Friday, March 27, 2009

Day 11 - Mozzies & Bollywood

This makes two posts in a row for the resident Singaporean. (Yes, go read the previous one for a really cute owl picture.) Day 11 was spent in the North of Singapore. It was an "optional" day as we were given the choice to take the day off if we wanted to travel elsewhere. Some people went to Pulau Tioman in Malaysia to snorkel/dive. I'm sure they'll blog on their trip when they return. ;)

For us who stayed, we spent the morning at Sungei Buloh Wetlands Reserve, had lunch at Bollywood (an organic vegetable farm), and some then went to a fish farm in the afternoon.

Sungei Buloh

"Sungei" means "river" in Malay, and when it comes to "wetlands" in tropical river estuaries, say hello to mangroves. Much like their counterparts in temperate regions, mangroves have important functions for coastal and marine ecosystems. They do provide storm protection and can protect against erosion, but they also act as nursuries for pelagic and reef fish, and are homes to a wide variety of organisms such as mudskippers, mudcrabs, snails and birds. This was only my second visit to this reserve and I was looking forward to it as my previous trip had yielded sightings of birds and monkeys. Who knows what we'll find next?

Alas, I was slightly disappointed as the tide had risen by the time we got there. The last time, I had managed to catch the low tide, and thus the mudflats were exposed, along with their critters. In any case, we still managed to spot some fauna. Cassie, Fei and I spotted an interesting bird, which Cassie later described as "a cross between a penguin and a chicken." I had wanted to snap a picture of it but Fei chased it away with his persistent, "Do you want some fish food??" while throwing shrimp pellets at it. Grrrr. (Obviously the answer was a resounding no!) Anyway, it was either a white-breasted waterhen or a common moorhen. I'm tempted to say it looked more like the latter. We also saw some little egrets perched on one of the mangrove islands within the reserve as well as whimbrels with their characteristic long and curved beaks.

However, there were two organisms which clearly stood out (to me, at least) and which I feel compelled to at least mention. 1) Monitor Lizards and 2) Mosquitoes.

The lizards were everywhere. And they were huge. We had a few close calls and literally walked by a few of them without noticing they were even there had they not started to move away from us. The largest one we saw measured probably about 7 feet from head to tail. Thankfully for us, they were more interested in avoiding us than in checking us out.

The mosquitoes were also everywhere. And this time, I mean it quite literally. At one point towards the end of the walk, Ali came running towards us at full speed. "I'm being eaten alive so I'm gonna go wait at the entrance..." Her voice trailed off as she whizzed past. Minutes later, we knew why. Mosquitoes descended upon us and we found ourselves running towards the top of an observation tower. Bugspray would've been good I guess... (says Annabelle as she sits in front of the computer scratching her mosquito bites). But really, I didn't think the bugs were too bad, considering I had heard of worse summertime stories from people who lived in certain parts of the US. The idea of spraying myself all over with chemicals just wasn't appealing, and the benefit of keeping away that number of mosquitoes just didn't seem to outweigh the cost of getting bitten. Anywho, after getting all sweaty and hungry, it was time for some food.

Bollywood and Poison Ivy

We made our way to an organic farm called Bollywood that was run by a lady named Ivy Lee-Singh, or better known as "Poison Ivy." It was an amazing lunch that we had. It started with a spicy papaya salad with edible flowers, vegetarian spring rolls, followed by an assortment of mouth-watering dishes such as egg tofu, curry chicken, stir fried kang kong (a type of vegetable) and potato leaves, finished up with banana bread, two different types of kueh (chinese-malay style cakes) and a cup of fig tea with palm sugar and pandan leaf. Mmmm... It was kinda spicy for some of us; to me it was just heavenly.

But it was the tour of the farm that got me really excited. One of the employees there led us through a portion of it, showing us the various plants and herbs that were grown there. The sheer variety of things that could be grown simply boggled my mind. Neem, basil, oregano, coffee, cacao, breadfruit, lemons, west indian pea, asian figs, jalepenos... she would occasionally instruct us to pluck a leaf off of a plant to smell it, and perhaps I got the most excited because I recognized spices and herbs that were used in local dishes, as well as fruits that I grew up eating. (Yes, food is a very big thing here in case the previous posts didn't make that clear enough.) We also got glimpses of Poison Ivy's abode that was adjacent to the farm, and of her two Great Danes - just a part of her pack of 14 dogs. Wowee. In any case, if I do return after graduation and am unable to find a job (which would be a very very sad thing after putting myself through another two years of school), I'd either like to work at Bollywood, or dig up my parents' backyard and begin planting our own vegetables. A backup plan always helps.


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