I fell asleep on a plane in the skies above southeast Asia, landed in Frankfurt, took three trains and a taxi, and ended up in the city I now live in. Or, I will officially live here once I have my registration documents. (To that end, look out for the upcoming post that I’ve preliminarily titled “What I Learned When I Moved to Germany During a Pandemic”.)
Everything is different here.
The weeds are the wildflowers of my childhood, names that I didn’t know then and don’t know now. The trees remind me of home.
The air feels crisp and smells like flowers and the sky. There are no tall buildings and the only ambient noise is that of chirping birds. I’ve actually had to lower the volume on my phone to stop it from being so jarring. It’s like my senses have woken up all over again.
To some degree, I’m romanticizing difference, and this is normal when I travel. But to another degree, I’m paying attention and from what I see, the buildings look like a fairytale.
But let us not forget that real people live here, and people leave signs of who they are. This is also something to respect about the places that we come to know.
I took a walk through a cemetery and smiled at the irony. We learn about the lives of places through their dead.
Weimar is an old, historic town and it has some illustrious names associated with it. I’ve particularly enjoyed the markers on buildings that begin with the words, “Hier wohnte . . .” and include names, dates, and brief descriptions. There are statues and house museums, as well, which I have not yet explored. It seems like there will be time for that, but the lessons of the pandemic loom large.
Coming from densely populated, glittery-modern-meets-old-trading-town Singapore on the tip of mainland Southeast Asia, this is a big change. It’s one that I worked hard for and hopefully it will be what I hope it will be. Stay tuned!
That it has been two and a half weeks since my last entry and I haven’t noticed should say a thing or two about where my mind has been lately. Everywhere, nowhere, now here.
My friends, colleagues, and I are again spending the summer in Singapore. Our visa status, just like last year, does not guarantee that we will be allowed reentry. It’s hard on everyone, of course, and the best thing to do, the only thing to do, is make the best of where we are and what there is. Lucky for us, there is a great deal of life to be lived if you’re willing to go out and look.
Back in May, on a holiday weekend that otherwise would have found many of us on a plane to somewhere else, two friends and I walked Singapore’s Green Corridor from Hillview south to Tanjong Pagar. This was 13km of the 24km-long trail and I was more interested in the conversation with my friends (and some general antics) than taking photos. Two photos that I did take, however, largely summarize my experience on this part of the trail.
The Green Corridor is an abandoned, overgrown, redeveloped rail corridor that once linked Singapore with the rest of the Malay Peninsula. There were reminders of the railroad everywhere, and reminders that nature, trees, will always be there. Trees are steady, strong, resilient. They bend so that they do not break, reroot to build a new home. They shelter, they provide, they live on. I don’t need to read the research (although I have) on the power of nature to slow down the body. I am reminded every single day.
The tree in the photo below reminded me yet again. It was our first landmark on the Green Corridor. It knew, well before we knew, the role that collective resilience would come to play in all of our lives.
There were points along the walk where the rail line, a marker of what the world was and how it was defined, disappeared. There were times when we were simply walking on an open path between field and road, protected by fences and foliage on either side. Walking south, we watched the distance between ourselves and the shipping cranes in Tanjong Pagar gradually shrink. But every so often, reminders reappeared. Reminders that Singapore, like every place, has not always been what or how it is now. Reminders of how quickly development becomes redevelopment, and the impossible dream becomes the everyday.
Although fenced off and abandoned to prevent people like me and my curious friends from exploring, it was not difficult to imagine the rail depot that this once was. Singapura is the Malay name for Singapore. That’s what this place was, and at its very core, there is so much of Singapura that remains for those who ask, who learn, who look.
Just a few days ago, one of my friends and I finished the walk. We started up north this time, further north than we needed to because the maps are not obvious, and followed the rest of the trail from Woodlands south to Hillview.
Before finding the trail, we lost ourselves on a fortunate detour that took us to the Rainbow Bridge in a part of Singapore we’d never seen before.
And by the time we found the trail, running perpendicular to a current MRT line, we discovered a Singapore that was well and truly Singapura, and before that, a forest.
There were a few times when this northern stretch converged with modern life, but the excitement of seeing different trees, different plants, different flowers, and hearing different birds and animals remained throughout the walk. These are parts of this place that I have never seen but that remind me, somehow, of places I have known. Perhaps in a different story in a different life.
I have a great respect for these places that have taken me from my everyday to a totally different world that was once the world. In discussions of change, I think we forget how rapidly change can occur. And because we forget that, we also lose sight of what exactly is changing, and to what degree, and when. And we forget that nature is stronger than we are.
