Saturday, May 31, 2008
the recreation part of the park opened in october 2007; looks like the nature part of it is ready for opening soon. the nature part occupies 20 hectares of the 27-hectare admiralty park. today, when i ventured into this section of the park, they were planting grass at a small 30-lot car-park next to the admiralty west prison.
the path, wide and winding, is in a valley, close to sungei cina that flows through this park before draining into the straits of johor. three foot bridges have been built across the river. i did not use the bridges because the workers were painting them. the mangrove is found at this part; saw someone catching two mud-crabs in the mangrove.
they have left much of the vegetation in that area intact and as you walk along the path, you can see clumps of nipah palms, many of them with fruits. (from the nipah palm, you get attap chee, an ingredient used in ice kachang.) there are also sea hollies although the sea is some distance away. there is also this naturally sculptured elephant, with a morning glory flower for an eye.
i have been thinking: if i had lived in the 17th or 18th century, i could have been an explorer or an intrepid traveller who liked wandering into unknown places. in singapore, i seem to be going to places where people have not been or places that not many people go to.
Friday, May 30, 2008
the old jewish cemetery, also referred to as the thomson road cemetery, was located between lorong sinaran and kampong chia heng, where the novena square now stands. there was a main gate leading to it but this gate was normally kept closed. it was only opened when there was a funeral. there was also a side-gate which was just up the slope, next to our zinc-roof house at kampong chia heng. in later years, this gate was also kept locked.
in my growing up years, the cemetery, at my backyard, was my playground. early in the morning, i would go to the bushes along the perimeter fence and the undergrowth, near to the tan tock seng hospital, to catch spiders. normally, the caretakers - two javanese families - would leave me alone. during the kite-flying season, we would go to the field to fly kites or to go after kites that had been cut loose.
i enjoyed reading the inscriptions on the tombstones. smaller graves usually belonged to babies and young children. some of the larger ones had elaborate statues adorning them. some of the verses carved on the stones were quite meaningful. quite a number of the tombstones were constructed out of white marble. but there was no cross on them, only the star of david.
i also remember spending many happy hours with my neighbours 'tobogganing' down the grassy slope at the cemetery. we would use thick cardboard pieces, big enough for us to sit on, and slid down the slope. it was actually a short ride but it gave us lots of thrills and sometimes, a bit of a spill.
i was at the cemetery even at night time, not alone though. we would go there to enjoy the peace and quiet while the adults played with cards (gambled). i have to admit that i was quite scared during those times but male bravado made me go through with it.
there were not just tombs at the cemetery. there were a few mausoleums on the side closer to lorong sinaran. i used to wonder at the amount of money that they would have spent on such a nice resting place for the dead. there was also a community hall where the mourners gathered and where the corpse was cleansed before burial.
i think burial usually took place early in the morning. when there was a burial, the caretakers would forbid us to intrude into the cemetery grounds. i sneaked in more than once to watch the proceedings. like the muslims, the jewish do not have a coffin for the dead; instead they wrap the corpse in layers of cloth.
the caretakers also doubled up as grave diggers. they would prepare the pit once they had been informed of a death in the jewish community. it took a few men a few hours to dig the grave. sometimes, the caretakers would rope in their own friends to help with the digging.
there was one incident which we, kampong folks, all heard about. one of the caretaker's friends or relatives who was helping to prepare the pit, collapsed and died - could have suffered a heart attack - while digging the grave.
the cemetery was around up to 80s. after that it had to make way for the construction of the mrt line and the novena station.
Thursday, May 29, 2008
this image taken off the television shows teletext page 481. for a few days already, it has been showing the us $ to one s'pore dollar as 0.773.. it seems to suggest that the us $ is weaker than the swiss franc at 0.763.. and the australian $ at 0.762.
if aud$0.762 equals to s$1.00, then aud$1.00 is roughly equal to s$1.31. if us$0.773 equals to s$1.00, the us$1.00 is equal to s$1.29. we all know that at the moment the us dollar is about s$1.36.
so, should the correct figure be 0.7323 instead of 0.77323?
