Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Malaysia and Endau Rompin National Park - FOOD!

On our Singapore adventure, we had the priveledge to be able to wander into Malaysia. We awoke early one morning and boarded a train with little idea what we were getting ourselves into. The first thing we learned was that Malaysians may enjoy food and eating food more than Singaporeans do. Upon our arrival at the train station in Bekok, eating was our first activity.

Our first Malaysian meal was served at the National Park Corporation office in Bekok where we were greeted by our guide Gary and a Park Manager named Chu. We then loaded up into 4 wheel drive vehicles for the hour journey into Endau Rompin National Park in the Johor Province of Southern Malaysia. Despite the bumpy ride, we were all enthralled as each sight was new for everyone.

Upon our arrival at our camp in Endau Rompin we were once again greeted with a meal. This time, the meal was prepared by Adni and his wife Isha (sp?) who we would get a chance to become better acquanted with during out time in Malaysia.

After a brief orientation to the camp and the accomodations (spartan at best), we then visited a local village of indigenous people that once lived within the Park, but now live just outside the Park's borders. This was a very valuable experience, but in of itself is worthy of an entire entry some other time. Suffice it to say, that the hospitality of these people was tremendous. And, of course, the first thing we did was eat again!

After visiting the Orang Asli (Malay for "Original People") we then returned to camp to find a snack just in case we were still hungry. Adni and his wife prepared us some delicious homemade doughnuts that would not be our last wonderful Malaysian snack.

And, just in case you were wondering, we followed the doughnuts up shortly with dinner. Yum!

Then, feeling the need to walk off our 6 meals, most of the group went with Gary and a local guide named Yassin on a night walk. The night walks also are worthy of a separate entry, but after the night walk everyone was ready for bed. We wandered up the hill to our "chalets" and settled onto our wooden planks for a good nights sleep amidst the sounds of the rainforest. I can say nothing but good things about sleeping with the sounds of the rainforest around me, but my back would like to have a word with whoever thought sleeping on wooden plants with only a straw matt and a sheet was a good idea. Nevertheless, I awoke the next morning ready to continue exploring the rainforest, and ready for another tasty meal!

Friday, March 16, 2007

A few additions to KL's post on things to know about Singapore:

- Asian women apparently don't like to sit on the toilet. Which equates to about 1/3 of the public restrooms in Singapore being what we have decided to call "squat toilets". Basically, instead of a toilet, there's two or three steps on the floor up to a porcelein hold in the floor, which sometimes has marks on either side to designate where your feet go (maybe to help with aim?). I believe most of us girls dealt with such toilets at least once during our trek.

- When looking for an exit, don't look for an "Exit". Look for the "Way Out".

- Ditch the knife. When you're given silverware (as opposed to the more common chopsticks) at most eating establishments, you're given a fork and a spoon. You cut with the spoon. It actually works quite well, though it's somewhat awkward at first.

- Milo is a way of life. Hot, cold, iced, frozen, dinosaur, or king kong, it's one of the best drinks your SGD can buy. It's made by the folks at Nestle, and is probably a version of Quik, but it's somehow way better. You make it with water, not milk, but it's still incredibly rich and creamy, plus it has electrolytes in it. I had it with every meal during our trek in Malaysia. And then I bought some to bring home. It's that good.

That's about all for now. I'm back on U.S. soil, but I'd go back to Singapore if given the chance. Definitely worth the long (and expensive) plane ride.

~ Lara

Thursday, March 1, 2007

Canopy Walk Pictures

Treetop Canopy Walk

This is the second trip the class has made to the MacRitchie Reservoir in the Bukit Timah Nature Reserve, but my first visit due to my three day snow delay getting out of Raleigh (apparently I was the only one in the airport that morning at 4am that was unaware of the massive storm hitting all of the northern connection cities-oops). So I was very excited to hear that the class wanted to go back and do the Treetop Canopy Walk because they didn't have time to complete this extra loop the first time. Mike Orbach accompanied us on a lovely adventure...the first challenge was finding the trail head and we sent our taxi drivers on a fun adventure. When we finally arrived we headed off on a nice trail through the reserve and immediately came across a bunch of long-tailed macaque monkeys! They were everywhere and didn't seem to be bothered by our presence. We even came across a mother carrying a newborn, which was very exciting. After frantic picture taking by the class we headed up to the suspension bridge in the rainforest canopy. It was a refreshing view and you could even see the skyscrapers of downtown in the far distance. We continued on our way and encountered even more monkeys! They were misbehaving a bit but I won't get into details to keep this a PG rated blog entry. A bit further down the path Melissa and I were just enjoying the view when a slight sprinkle of what I assumed was moisture falling off the leaves trickled down a few inches from my face. Good thing I didn't move because as I looked up I noticed a naughty little monkey relieving itself from an overhead branch. So after a lovely morning in the rainforest we were trying to make our way to the end of the trail and wound up in the Singapore Country Club parking lot. Just picture a bunch of sweaty environmental students in a parking lot full of Mercedes. Needless to say the security guards were very concerned by our presence. But we made it back to the real world eventually. So far my favorite adventure in Singapore. It's amazing that such a peaceful place exists so close to the city!