A very special off-shoot of the Green Corridor is a short walk through Clementi Forest. We heard about it back in May when we saw a few women, covered in mud and exhilarated, rejoin the main train and celebrate. Clementi Forest is exactly what it sounds like. It’s a rainforest. Now. Again. It has grown over the rail line that is still visible through the mud, under fallen trees, and in the gully that was dug long ago to house it. To imagine this island, known for modernity, as the rainforest it used to be is today’s equivalent of the impossible dream of a world powered by technology.
And to take the time to seek out the impossible is to find yourself in a different place, a different world than what you thought you knew. And that’s just it, isn’t it? We only know what we know and there is so much out there to leave us in the child-like embrace of wonder.
A friend once said that Singapore is small enough that one should be able to look through a guidebook and say, “I’ve done that.” Covid19 has done a lot to my sense of self and the way I understand the world, both large and small, but it has also forced me to live as much as I can here in Singapore. With 2021 mere hours away, the clock ticking is more obviously than usual.
It took almost two hours and multiple forms of transportation to reach Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve, located so far north in Singapore that there are views of the skyline of Johor Bahru, Malaysia.
Sungei Buloh contains extensive mangroves, mudflats, forests, and ponds, and is important for migratory birds. There are only a few walking trails and we covered the entire reserve in just a couple of hours. The protected nature of the area means that we saw plants, birds, fish, and animals in abundance. Some of these are normal Singapore creatures but other I’d never seen before.
Before we have a closer look, this is what Sungei Buloh looks like:
As a child, I remember mangroves mentioned in books but I don’t think I knew what that meant until moving to Singapore. We learned that 13% of Singapore used to be mangrove forests, and less than 0.5% of that remains today. (Source)
As always, I really enjoyed the flowers. I will miss tropical flowers when I leave this part of the world.
Mudflats were also relatively new to me and I’d never seen a mudskipper before! There were plenty of these little guys around, as well as mud snails. He/she/it is roughly in the centre of the frame.
We also saw mud crabs, another animal I’d never heard of. You might have to zoom in on the individual images to see them and I recommend doing so – they’re pretty cool.
The insects were not to be missed and the spider webs were amazing, large constructions. There’s only one photo here but I tried (and failed) to take others.
Watching the herons and egrets fishing reminded me of growing up on the Erie Canal and Genesee River in Rochester, New York.
Additionally, we saw an otter (not pictured but also pretty common in Singapore),bats, tree snake, a few monkeys, and a number of monitor lizards, including one in a tree. Again, you might have to zoom in on individual images if you’d like a closer look.
Finally, we searched in great anticipation for crocodiles but the water was quite high and we didn’t have much hope in finding one. As it turned out, though, we did! We weren’t sure if it was a crocodile or a log but I managed a photo before it disappeared beneath the surface of the water. The park rangers and other visitors nearby assured us is was indeed a crocodile. Can you spot it?
A quick climb up an observation tower gave us really impressive views. It’s a wonder, in ways both good and bad, that this island, that the world, used to be so wild. And I wonder at the costs, both known and unknown, of taming it.
Since we had already come all the way out to Kranji to visit the wetlands, my friend suggested going a little further south to Kranji Marshes. Unlike Sungei Buloh, most of the marshes are conservation areas not accessible to visitors, though there are ongoing plans to expand the walking paths. Kranji Marshes is part of Sungei Buloh Nature Park Network and it turns out there’s a shuttle bus that connects multiple locations of this park network, but we didn’t know that until the shuttle bus pulled up just as we were leaving. We took a bus and a taxi to get there but were glad for the shuttle on the way back. (Note to self: Read the transportation signs at each visitor centre.)
The plants were different there, which was interesting because it really did feel like a different place, which I wasn’t expecting. While we didn’t see too many birds, I know this is a popular spot at dawn for birdwatchers.
I especially liked the plants growing in and around all the little ponds. It reminded me of the summer camp I attended as a child, which had a pond for fishing and a swamp for canoeing and kayaking.
The marshes are known for upwards of fifty species of dragonfly and while we didn’t see fifty, they were everywhere and in so many bright colours. The same can be said for the butterflies.
We also saw different flowers than we had earlier, and what was possibly some kind of fruit.
And as before, the view from observation areas were stunning and thought provoking, especially in contrast to the obvious signs of human presence.
While it was quite the journey to get there, I recommend a visit. Everything that is part of the Sungei Buloh Nature Park Network is free and there’s that handy shuttle bus to take you around because it’s too large to walk. Pack a camera, sunscreen, bug spray, apples, almonds, bottles of water, and you’re good to go.
If nothing else, Covid19 has been a reminder to get out and play in my own backyard. While I hope for a better, more peaceful year ahead, I cannot forget that I have now gone places that I perhaps never would have seen. This is a reminder to live in the world, rather than letting the world pass us by, because we never really know what the world will be like tomorrow.
Photos, travels, musings, and ideas on education by someone trying to make the world a better and more peaceful place