Wednesday, May 28, 2008
today, while walking from zhenghua park connector towards the bukit timah nature reserve, i chanced upon one type of tapioca plant which i have not seen before. it has elongated leaves. tapioca leaves - those with the red stalks - can be eaten but leave the other types of leaves alone because they may be toxic.
this is another type of tapioca leaves which i have seen before but i did not get to see them today.
these days, fewer and fewer people are making the dumplings (bak chang) at home. somehow, bak chang has lost some of its allure as there is nothing special about it any more as they are easily available all the year round. katong rice dumplings have outlets all over the island.
in those kampong days, we did not have to check the calendar to know that the dragon boat festival was approaching as many families would be busy making rice dumplings about a week prior to the festival. the preparations and the cooking would usually be carried out outside the house. the festive mood would be in the air long before the actual day. these days, the festival could just come and go without our realising it.
i remember it as a rather time-consuming affair. first, you had to buy the large bamboo leaves and the hemp strings for tying it into a tetrahedral package. these materials were obtained much earlier, about a month or so before the festival.
then as the days got nearer, you have got to get the ingredients - glutinous rice, mushrooms, pork, chestnuts, fried onions and hae bee (dried prawns) ready. a day before the actual cooking, the leaves had to be blanched in boiling water in a large kerosene tin, which we bought from the provision shop for about eighty cents. this kerosene tin came with two wooden grips on opposite sides of the tin. after that the leaves had to be wiped with a damp cloth, one by one.
in those kampong days, we used an earthen stove and firewood to cook the rice dumplings in the kerosene tin. my mother would cook about 5 to 10kg of glutinous rice to make the dumplings. my sisters would help with the wrapping and tying. i would help by feeding the firewood into the fire and of course, the eating.
apart from the rice/meat dumplings, my mother would also make the smaller, sticky yellow dumplings which did not come with any filling. as children, we actually preferred eating this type of dumpling, which we dipped in sugar before eating.
i have fond memories of the dumpling festival because of the kampong spirit which is difficult to replicate in our housing estates. folks who did not know how to make or who did not have the time to make would receive dumplings from the neighbours. those who made would also get dumplings to sample. there would be a lot of exchanging going on and we ended up trying all types and qualities of dumplings.
those days, hemp sting was used to secure the dumplings. today, the raffia has replaced the hemp string. we still use the earthen stove but charcoal has replaced firewood. instead of the kerosene tin, we used a huge pot.
Tuesday, May 27, 2008
this is the jatropha plant - saw it at hort park -that has been gaining a lot of attention worldwide as the need to find alternative and cheaper fuels become more pressing because of the escalating prices of petroleum and palm-oil.
this inedible plant is not fussy and it can be grown on land that is not suitable for food crops. the yield is also higher than tradional biofuel crops like corn and sugar-cane. there is also a claim that land used for growing jatropha will increase in fertility.
it takes only two years for the plant to start yielding oil and it can continue to do so for the next forty years. optimal yield comes after the sixth year.jatropha absorbs large amount of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and therefore earns carbon credits.
in singapore, a 1.7 hectare farm has been set up in kranji to grow this plant. also, a biofuel plant using jatropha as feedstock has been built at jurong island and production of biofuel is expected to start this year.
today, i covered part of the third section of the southern ridges - the section that joins telok blangah hill to the hort park. the maze of metal walkways and stairs is truly amazing. at 1.3km long, it can lay claim to the longest walkway in singapore.
i parked at car-park 3, next to the mt faber service reservoir. not many people know of this small car park, that is why car-parks 1 and 2 are usually full whereas you can still find a space at this car park. not for long though.
the walkways, besides having stairs leading to the earth trail, also have openings at two places along preston road. many people would not have known of the colonial houses at preston road if not for the opening up of this area. preston is a road that ends at an international school.
i got acquainted with three plants/trees along the walk. they are the benjamin fig, the nyatoh tree and the climbing noni. the fruit of the climbing noni is about the size of a cherry.
as you approach the arch, on your left you can see an old durian tree, laden with at least 80 durians. however, the real treat during the walk was the sight of at least six orioles flitting from tree to tree. most of them were on initially on the saga seed (adenanthera pavonina) tree near the arch.
surprisingly and thankfully, the metal walkway does not get slippery when it is wet unlike the grill covers on some drains.
Monday, May 26, 2008
if you enjoy solitude and a solitary walk, this is the place to go. it is a quiet and deserted trail. when i first did the trail in 2006, i did not meet another human being during the entire walk. it was a similar 'non-encounter' today.
today, i started the walk from the car park at sungei buloh wetland reserve. the 2km trail, a gravel path with certain sections cemented, cuts through a secondary forest and then hugs the coast; an indication of this is the presence of casuarina trees. there is mangrove on both sides, the seaward side and the landward side. a prawn pond was once located in this area.
along the way, the only living creatures i came across were skinks, squirrels, orioles and kingfishers. the plants i saw included simpoh air, indian rubber trees, sea hollies, screw pines, sea hibiscus, api api and bakau.
i always enjoy quiet time at the bridge that overlooks the straits of johor. the fish will come in with the tide and they will attract the kingfishers, the egrets and sometimes, the white bellied eagle.
i have yet to see a crocodile at the kranji nature trail or at the sungei buloh wetland reserve. on friday, when i was at sungei buloh, someone pointed to something in the river and said: can you see the baby crocodile over there. i just could not see it.