Things to know about Singapore:

The symbol is the merlion, a statue with the head of a lion and the body of a fish resting on a crest of waves. The original statue stands on the Singapore River, spitting water at those close by, and can be seen on land or by boat. There is a miniature statue close to the original and the giant version lives on Sentosa Island. The statue comes from the name "Singapura" (meaning "lion" (singa) "city" (pura) in Sanskrit). It represents Singapore's beginnings as a fishing village which is now the largest port.

Upon visiting,the Urban Redevelopment Authority, we learned fun facts about the planning of Singapore. One of the main things to understand is that their "conservation" is conserving the heritage of the people and older buildings- not the environment and sustainability refers to economics. As a result they are looking at reclaiming land so they can support their desired increase in population. They build up, underground, and merge things together to get the most out of the space.

Singapore is a mix of cultures supplying many delectable selections of food, but by far the greatest choice has been the prata. Luckily we have a 24 hr prata shop right around the corner for any cravings, rushed meals, or late night snacks. A prata begins as a square piece of dough that is flattened into a thin layer. Cheese, vegetables, or fruit are then added to the center and it is placed in the skillet. A few minutes later you are presented with a delicious meal. Fruit ones are topped with honey while the others are given a fish curry dipping sauce. The banana prata is my favorite. You can never have just one and don't forget to get coffee in a bag or some yummy fruit drink :)

Speaking of drinks, no visit to Singapore is complete without trying a Singapore Sling. If you are willing to pay a little extra, you can take a trip to the Long Bar in the Raffles Hotel where this pink drink was created for the ladies in 1915. While the rest of the hotel is quite swanky, this location allows you to sip in style while old fashioned fans wave air in your direction and you are encouraged to throw peanut shells on the floor. In case you wanted to try one at home the offical recipe is:
30ml Gin
15ml Cherry Brandy
120ml Pineapple Juice
15ml Lime Juice
7.5ml Cointreau
7.5ml Dom Benedictine
10ml Grenadine
A Dash of Angostura Bitters
Garnish with a slice of Pineapple and Cherry

Monday, February 26, 2007

Anyone for the spa?

So there’s this big wall ad at our main MRT station for “Fish Reflexology” over @ the aquarium on Sentosa. We checked it out when we were there the other day, and it was like $35sgd for half an hour. The idea intrigued me, but no way was I paying $35. Yesterday, however, we went to the Quin Ho Fish Farm (think aquarium fish, not eating fish), and they had the same sort of thing. They called it “Fish SPA”, and it was only $10sgd there. This prospect really excited me, and luckily, I talked Kerri Lynn into doing it with me. They have this large, shallow pool that you sit on the edge of and stick your feet into and these different fish come up and nibble on your skin. There were a bunch of tiny ones, a few medium sized ones, and one large one. A quick Wikipedia search, combined with the brochure we got there, tells me that the tiny ones were species Garra rufa, and that the species Cyprinion macrostomus is also often used. Both species are commonly known as "doctor fish". Apparently the concept originated in the Kangal district of Turkey, and the fish are native to river basins in the Middle East. The water in these river basins can get quite warm (up to 37ÂșC, which explains why they can keep the spa waters at bath temperatures), and the fish are normally algal grazers. The basic concept is that in the absence of algae in the spa pools (as the pools are treated by UV sterilization), these fish nibble off the upper, flaky layer of your skin, sort of an exfoliation. It’s also purported to be able to heal mild skin diseases such as psoriasis and athlete’s foot, as the fish supposedly inject a small quantity of Dithranol (commonly found in psoriasis cream medicines) and an enzyme that helps to normalize the skin. The little ones tickled, and the really large one felt somewhat like sandpaper. It was really hard for me to not bust out laughing at points cause my feet are somewhat ticklish. My feet definitely feel softer after the experience (I really noticed when I took a shower that night), plus I just think it’s an awesome story. Definitely worth $10.

~ Lara

P.S. Seadragons are probably the coolest animals ever.