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.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Dragon Eel

Sea Dragon

Chad attacked by dangerous shark!

Aquarium tunnel

Sentosa Island

On Friday, February 23rd, our class traveled to Sentosa Island - Singapore's Official Tourist Resort Destination. Sentosa, the Malay word for Tranquility, was apparently once known as Pulau Belakang Mati, which in Malay means the "Island (pulau) of Death (mati) from Behind (belakang)". Not to sure about what that means. Not sure I want to know. But if I had an even more up-to-date name for the island, it would be the Malay word for "Expensive".

What is there to see on Sentosa? you may ask. Well, in case you didn't get enough out of the Merlion statue on mainland Singapore, go to Sentosa to see a giant replication of the famous mascot. If staring at a giant statue isn't your cup of tea, why not try the Butterfly Park, Insect World or learn how to fly on the Flying Trapeze - and have your checkbooks ready.

But even if Sentosa is a tourist trap, I must admit that it was worth every penny to see the Underwater World - Singapore's aquarium. There were creatures in that place that I have never seen alive before, including the African lungfish, the coconut crab, the dugong and the sea dragon. The aquarium has a "travellator" that ferries you through an 83-meter long acrylic tunnel that is surrounded by a few species of sharks, rays and countless fish - my new favorite being the "sweetlips". We took a ride on the travellator just as the fish were being fed - perfect timing.

For the rest of the day, a few of us went to one of the islands' beaches to catch some rays. Even though the landscape was pretty manufactured, it did feel like a little piece of luxury. Singapore is one of the biggest ports in the world, a fact that is unavoidable – especially from the coastline - the ocean view consisted of no less than 10 tankers. But the resort owners are clever and advertise the tankers as providing beautiful lighting at night - apparently making the beach one of the most romantic spots in Singapore with the help of some artificial ambiance.

Sentosa Island proved to be a very entertaining day. But, as seen all over the world, tourism comes to the tropics at a high environmental cost. This island was once surrounded by corals. With no regulations or protected measures for Singapore’s reefs, these corals have disappeared and replaced with sand imported from Malaysia.

Emily (the older) B.

New Friends in Singapore

Here are a few of the new friends that Emily (the younger) and Rachel have made so far in Singapore.


Saturday, February 24, 2007

Walking on water (or in it)

Internet and time are both hard to find, but here is a quick note about our tidal pool and tidal flats experiences. Earlier in the trip we went to Sisters Island and our newly acquired friends Ron, Ria, and their troupe helped us explore the natural wonders. Sisters Island was so named because a pirate in the area fell in love with one of two sisters (I know, piracy and kidnapping are a good start to any story, but I digress). This pirate then captured the object of his affection, but upon sailing away her sister jumped into the ocean to swim after the fleeing ship. Unfortunately, she was not morphologically equipped to outpace the pirate ship and drowned. The captured sister, upon seeing the devotion and love her sister had demonstrated flung herself off of the pirate ship into the sea to die. Thus Sisters Island got its name as it is actually two distinct islands.

On Sisters Island, we successfully avoided attack by the local monkeys and saw a TON of species. This list includes spider conchs, flatworms, mosaic crabs, corals, snapping shrimp, toad fish, scorpion fish, worm eels, octopi, snails, rays, flathead fish, two species of hermit crab and much much more. It was great to get to see some of these species during the day and then see them in all their glory after dark. Our guides told us that the corals were more beautiful after dark, but it was hard to fathom this until we saw it for ourselves.

A few days later, we followed this experience with an exploration of the mudflats off of Chek Jawa on the island Pulau Ubin. First, I feel I must share a little of the back story of this wonderful place. Chek Jawa is now a protected area in Singapore, but it was once slotted for reclamation and development by the government. Through the tremendous efforts of volunteers and interested parties, the government was able to understand how important Chek Jawa was to local Singaporeans. This effort is a great example of just how successful a grassroots campaign can be, but I digress because I really want to tell you about how cool the experience was. . .

