Saturday, March 21, 2009

Day 5 - Out on the water, finally, kind of

I got up at 5:45 am for a run this morning and the humidity was already soul-crushing. It felt like running in hot water but at a normal speed. Needless to say, I did not get far, but passed through the science park which actually had a park in it to make things pleasant. There are a ton of parks in Singapore. They are all about the green spaces. Part of this is because Lee Kwan Yew decreed that Singapore should be a ‘garden city.’ Also, according to a story Annabelle has heard, the island is shaped like a crab. The crab most people here have in mind is green when alive and brown when dead, so they think if Singapore looks green from above, it means the crab is alive and this is better luck than the crab being dead.

I got up at this ungodly hour because we left at the only slightly less ungodly hour of 7:30 am to take a ferry to St. John’s Island, site of National University of Singapore (NUS) marine lab. This island had some intense fenced off areas built for when bad things were happening in Indonesia and they were worried about Indonesians trying to come illegally to Singapore and having somewhere to put them.
The island is also overcome with cats, which I have yet to see much of anywhere else. A drenching walk through the humidity brought us to the lab where we heard 2 talks from professors working on marine issues. It is very interesting to hear them because there’s been almost zero science done in the region until recently, so they don’t have anything close to a baseline guess of what the area is like ecologically without human impact. The result is that you can’t really do very good environmental impact assessments because you have no idea what the history of the area is and if any changes in the environment are a result of human activity from a particular project, some other human activity, or natural events. They simply don’t have the scientific history. The result is a dichotomy between scientists: some want to just work on establishing baselines, and some want to try to apply what little they have to a problem. It’s hard for those of us used to having lots of historical data on trends to comprehend these issues.

On the way back past the cats and the razor wire, Daylin found mangos on the ground. I flung a peel into the water in the midst of my mango rapture and she justly yelled at me “What are you doing! This is Singapore!” I realized too late, such an action could be construed as littering—usually a $1000 fine. Keep it on the d/l please. This is also the only place we got a chance to actually touch the water at a tiny beach. Not recommended though; the harbor is highly polluted. This contrast is weird too: the land is so clean and the water so dirty. Why?

Next stop via ferry was Pulau Semakau, the offshore island landfill. Singapore basically built a large island out of 2 smaller islets and uses this island to dispose of most of its waste. From a waste stream of 15,000 tons/day, they recycle about 8000. About 6,460 is incinerated and the resulting ash goes to the landfill. The other 540 is not incineratable and goes straight to the landfill. So about 2000 tons/day of waste is deposited in the landfill. They expect the island to fill up in 2045, maybe longer if people get better at recycling, etc.

The island itself is kind of cool. They destroyed some mangroves in building it, so these were replanted in a different part. They have lots of nature walks and birders, stargazers, and bbq-ers show up for recreation. We saw giant monitor lizards, eagles, herons, and kingfishers on just a brief tour. They really seemed to care about the environment here and wanted to do better all the time. Can’t speak for everyone, but I was very impressed.

Upon returning, everyone split up, as usually happens in the evenings. Jenny and I walked down Orchard Road which is like 5th Avenue in NYC. Kind of an intense shoppers experience. Then we walked down to Clarke Quay and had a delicious beer on the Singapore river. This is a very happening, if touristy area where there are a ton of restaurants/bars/fun things going on. Then we met up with Katherine and Joanna at West End, the little enclave of non-planned interesting area near our hotel, for dinner at Noelle’s favorite restaurant “Hooha!.” Most of Singapore is meticulously planned, but this corner has a good Durham 9th street feel to it with good places to eat/hang out. There’s a lot to explore and I feel like every free moment I need to see another part of the city/country at the expense of my class project and my master’s project. Oh well, when’s the next time I’ll be here?

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