Sunday, 30 June 2013

Going Hog-wild in Pulao Ubin!

I still have about a month left in Asia but this was my last full weekend in Singapore- next weekend is Siem Reap then Bali then Sri Lanka then Philippines then it's time for home (until I leave for a Northwest coast road trip two days later).  But the weekend was awesome and I've now completed almost everything on my Singapore bucket list besides Gardens by the Bay and drinks at 1 altitude (where you have a panoramic view of the city from 285 meters up).
Friday was my 25th birthday and all of the fellows had an afternoon event at US embassy.  Several important people made time to talk to us although the embassy was abuzz preparing for Vice President Bidin's upcoming visit) so we heard from the economic officer, the guy who deals with Americans jailed in Singapore (men can still legally get caned as a punishment in Singapore and American (men especially) need to look out for are "outrage of modesty" charges if a woman feels assaulted in any way) and this awesome ambassador named Lou who convinced us all that we want to abandon lives as scientists and work for the government in foreign countries.  I wish I had more energy to write about the cool stuff we learned but it's currently 1:28 AM Singapore time and I know this post is going to be long-ish anyway.  After the visit, all fourteen of us went to Arab street for some shopping/exploring then they all treated me to dinner at a Turkish restaurant.  Paul surprised me with a birthday "cake" of baklava.  It was a real treat to have everyone together- we haven't all been reunited since orientation and it probably won't happen again until the closing ceremonies.  After that, various people dispersed but a bunch of us stayed out for the nightlife.  We saw these bicyclists completely decked out in blinking glowsticks cruise down the street at some point which was interesting.  We didn't stay out too late since I'd been out almost every night last week and we were going to wake up for an island adventure at Pulao Ubin early the next morning but it was a great to catch up with everyone.  Alissa gave me some Japanese Pocky, a lizard showed up to my bedroom to munch on my aunts and I enjoyed reading all the birthday cards Ken brought me from the US.
Birthday dinner with all the fellows on Arab Street- starting with Alissa and going counterclockwise it's Alissa, Jen, Luke, Stephanic, Justin, me, Paul, Deb, David, Ken, Kevin, Dawn and Marie
Saturday morning, a bunch of us took off on an eternal walk-metro-bus-ferry journey to Pulao Ubin, the "adventure island" of Singapore where you can hike, bike and camp in the rainforest and wetlands. We all rented mountain bikes (the girls who chose the cheap rentals with baskets dealt with breaks that didn't work, chains that fell off and gears that would start switching when they felt like) and took off down dirt roads.  Pretty early on, it started pouring and by the end of the day, we were wet, muddy (covered in red splatters of fish sauce if you were Kevin in white shorts) and in various stages of undress but it was so much fun feeling like neighborhood kids in a bicycle gang, pedaling through the woods.  At one point during the downpour, we took a  break under a hut to munch on lunch that we brought from the ferry terminal.  Ken ignored the signs about not feeding the wild animals and tossed his apple core to a wild hog who was hanging out in the woods.  A couple seconds later, the area was flooded with three dozen hogs, in all shapes and sizes, from bearded daddy hogs to little baby hoglets.  We decided to play it cool, feign innocence and walk to the wetlands but when we came back, Marie's bike was knocked over and her sunblock was bitten into so those were some hungry hogs!
We went on a hike under swaying coconut palms through the wetlands at Chek Jawa and saw all sorts of snakes, flourishing mangroves and mud lobsters.  Only a few families live on the rustic island and the whole time, it felt like we went back in time.

Flashing peace signs on the wet land boardwalk at Pulao Ubin

On the top of the observation tower at Pulao Ubin
 After replenishing our electrolytes and stopping to slice up our Kuching cake to celebrate Marie's birthday, we headed back on the ferry toward the mainland.  We stopped at a Fourth of July event for some American food (Ken was so excited for REAL ketchup- he had an unfortunate run-in with red sauce at a hawker center.  He tried to cool down his spicy fried fish in the "ketchup" and it took him awhile before he realized the sauce was the problem) and met up with some other fellows.  Several of them stayed there for fireworks and scored us an invite to the ambassador's house for happy hour this week.  I went home and my "nap" turned into an early night- Ken invited me out to live music but I'm glad I slept through it since he was out until sunrise.
Being 'Merican at the US embassy Fourth of July celebration
On Sunday, Dawn and I did a walking tour of Chinatown and the surrounding areas, the landing point for most of Singapore's first settlers.  Dawn tried the famous chicken rice and banana fritters at the famous Hawker center and we toured several temples, including the Temple of the Golden tooth which was huge.  We saw monks doing their morning chants and toured four floors to learn about the various countries that influenced Buddhism in Singapore while seeing the rooftop orchid garden, the tooth relic, singing bell and the pagoda of a thousand buddhas.  She stayed to further explore Little India but I went back to campus.
View of chanting monks at the Golden Tooth temple, Chinatown
Ken and I met up with Etkin, a Turkish couchsurfer I met when we went dancing last wednesday.  He's working on his PhD in computer science and he lives in UTown so he gave us a tour  of the "state of the art intellectual, cultural and social hub" of NUS.  Ken and I went swimming in the mini infinity pool on the top of the recreation center, brainstorming how to sneak into the real infinity pool at Marina Bay Sands as poor Etkin battled stains doing laundry.  It was such a perfect way to spend Sunday afternoon (I just hope I don't give Ken my cold but I warned him!).  I should go to bed- this week, I'm doing some interviews and all my nights are already booked so it's going to be busy.  Here's the link to a fuller album of recent photos in Singapore.