austin_dern (austin_dern) wrote,

The animals were headed just around the bend

There are some who would question the taste of going to the Ford Factory on Bukit Timah Road, where the British surrendered to the Japanese in 1942, on Singapore's National Day, but it has a logic; that was the moment which convinced Singaporeans they would have to ultimately be a locally-ruled nation, not depending on the leftover attention people half a world away would toss them. Plus it seemed just one bus ride away, easy to return home should spaceroo (who's posted select pictures of the Jurong Crocodile and Reptile Paradise) feel much worse. The combination of a lot of medicines and sleep left him feeling better, but, you never know. So we plunged forward into a day of unimaginable amounts of walking around in the hot sun.

Part of it was my fault: I misread the map about where the bus would let us off, so we walked farther than anticipated to the Ford Factory site. We had an umbrella, because of a thunderstorm early in the day, but naturally it all cleared up and was hot and bright all afternoon.

The Ford Factory site we walked past, the first time around, because we missed the signs the maps said were there. In fact the signs weren't there: the factory is being renovated to become an historical museum, and the signs and such are absent. We waved at the workers, whom you'd think would get the day off.

Since the Ford Factory is adjacent to the Bukit Timah Nature Reserve, a patch of virgin rainforest and home of Singapore's highest natural point, Bukit Timah, a hill 163 meters above sea level. The Reserve is home to, they claim, more species of plant life than North America is, and we just grin and nod and let them claim so. They also claim to have native wildlife, like squirrels, monkeys, lizards, pangolins, all manner of interesting being. But all we saw of native creatures were some mynah birds (all over the place), squirrels (not so common), and lizards. Cute, but when you have many signs warning ``Do Not Feed The Monkeys'' you expect to see at least one flying lemur already.

We chose, rashly, to take the path to the summit, which it turns out really is 163 meters above sea level. I'm not sure how high the outside of the park is, but still, that's a lot of climbing, on the order of what it takes to go up a 45-storey building, and that in heatwave-style heat, and humidity, and on ``steps'' that were often tangled messes of tree roots, or, more fun, simply vertical concrete posts with rocks and dirt and some concrete fill gathered beyond, making for a limitless number of chances to slip and break your neck. But we made it to the summit, and found many families with many kids there, making us wonder if we'd missed the easy route.

So we went back the other way, finding new trails leading, it turned out, farther away from the entrance but also up and down and up again and into even more ragged steps. We had the disconcerting sensation of wandering along a trail, finding a lot of people coming the other way looking more exhausted and closer to heat stroke than, well, we did. (We brought a liter of water with us, and refilled at the entrance; we should've brought two.) It turned out they were exhausted because they'd just come up a stretch of 183 steps. So while we had many patches of going up, we experienced just going down those 183 steps.

On another long stretch -- of paved, solid sidewalk here -- rather steeply downhill, we saw one person walking backwards, something spaceroo had heard inflicted less stress on one's ankles than going down a steep slope forwards. This experiment prompted a wake of other people trying backwards walking, including by spaceroo and, briefly, me. I felt too likely to fall over.

Despite wondering a few times if we'd ever be seen again -- and it is unnerving to be in a reasonably well-occupied park and realize the past couple kilometers while you weren't sure you were on the right trail you've seen nobody, and neither of you has a cell phone -- we got out safe and sound. At the suggestion of one of the clerks at the gift shop where we bought some isotonic water, we turned to the Night Safari, the after-dark component of the Singapore Zoo.

Here I have to gripe a bit. The 927 bus, running from Choa Chu Kang to the Zoo and Night Safari, allegedly runs every 26 minutes. Therefore, one should not under any circumstances have a 48 minute wait for a bus, should one? While the berth at Choa Chu Kang is a fine structure, I'd have found the Night Safari a more fascinating one.

At the Night Safari -- where an elderly man tried to scalp tickets to us, my first encounter with a scalper in Singapore -- we found they really, really want you to take the tram. Really. So much there turn out to be some exhibits, like the capybara and some of the anteaters, which you can't see except by tram. But we went by foot, since we usually end up lingering at peculiar exhibits, and it's never the ones the tour organizers want us to linger at.

To a first approximation the Night Safari is like the zoo, except you can't see things. They have lights, and keep much of the walkways and exhibits lit to something I imagine approximates reasonably full moon brightness -- bright enough animals can be seen without being uncomfortable, dim enough you can't take pictures. Flash photography is warned against every ten paces.

There are times I long for a division of zoos: there would be some for people who have enough self-control to speak quietly, not take flash pictures, not bang on exhibit walls and such; and others for everybody else. The Night Safari was afflicted both with locals -- with children, out at 10 at night, which I never got to do except on New Year's Eve until I was in middle school -- and several groups of Japanese tourists. The tour groups were fine, if thickly populated, making it harder to move around and more likely somebody would scare off an interesting animal; the kids were prone to squealing.

However, the animals were a marvelous batch. There were maybe too many Big Cats; is there much difference between a leopard sitting up sometimes yawning, and a tiger doing the same? The hog badgers gave an interesting enough show, roaming around complex environs and sometimes snarling at each other. There was one enclosure of Night Otters who were paired, as with the day zoo, with binturongs who seemed to wonder why they were subject to such squeaky roommates. (Curiously, the binturongs snarled at each other, but not the otters.)

Another otter enclosure -- with maybe a dozen otters among them -- we got to just at feeding time, so we could see them first squeaking excessively and then enjoying what all otters surely must like, having fish fall on them from above. We found also fisher cats actually, you know, fishing, or at least diving in the water, coming out without a fish, then shaking themselves out and brushing their fur dry.

And we were quite captivated by an exhibit of flying foxes (bats), which was reasonably child-free and had fewer than the average number of tour groups pass through. Several were close enough to touch, but we avoided doing so for obvious reasons.

Another enclosure starred flying foxes, flying squirrels, and giant squirrels. And they were quite giant, and fascinatingly so -- each about the size of a housecat, with tails even longer, in proportion, than those of normal squirrels. They also had marvelous color schemes, largely red, with white and other red patches, evocative of red pandas. They didn't mind getting right up close to people and posing while they ate ... well, I suppose they had to be acorns, though when I speculated that one was eating a malted ball, he winked.

Past that was also a number of surprisingly guinea pig-like creatures, such as various small models of porcupines, or of greater mouse deer, or such, and we both thought we saw the hippo before we learned it was a rhinoceros. There were multiple signs -- and map directions -- leading to sloth bears, but in the cage were porcupines, who as you know once they move in, can't be made to leave.

To sum up the Night Safari experience: you can pretty much stare anywhere and convince people that you've spotted the animal while they haven't. And there are a lot of otters around.

Altogether today, I'd estimate we walked about a hundred million bajillion kilometers, most of it uphill, and we should now go pass out for a couple weeks.

Trivia: The installation of vents and pumps for safe handling of Centaur upper stages on orbiters Challenger and Discovery cost approximately US$5 million each. Source: Space Shuttle: The History of the National Space Transportation System, Dennis R Jenkins.

Currently Reading: The Tough Guide to Fantasyland, Diana Wynne Jones.


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