Saturday, May 24, 2008
it is going to take us three visits to complete the entire stretch of the southern ridges. the group's first visit was on wednesday when we covered the stretch from henderson waves to the harbourfront. after a one day break, on friday, we started at kent ridge park and made it to the alexandra arch. getting off the arch, we walked to alexandra village for our sustenance.
at kent ridge park, we chose to walk along the canopy walk. at the end of the canopy walk, we made a short right to walk down some steps which led us to the crookedest path in singapore. the start of the path is about 500m from the hort park.
there were a lot of wonderful distractions at the hort park that, for some moments, i thought we would be spending the entire morning discovering new plants and getting acquainted with all the themes of the garden hub. but without tall trees to provide cover from the sun, my friend could be forgiven for thinking that its name was 'hot' park.
we are now left with the hilltop walk and forest walk to cover before we can claim to have walked the whole length of the southern ridges. the hilltop walk is at telok blangah hill and the forest walk is actually the stepless elevated walkway that joins up with the alexandra arch.
Friday, May 23, 2008
this is the gate leading to the former institute of dental health along hyderabad road. the place now serves as the campus of a private school. today, most people know of the location of the national dental centre. however, in the past not many people were aware of the existence, much less the location of the institute of dental health. i had never stepped foot into the building.
i knew where the pegu road dental clinic was because i used to visit the pegu road outpatient dispensary which shared the same premises. i do not recall going for treatment at the dental clinic.
those early days when i had toothache or a tooth needed to be extracted, i remember going to visit a 'dentist' near sungei road. i do not think he was a qualified dental surgeon, someone who had gone through four or five years of university study. he was just certified fit to extract teeth and make dentures. i think he was classified as a unqualified registered dentist. i do not think there are any more of them in practice.
today's children are so lucky as far as dental care is concerned. in primary one, they are given a complimentary toothbrush and a mug and taught how to brush their teeth the proper way by the school's dental nurse. all throughout their primary and secondary school days, there is either a dental clinic or a mobile dental bus to look after their teeth. we never had this kind of attention.
so, while we have to change to a softer diet as we age, the generations that come after us can continue to enjoy tough food like steak and crunchy stuff like fried chicken and cookies even when they start collecting their annuities.
Thursday, May 22, 2008
while looking for an alternative route to get to mount faber, we stumbled upon these 2-storey black and white bungalows located along temenggong road, a dead-end road with hardly any vehicular or human traffic.
a few days after i blogged about these colonial houses in singapore, i came across a report about their being in great demand.
"But now that the bulldozers have rolled in to turn the area into Singapore's key aerospace hub, monthly rentals for the colonial houses sitting on streets with quaintly English names have shot through the roof." (from the straits times dated 21 may)
i am not surprised. many of the tenants have been ensconced in these houses, some with a sprawling compound, since the day they got posted to singapore. the rents for these houses are not exorbitant; in fact, i thought they were subsized. the cost of renting such houses ranges from a couple of thousand to 20k a month. anyway, many of those working for multi-national corporations have their rent paid for by their companies.
the houses in the alexandra area, a number of which have their own swimming pools and one even has a large tree house in its compound, have such pleasant surroundings. i feel that this is a haven for the expatriates - countryside living, away from the maddening crowd, and yet only a few minutes drive to their working place. these people really know how to live the good life.
i know of some locals who have opted to live in such rented houses but most of them are in the seletar area, and not in some secluded places like royal road, humes heights or temenggong road.
the main landmark in bukit panjang town is the bukit panjang plaza. the other landmarks include the light rail tracks and the al-iman mosque, near bangkit.
the street names are all in malay.
bukit panjang : long hills, a ridge
bangkit : to rise up; from the rising up of the land towards the hill
fajar : dawn
jelapang : criss-cross
lompang : empty
jelebu : distant, hazy
saujana : a plain stretching to the horizon
segar : fit, healthy
senja : sunset, evening
petir : thunderclap
pending : a large waist buckle
Wednesday, May 21, 2008
over at upper seletar reservoir park, there are two huge trees, belonging to the same species, which have been shedding their leaves during this hot and dry spell. the one near the public toilet, next to car park b, has lost most of its leaves and its fruit, the kapok. the other one, which still retains some of its leaves and fruit, is found nearer to the executive golf course.
