Tag Archives: Friends

Singapore’s Other Islands

Most people know that Singapore is an island off the southern tip of Malaysia. Fewer people know that Singapore has about 64 satellite islands and one outlying island. (In all honesty, I didn’t know those numbers until I looked it up to write this post.) One benefit to being in Singapore for the summer has been ample time to go exploring! This post is a quick overview of my recent travels to some of Singapore’s other islands.

Pulau Ubin

I’ve wanted to go to Pulau Ubin since I first moved to Singapore in 2015. One morning, a friend and I cycled out to the ferry terminal at Changi Point, paid $6 each for bumboat fare with the bikes, and waited mere minutes until the boat left with its maximum capacity of 12 passengers (4 of which were bikes).

There are plenty of bike rentals on the island but easy enough to take our own. Much of Pulau Ubin is made up of mountain bike trails and the one benefit to rental bikes is that they’re already pretty beat up. We were there on a muddy day and mostly stayed away from the mountain bike trails but there was plenty of easy cycling to keep us busy.

In addition to bike trails, Pulau Ubin is known for fishing and camping and there is an option to spend the night. Unlike the islands that I’ll discuss below, some people do live on Pulau Ubin (population was under 40 when I checked) and there are a few places to eat and drink there. There are also picnic tables at clearly labeled locations on the maps conveniently found around the island. We brought snacks and that served us just fine.

(Thank you to my friend for the Pulau Ubin photos below.)

I didn’t take pictures (again, thanks to my friend!) because I travelled the island by bike but I do want to highlight the flora and fauna that we saw. In addition to very tame wild boar and far more monkeys than one normally sees, Pulau Ubin is home to birds not found elsewhere in Singapore and some really beautiful mangroves that have been painstakingly restored. It’s a very special thing to walk along the narrow boardwalk between the mangroves and the sea.

For those of us who spend most of our time in cities, Pulau Ubin is a chance to experience one of Singapore’s last kampongs and an environment that we do not find elsewhere. If I’m able to go back, I’ll definitely take photos.

St. John’s, Lazarus, and Kusu

These three islands sit partially inside Sisters’ Marine Park and are about 40 minutes away from Singapore by ferry. The ferries leave from Marina South Pier and move between islands according to a set schedule. One round trip ticket costs $15 and there was no fee for bikes. The islands are quite large if you plan to explore on foot but bikes allowed us to cover a lot more ground and spend time in places that would have been a little too far to walk. It is also important to note that are no shops or restaurants (and nowhere to refill water bottles) on the islands but plenty of food stalls at the ferry terminal.

Our day started out bright and sunny and it was a lot of fun to see Singapore’s skyline from the other side.

And then the wind started to pick up. The color of the water changed from blue to steel gray and clouds took over the sky. The islands we were approaching disappeared and we were suddenly very, very small.

As happens in the tropics, especially during the monsoon seasons, if it looks like it’s going to rain, it does. The question of where it rains, however, is a good one. We watched rain on Singapore while the sun came out again on St. John’s. We saw plant species that I’d never seen before and so many coconuts!

We didn’t go in the water but I did take a few minutes to make my way down the rocks as far as I could go. There are many parts of St. John’s and Lazarus that have accessible (and lovely) beaches but it’s always an experience to go look where no one is looking.

We cycled from St. John’s over to Lazarus where we found people fishing and taking advantage of largely private beach space. My favorite part was watching the sky and this is why I’m not sorry we ventured out here during the rainy season. We watched another storm roll into Singapore and then continue straight for us. The sky darkened and we chased the wind to a gazebo where we ate our picnic sitting on towels on the ground.

The rain was quick and we had time for another quick cycle. It really is wonderful to be somewhere without cars and without buildings.

The ferry brought us from Lazarus to Kusu, a tiny little island that is close enough to Lazarus to swim if you’re so inclined. It is enshrined in legend that vary in telling, but all versions contain Chinese and Malay symbolism and remain culturally significant. In the legend, a tortoise turned itself into an island to save shipwrecked sailors. In actual history, the island has had many uses over time and is mostly built on reclaimed land.

Tortoises are found all over Kusu, both real ones in a sanctuary and in the form of giant statues. Kusu is also home to a Chinese temple that is visited on pilgrimage during the ninth lunar month.

I don’t know that I’ll visit St. John’s, Lazarus, or Kusu again but I’m glad to have done so. There’s a lot more to Singapore than sparkly buildings and I’m glad to be able to share that.

Coney Island

I first visited Coney Island on foot at the end of March, which was shortly before Singapore’s circuit breaker began on April 7. Since then, I’ve returned several times by bike. It’s a quick little ride or a longer stroll but feels like a different world. Have a look at the blog post linked above for details and pictures!


If there’s a silver lining to Covid-19, it is that I have been forced to explore that place that I live. A friend once said, “Singapore is small enough that if someone ever asks, ‘Have you ever done…?’ you should be able to say yes.”

Journey on. Journey well.

Back When We Had Souls

I’m not sure if souls exist. I used to know for sure, I know I did, but now I don’t think I believe in souls anymore. As we all do, I’ve drifted from the pretty imagery of childhood stories into a world in which souls do not make rational sense.

And yet.

And yet.

I met a person who, if souls do exist, I would have to say has a soul. The word came into my head one day, suddenly and unbidden, but I knew it was right. I looked at this person across the room and sensed a soul. I knew this in the way that we know it’s going to rain when the sky grows dark and the wind changes. It was immediate and obvious and it frightened me. 