So, we got up way early in the morning and after a bus ride, we took bum boats out to the island (Pulau Ubin). This island still has some subsistence farmers on it in addition to some locals who have adapted their houses to provide drinks, bicycles etc to tourists. Unfortunately, Singapore has had heavy rains this season and the excess freshwater has negatively impacted the diversity of species at Chek Jawa, but the area is beginning to recover. Nevertheless, we saw sea hairs (basically slugs) in large numbers, peacock anemones, sea cucumbers, jellyfish, sea pens, several species of crabs, snails, whelks eating decaying fish, snapping shrimp, barnacles, mangrove trees, mud skippers, sand dollars, white bellied fish eagle, and the collared king fisher just to name a few. Having been forewarned about the reduced diversity due to the excess freshwater, we were very surprised to find so many species.

Also worth noting is that Chek Jawa and the Rachel Carson Nature Preserve outside the Marine Lab in Beaufort are slotted to become sister estuaries. Hopefully this relationship will allow for a continued relationship between these two beautiful protected areas. Finally, I would like to offer further thanks and praise to Ron, Ria and the rest of the volunteers both for taking such marvelous care of us during these excursions into the nearshore environments around Singapore and for all of their hard work to explore and protect these wonderful areas. I am sure that without the efforts of such dedicated advocates that the true importance of these areas would still remain unknown. And, in the case of Chek Jawa, Singapore would no longer have this wonderful natural resource.

I am sure the picture will be added to this posting at some point, but the internet it presently foiling all efforts (the story of my life).

Until next time,
Ais Kachang!!

Don't eat the durian!

You'll often see signs in Singapore that say:

No Smoking
No eating and drinking
No flammable goods
No durians

Why? You might ask, are you not allowed to have durians. Let's begin with a simple definition.

Durian: The durian is the fruit of trees of the genus Durio. The durian fruit is distinctive for its large size, unique odor, and a formidable thorn-covered husk. Its name comes from the Malay word 'duri' (thorn) together with the Malay suffix that is '-an', meaning "thorny fruit." Durian is widely known in Southeast Asia as the 'King of Fruits.'

A person by the name of Tony Bourdain has said the following about the durian: "Try leaving cheese and a dead body out in the sun and you're in the same neighborhood as the smell of durian."

Now I begin my story:

On a lovely day, Wednesday, 21 February 2007, a group of happy Duke students were enjoying their free time in Singapore. They had spent a lovely morning in Little India, and were off to explore Chinatown. Upon exiting the MRT station in Chinatown, they spotted a delicious ice-cream stand. Most of the students played it safe, getting flavors such as coffee, chocolate chip, etc. One brave graduate student (me), however decided to not stick with the mango ice cream she was craving, and instead in a daring move, took on the adventure of durian ice cream. You would think that the unnatural florescent yellow color of the ice cream would be a warning of what was to come, but no. The "unique odor" of the ice cream which led all of the other students to back 7-10 feet away from her should have been the second, and final clue that the ice cream may not be desirable, but this certain graduate student (me) braved the warnings and took her first bite of her durian ice cream. Instantly, she new her mistake, as the overwhelming taste of fruit, onions, and some other awful taste that she cannot yet distinguish overwhelmed her mouth. Now at this point, one would expect this certain graduate student to quickly discard of the durian ice cream, as it only cost $1 SIN (=$0.65 US), but no. This grad student (me) continued to almost eat the entire ice cream. Afterward, this brave, young grad student had the lovely durian aftertaste in her mouth for an hour.

The moral of this story is, don't eat the durian ice cream!


Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Day 1-NEWater

If you like pictures, you are just going to have to wait as driver issues are thus far foiling my best efforts to transfer the pics off my camera. However, I will be happy to describe some of our earlier experiences in greater detail . . .

After our first meal EVER at a hawker stand (a truly unique cultural experience as far as I am concerned), Ais Kachang toured Singapore's NEWater facility. First, I would like to briefly discuss the merits of "Joy Juice" as I experienced them. Put all of your dirty comments aside, this stuff is GOOD! It tastes just like "squirt" back home, but is called Joy Juice which is certainly more -um- interesting. But, I digress.

