named, as the main ingredient is simply rice that has been steamed in coconut milk, making it rather sweet and delicious.

After Arab Street, we headed to Little India, which was substantially larger. This area of the city definitely has a cultural feel to it and that cultural feel is, well, Indian. There are people everywhere, music playing loudly from multiple shops, gold jewelry and trinkets everywhere and lots of really delicious food. By the time we finished roaming around here it was dinnertime, so we stopped at this great little restaurant on the way out. I ordered Bhatoora, which is basically a giant puffball of a sweet tortilla-like substance that you deflate and then eat with assorted sauces. It was one of my favorite meals here, simply because it was so much fun.

The next day I went to the Singapore Zoo. Now, I have been to my fair share of zoos, from the Beardsley to the San Diego, and I have to say, I think this one trumps them all. (The safari at the San Diego Zoo was pretty special, and I do think I enjoyed that more, but as far as the actual zoo goes, this one was more impressive)

The Singapore Zoo has a very natural setting to it, so that you forget you are in a huge metropolis and you think you are in the Rainforest, Jungle, Outback, or African grasslands. The sheer land area of the zoo was huge (or at least it felt that way walking around all day). Sadly, my camera died within the first 15 minutes of touring the zoo, so I was only able to get a few shots, but I am tempted to return, because I feel it would be worth another go. Basically I’m raving about this place without giving a tangible reason why, but it’s hard to find a place to start. They have animals I’ve never seen before and didn’t know existed. Such as the False Gharial, which looks like a real life dinosaur. If you thought crocodiles were big, think again. (http://www.google.com.sg/images?sa=3&q=false+gharial&btnG=Search+images    The first picture there actually looks like it came from the zoo)

Also, mouse deer are potentially one of the cutest creatures I have ever come across. I so wanted to pick one up and take it home with me, and I almost could have. There was this one area (my favorite in the zoo) that was completely enclosed with double doors that you could enter into. This place was filled with wonderful birds, bats, butterflies, lemurs and the mouse deer. I almost didn’t believe it; the animals were so unafraid and so close! At first I didn’t believe this particular one was a pigeon, it was so large and beautiful, but when it cocked its head, I could see the resemblance. (http://www.google.com.sg/images?hl=en&sa=3&q=crowned+pigeon&btnG=Search+images)

Besides the really awesome ability to walk among some of the animals, the zoo in general had fantastic exhibits. I saw an Asian Elephant show (impressive, to say the least), pygmy hippopotamuses, white tigers, more orangutans than I’ve ever seen before, kangaroos, giant tortoises, porcupines, a sun bear (aka honey bear), white rhinos, babirusas, tapirs, tons of primates, a cassowary, and that’s not even all of it, because the Singapore Zoo has something no one else has (or at least, it was the first one), and that is a Night Safari. This was actually really interesting. Normally, zoos only showcase diurnal animals because they are most active in the daylight hours when zoos get the most patronage. However, the Night Safari is able to showcase all sorts of animals, including nocturnal ones. As a result, I got to see many animals I would never really have the opportunity to see otherwise, such as the sugar gliders (super cute: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sugar_glider ) and civets, which smell, strangely enough, like popcorn. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Civet).

Overall, the zoo was really enjoyable, the only complaint I would have is that lack of posts riddled with information about each creature. Seeing so many new animals for the first time, I was really intrigued and wanted to learn more, but I had a hard time finding the informational plaques I am accustomed to finding at zoos and other exhibits.

During the week I was reading on the MRT and I missed my stop. Instead of trying to fix my mistake, I monopolized on it and rode the train a few stops further than usual to see the Chinese Gardens of Singapore. I walked around for a while, took lots of pictures, sat by the pond, which was FULL of turtles and coy, and continued reading my book for an hour or so. All in all, I would have to say it was my most enjoyable afternoon since arriving in Singapore. I guess there is one advantage to being in a city- they take pride and care in their parks.

Finally, my last travel takes me to Pulau Ubin, an island right off the coast of Singapore. Getting to the ferry terminal took quite a while, but once there it was a ten-minute ride on a bumboat to the small island and then an $8 bike rental for the day. This was another rewarding experience. Pulau Ubin (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pulau_Ubin) is an actual rural part of Singapore that has natural flora and fauna and was really refreshing. We spent the day riding around, just enjoying ourselves, and it was wonderful.

The most interesting part to me was the mangroves. I know there are mangroves in Florida, and I believe Louisiana, so they may not seem that exotic, but I don’t think I have ever seen them before and I have learned about them in my Wetlands classes at UConn. As such, it was really interesting to see the learning in action. I was with a few friends and it felt really good to be able to explain what a mangrove was, how to identify a mangrove tree (it’s pretty easy), why they look the way they do, and the different adaptations they have to survive the particular setting they thrive in. If all else falls through, it’s good to know that I could probably pass as a tour guide for Chek Jawa.
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