these two trees, although they bear the same name as the kapok tree which i blogged about earlier, seem to be of a different variety. in fact, when i first noticed them, i was not sure if they were kapok trees until i went to the botanic gardens again to check and make camparison. yes, they do look like the majestic one in the botanic gardens.
i took pictures of the two trees on different days. when i was taking pictures of the first tree, the one near the toilet, i noticed two squirrels looking for seeds among the cotton-like kapok. really marvel at how these small animals will go to such great heights to source for food.
while i was at the other tree to take pictures, i could see the fibre floating to the ground from the top of the tree. the grassy slope and the ground around the tree were all littered with the kapok.
finally managed to capture my wednesday and friday walking kakis on digital image. i call this the bendemeer group because, of the six regular ones, five were former bendemeer secondary school teachers. i am the co-opted one; the only one who has not taught in bendemeer though my youngest sister is a former student of the school.
today, we were joined by chuan wee and betty. chuan wee was my colleague in balestier and betty has taught in both balestier and bendemeer. actually of the five regulars, two were my former collegues in balestier - tan tye thong and wong huat cheong. the other three members are loh swee guan, wong kee toh and tan song char. i used to play gin rummy with song char, swee guan and two other bendemeer teachers in the 80s.
we met at the first car park at telok blangah hill. with the opening of the southern ridges, the parking situation is so different. in the past, this car park would be almost empty. i would see delivery men taking a siesta in their trucks or a taxi driver, with the engine idling, having some intimate talk with a lone chinese woman in the front passenger seat. today, when song char reached the place, he was lucky to get the last remaining space.
starting from the car park, we walked up the road slope to get to the start of the henderson waves. when we got to the mount faber side, the directional signs were not so clear. we hit the faber walk and headed for the marang trail. it took some backtracking before we finally found the steps leading to the marang trail.
we had some power food at the food centre next to the bus interchange before making our way back. kwan, who joined us at the end of the marang trail, suggested taking a different route to get to the jewel box. eventually, we split into three groups and took three different routes to get back to the henderson waves.
on friday, instead of meeting at our usual venue at macritchie, we will meet at kent ridge park to do the other half of the southern ridges.
Tuesday, May 20, 2008
these tree climbing 'poachers' with sharp teeth will gnaw at the thick husk of the durian fruit till there is a hole in it. eventually, this fruit, which has been attacked by the squirrels, will fall to the ground before it has ripened. i came across many durians in such a state at rifle range road and at bukit batok nature park.
are we allowed to pick the fruit that has fallen? i asked a park ranger who was patrolling the area. his response was non-commital. "you are not allowed to wait in the vicinity for the fruit to drop." he explained that such people, while waiting, would start a fire by burning some dried leaves and branches to chase away the mosquitoes.
i did witness such an incident. three or four middle-age men were camped under a durian tree laden with fruit and they had a fire going. they were not just trying to keep the mosquitoes away but they had the fire to boil a kettle of water for their coffee.
Monday, May 19, 2008
as you get older and you become more health conscious, the food that you eat does matter. so, lately, i have eating more watermelons and mangosteens. i have always liked eating mangoes, especially the sweet varieties like harum manis and the thai honey mangoes, so the mango has all along been a feature in my diet.
lately, my friend has introduced me to eating passion fruit. at first, i was a bit apprehensive as i had never tasted it before. he assured me that the taste was pleasant enough; a bit sweet and a bit tart. i used a metal spoon to scoop all the seeds and juice to pop them into my mouth. the juice has the taste of a guava. why passion fruit? because it has antioxidant properties.
it seems all kinds of berries are rich in antioxidants. these include cranberries, raspberries, blueberries, strawberries and blackberries. apples, red grapes, prunes and peaches are also included in the list of antioxidant-rich fruit. among local fruit, mangoes, melons, mangosteens and passion fruit have been touted as having antioxidants.
antioxidants are also found in vegetables like kale, spinach, brussels sprouts, broccoli flowers and onions among others.
antioxidants are important disease-fighting compounds. scientists believe they help prevent and repair the stress that comes from oxidation, a natural process that occurs during normal cell function. a small percentage of cells becomes damaged during oxidation and turns into free radicals, which can start a chain reaction to harming more cells and possibly disease. unchecked free radical activity has been linked to cancer, heart disease, alzheimer's disease and parkinson's disease.