As adults, we live by routines and patterns, by socially accepted and endorsed ways of interacting with one another. We go to work, to meetings, out for drinks, out for meals. We entertain ourselves and each other. We pass the time. We have ‘responsibilities’.

But once upon a time, before all of that, we were children. We laughed and played and made up stories. We turned sticks into airplanes and we flew. We put on wigs and became witches. The sandbox became quicksand and the neighbor’s dog was a predatory dinosaur. In our fantasies, our younger siblings were the pets and our parents came from a different planet. We threw balls of fire and some of us got burned, but still we kept throwing. We claimed the swings as our boundaries and let our friends claim the tree line as theirs. Jumping from the roof with an umbrella was faith that, just like Mary Poppins, we could fly.

As children, we believed in magic. We believed that what we wished for could be, and we dared to make it so. In the eyes of a child, the child that I was, souls were possible because everything was possible.

It is in adulthood that we forget about magic. Instead we have practical, everyday worries. We laugh less often and we forget how to play. We’re too important and busy for that. We’re too concerned with the things we have learned that ‘matter’. We make sure to meet all our basic needs, to pursue and court relationships that allow us to belong to different groups, and to elevate our status to the levels that we believe we are entitled to.

We know that we have to get promoted before we can afford the mortgage on the house, and we have to do it soon because there are already three wedding invitations and one birth announcement on the fridge. Everyone else is ‘moving forward’, so what are we waiting for?

And so, magic is left behind. We forget the spells and potions, we forget the carefully delineated safe zones of tag, and we forget the glee of tearing barefoot across the grass yelling as loudly as we can. We increasingly channel our time to the pursuit of ‘personal progress’ and leave behind that was once so pure and central to who we were. We stop playing, and we stop being.

It is here, I think, that we lose the idea of souls.

As adults, we stop pretending and stop believing in things we cannot see. Looking beyond our adult boundaries into the joyfully cultivated worlds of children is a chore. And so souls, which are intangible, cease to exist.

Such a transformation, one which takes the imagination and supplants it with the material goals brought to us by ‘logic’ and ‘reason’, robs us not only of the existence of souls but of all those other beliefs that children are made of. Words which carried hopes and dreams are now said out of habit, if at all.

And so the progression through life’s journey continues and the price is the loss of the soul that made us who we were.

But such is the way of tacit acceptance of change. We do not recognise that this is what we are doing. We don’t notice the gradual shifts and how these lead us away from one world and into another.  

Once, we were pirates searching for buried treasure that we knew we would never find. The joy then was in the adventure of solving the clues. 

But as time passed, we imperceptibly became preoccupied with the treasure; the joy of adventure got lost and our souls vanished.

But what if?  

What if souls do not disappear, but are simply masked by the habits we develop, by the actions we mimic, by the words we pull together to intellectualise our actions? What if we suspend who we have become, if only for a little while, and simply look? And what if another was to do the same?

I looked across that room and without warning, without reason, I remembered. 

Once upon a time I was a child and I believed in magic. Back when we played pretend. Back when we trusted in our newest inventions. Back when finding all the pieces to build the perfect snowman was as much fun as playing in the snow.

Once upon a time I was a child and I knew we each had a soul. 

And it frightened me that I had forgotten.

Milford Sound, New Zealand – January 2019

Dancing in the Rain

I haven’t spent much time in Singapore during the start of the Southwest Monsoon season, which lasts from June to September. I’m used to the hour or two of afternoon rains that characterises the new school year in August, but half a morning of pouring rain is a new experience. So is half a morning of pouring rain followed by an evening of more rain.

While I won’t be climbing rocks outdoors any time soon and while the rain has put a literal damper on morning bike rides, there are some new features to life here that I’m quite enjoying. It feels cozy, for once, which is something we rarely experience in the tropics. It’s breezy and (comparatively) cool both indoors and out; I’ve made soups and curries for dinner and I’ve been glad for their warmth.

Geylang in the rain – September 2017

When I first moved to Malaysia six years ago I learned to enjoy the rain. Where I come from, rain is cold. Rain in the tropics is not. The water is warm, the air is cool, and it’s a welcome refresher for the day. Granted, getting soaked on the way home from work is inconvenient (although getting soaked on the way to work is more inconvenient) but it’s so much fun at those times to feel like a kid again. You’re wet. Very wet. So you might as well hop off the bike, settle it safely against a wall or building, and dance in the rain.

This is what I have tried to keep in mind now that we’re in the strangest period of summer school holidays that I have ever experienced. Normally, summer for me is spent travelling between family members, catching up with friends, enjoying early morning runs on the nearby canal, and taking a complete break from my normal environment. But this year, we can’t do that. And so we adapt.

Singapore started its reopening a week ago and I have been so glad to see people out and about, to reunite with friends, and to feel my body move at the climbing gym. It has given me time to reflect on the experience of living here and what this place has to offer. And I’m not talking about museums (still closed) or fancy bars (some still closed). I’m talking about hot pot for dinner at a friend’s house and going down the street for a local coffee at a hawker stall. I’m talking about my favorite place in town to watch the world go by and the renewed joy of gathering at home in small groups. Simple things. Things that I missed when they went away.

Experiencing the small joys of an open world, although a small one right now, is what this summer is about. It might not be what I’d planned or what I’d wanted, but I am glad to have this time for what it is.

It might be raining, and that’s all the more reason to dance.

Potong Pasir in the rain – June 2018