So, conservation is all well and good, but NEWater even tested some of OUR limits. First, I should begin with some background. Singapore is an island with a natural spring, but this spring cannot provide enough freshwater to meet the needs of the 4 million current residents. Singapore has developed their water supply to incorporate several different sources of water:

1) local catchments,
2) imported water from Malaysia,
3) desalinized water, and
4) NEWater.

In Singapore, these are known as the 4 national taps. As I mentioned previously, there are 14 local catchment areas which consist of reservoirs connected with pipelines and surrounding forested drainage areas. An additional development project hopes to add a 15th catchment area this year (2007). Singapore has an agreement to import additional water from Malaysia until 2061. Desalinization has potential to supply large quantities of water to Singapore, but currently the process is both too expensive and energy intensive to be used on a wide scale. NEWater is an effort by Singapore to extend their extremely limited water supply through the purification of previously used water. This water is widely used by industries in Singapore, but is also rated for human consumption. This allows Singapore to stretch its limited water supplies.

All the water you use during any normal day normally goes through a lengthy natural purification process, but NEWater accelerates this process allowing the water to be reused much faster. A three step process can take toilet water and turn it into drinkable water, NEWater.

After going through the proper sewage treatement, the first step is microfiltration or ultrafiltration. This step begins by filtering out much of the junk remaining in the water by forcing the water molecules through a series of porous straws. The second step is reverse osmosis which further filters out impurities in the water but also is only 75% efficient. Despite the inefficiency, anything larger than a water molecule is hard pressed to make it through these first two processes, and, at this point, the water is rated by the WHO for human consumption. To serve as a fail-safe and also to reasure users, a final step uses ultraviolet light to further purify the water.

As the population of Singapore grows, this innovative technique will allow the city/country to further stretch its limited water supplies and hopefully increase the supply of water held in the reservoirs. Additionally, it is unlikely that Malaysia and Singapore will renew the agreement for Malaysia to continue exporting water to Singapore. This further motivates the continued development of NEWater.

Now you know, and knowing is half the battle. Sorry for any technospeak or jargon in that recap, but we found it a pretty interesting introduction to life in Singapore. Also, you can take our word for it that the NEWater tastes fine because we all sampled it! If you are lucky, maybe we will bring some back to the the US where to can taste Singapore's toilet water for yourself!

Monday, February 19, 2007

The Inaugaral Blog

Selamat Datang!!

Having arrived in Singapore on Feb. 16 (or technically the 17th) it has taken us a while to begin blogging our experiences. Never fear, however, because now the blog is up with a vengeance.
While I expect other entries will include slightly more detailed accounts of our experiences, I will just begin with the basics.

Our fearless leader thus far has been Dr. Dan who seems to have perfected the art of life in Singapore. We have used both the bus system and the MRT ((metro or subway for those of you who dont habol espanol) to explore the wonders of Singapore. Activities thus far have included celebrating the Chinese New Year in Chinatown on the night of Feb. 17, touring the NEWater facility, a night safari, a 10 km hike with the "brisk walkers" through a small section of rainforest that serves as one of the numerous (~14) catchment areas for rainwater in Singapore, a hike to the highest point in Singapore, a boat trip out to Sister's Island to explore a tidal pool, and a fair amount of individual exploring. Portions of the group has visited Little India, Haw Paw Villa Park, Raffle Square, several hawker stands and dining establishments sampling local tucker, East Coast Park, and 7/11 at regular intervals for supplies.

Dr. Orbach should be joining us tomorrow to round out "the gang" (or "Ais Kachang" as I will refer to them) at an even dozen travelers. When the entire group is assembled the REAL fun can begin, but, as previously stated, I am sure others in the gang will be flocking to internet cafes throughout Singapore to share the experiences of the last few days and the days to come in much greater detail. And, if you are really lucky, we might even try to add another picture or two for your viewing pleasure (ooooo ahhhhh).

Until then,
Ais Kachang!!