Sunday, May 18, 2008
my friend victor seems to have some special interest in the breadfruit tree. he planted one in a friend's garden at kovan close and he also tried planting one in old monk's hill secondary school. he usually refers to it by the indonesian name of 'sukun'.
at a food stall near geylang serai, they prepare the breadfruit in the same manner as the banana fritters. they cut it into thin slices and deep fry them with a coating of flour. cannot remember the name they give to it. must be goreng sukun. i have eaten it once and i thought it tasted a bit like yam.
there used to be a breadfruit tree growing on the piece of vacated land opposite the rail mall. it was just next to the overhead bridge for pedestrians. breadfruit trees can grow up to 20m tall. along lim chu kang road, if you are going in the direction of the jetty, there are a few breadfruit trees on the right, just after lane 8.
Saturday, May 17, 2008
the 'pasar malams' at my place are appearing more frequently and the interval between one pasar malam and the next is getting shorter. long ago, i heard there was a ruling about not repeating the pasar malam along the same stretch of road within a six month period. so, the organiser got around this ruling by locating the pasar malam to the opposite side of the same road. it seems to me that this restriction is no longer in place.
we had a pasar malam, which usually lasts about a week, at my place about a month ago and now there is another pasar malam along the same stretch of road. each time, after a pasar malam, the grass would all be dead/pale yellow because the planks had been placed over the grass patch, thus depriving the green grass of sunlight.
in singapore, one pasar malam is no different from another because the same vendors are moving around. these are staples at all pasar malams: ramly burgers, sugar-cane juice, seasonal fruit, musical dvds, handphone covers, malay stall selling fried food and otah, furniture and mattresses, potted plants, toys and stationery, pop corn, chinese stall selling tea egg, groundnuts, muah chee and taiwanese sausage, clothings and socks, school bags, japanese takoyaki and game stall.
one thing you do not expect to be sold at a pasar malam is a car. i am not talking about toy cars or match-box cars but hondas, suzukis and toyotas. yes, there is one stall that has these japanese cars on display. these are brand new cars, not used ones.
Thursday, May 15, 2008
on tuesday when lay bee was in school, she received an even bigger surprise. the two girls made her very happy by getting noel to deliver a bouquet of roses for mother's day to her school.
she had not expected to be showered with so much gratitude and love as the two girls had already got her a very nice blouse and made her a bottle of jam. ivy had also given her a 'happy mother's day' card. i was the courier of these three items when i returned from melbourne in april.
from may 2008 up to the end of 2009, tekka market and food centre will be at its temporary location along race course road. the structure that houses the market and food centre is on the field between northumberland and race course roads. if you take the north-south mrt, you can exit at either little india or farrer park.
each time there is a move or change like this, there is bound to be complaints. stall-holders, especially those at the market, were complaining that the stalls were too close to another and the place so crammed that it was very difficult for their customers to move about, especially on weekends. they also reported a drop in the number of patrons at the market and the food centre.
fortunately for me, my favourite food stalls have decided to continue their business at race course road. alauddin's nasi briyani is the last stall on the right and heng gi roasted goose and duck rice is somewhere in the middle. my teh alia stall is near to the fruit stalls. the queue for food at alauddin is just as long as before.
many years ago, i ate at a jumbo restaurant in a country club at serangoon garden; though i was aware that there was another restaurant by the same name at east coast park, i had never visited it until last night. in fact, it was my first visit to east coast seafood centre. so many overseas visitors have raved about the seafood served at the centre and yet some singaporeans like me have not stepped foot there.
this is like a week of meeting up with former students i had lost touch with since i left balestier for ghim moh. the gathering was primarily a farewell dinner for wing nam, who flies back to hong kong tomorrow, but it was also a chance for me to meet other two former students whom i have not seen since 1975. they are johnny tan and cheng yan.
kim seng, a sia pilot, flies the airbus 380 to sydney and london. each month, he flies twice to sydney and once to london. also found out that he is a buddy of p james, the president of the air lines pilot association - singapore (alpa-s) whom i meet at least once a month. cheng yan, who once worked in lam soon and then seagate, is now the vice-president of an american company manufacturing modems for singtel.
also at the dinner were swee hee, kum lay and his wife, soon leong, simon, ron sim, herman ho, kwan, thai soon and, of course, wing nam and his wife. we were there from about 6 p.m. to 11 p.m.
there was much talk about organising a big get-together of oac members. the proposal was to hold it at a resturant owned by one of the former oac members, belinda. wing nam told me that he would definitely be back if swee hee was to organise this big bash in 2010.