Where the Wild Things Are

Trip Start Jun 02, 2007
Trip End Ongoing

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Flag of Singapore  ,
Wednesday, April 2, 2008

I wanted to see Singapore in a different light from what it is infamous for-shopping and nightlife. I was compelled to see what the jungle here is like, because, to my surprise, I discovered that Singapore still has some jungle left.

After checking in to the Inn Crowd, a hostel of rooms crammed with bunkbeds located in Little India, I hopped on the MRT and set out for Bukit Timah Nature Reserve. In bahasa Indonesia and Malayu language, "bukit timah" means Tin Hill.

It's easy to get around on the public transportation system once you get a bearing of where you are.  
To get to the park, I took the 170 bus from the Newton MRT and disembarked at the Bukit Timah Shopping Centre. I knew it was Bukit Timah as we approached: a great, shaggy hill of jungle, the only primary forest left in Singapore, loomed over the shopping centre. From there I crossed the footbridge over the highway and walked about one kilometer north on Hindhede Dr., through a residential area, to the park entrance.I booked off into it and lost myself among the green leaves, trekking over the red earth and connecting with the peaceful heart of the bustling metropolis of Singapore.
The bushes rustled. I adjusted my eyes in the direction of the noise expecting to see a monkey. Instead I found a monitor lizard, about three feet long, contemplating me with human eyes. After a moment of staring at each other, I fumbled for my camera and managed to get the back of him before he shyly slipped away where there would be fewer intruders into his space.
There are monkeys here but I didn't see any, just a big sienna butterfly that obliged by posing for me on the path. It fluttered up and joined with an identical partner; together they performed an aerial dance, like Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers. Then, after their virtuoso performance, they too disappeared behind the curtain of greenery. Nearby on an old log, a perfect white shell of fungi grew, a terrestrial sea shell buffeted by ribbons of green. And the perfect symmetry of another fungi, a scalloped smile growing in the soil.
Amid the trees was a section of pavement set with concentric rings of smooth stones, meant for walking on in bare feet. A reflexology path. I took off my sandals and walked in circles beneath the green umbrella of leaves, as a brewing storm dropped beadlets through the canopy. The stones felt cool, and pressed on just the right pressure points to relieve my feet of all the walking I had done.
The park is thought to have more species of plants than in the entirety of North America--not suprising considering this is primary rainforest. Besides Rio di Janeiro, Singapore is the only city in the world that still contains a large area of primary rainforest. Many of the plants on the 164-hectare reserve have been marked with signs that identify their names and uses. I paused near an abandoned quarry to contemplate the large umbrella-like leaves of cassava, also called tapioca, a popular side dish to rice in Indonesia. It is served very simply, steamed and green.
Only a middle-aged white couple was to be found on my explorations through the trails; they came upon me as I was admiring the butterfly dance but continued on stiffly, not saying hello.
At the visitor centre near the parking lot, a group of Chinese men were exercising. They saw me emerge from the forest. They smiled and said hello in greeting. I chatted with a few more local joggers as I made my way up the hill (Bukit Timah is 164 metres, the highest point in Singapore), surrounded by a chorus of cicadas, cooled by the light mist of rain, happy to spend my first day in Singapore among the wild things that can still be found here.
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