Best of our wild blogs: 9 Aug 13

Save MacRitchie Forest: 16. Sensless killing of a Flying Lemur
from Bird Ecology Study Group

First living sighting of the deadly cone snail at Cyrene
from wonderful creation and Seahorse at East Coast Park!

Morning Walk At Venus Drive (08 Aug 2013)
from Beetles@SG BLOG

Crimson Sunbird’s contact call and nectar feed
from Bird Ecology Study Group

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Youth for Ecology: Not too green to be greenies

Stirred into action by debate over Population White Paper, this group hopes to have a say in environmental issues
Kenneth Low Today Online 9 Aug 13;

SINGAPORE — They may be students with little expertise or experience in environmental science, but being the ones who will live in the future being planned for them now, they want to have more of a say in it.

And for a start, Youth for Ecology, formed by a group of Singaporean students stirred into action by the debate over the White Paper on Population, have engaged their peers in dialogues and are putting together a paper based on the views shared, to be published this month.

Recalling the furore over the White Paper’s projections, Ms Huang Xinyuan, 19, one of the five active core team members of the group, says: “People our age will be middle-aged by the time the (scenario projected) by the White Paper policy kicks in. So it is quite important to find out what people our age think, even if we have no degree, no high position in society ... since we are the ones who are going to live with it.”

Discussing the paper with classmate Eric Bea, 19, the two realised there was little said about the environmental impact of what was outlined in the paper — save for a speech by Nominated Member of Parliament Faizah Jamal in Parliament.

“We found her name and SMSed her. She replied and I was very shocked,” Ms Huang recounts.

Ms Faizah, a consultant and a polytechnic lecturer, says she was “impressed that they wanted to do more than just express their concerns online”. She adds: “I gave them some suggestions as to how to take their concerns further and it is to their credit that they took it upon themselves to formalise Youth for Ecology, made contacts with other youths as well as concerned adults, and started their own dialogue sessions and events in the short time since we met.”

The group hopes to create awareness among Singapore’s decision makers that “youths also have something to say about issues which have an implication to our futures”, says core team member Chen Wenying, 19.

So far, they have been impressed with the youths they have met. Students from some of the schools they have visited “are able to articulate more personal experiences and instances where they related to the environment on a higher level, and show a better, in-depth appreciation on environmental issues we have discussed”, says Ms Chen.

The six-month-old group hopes to continue to engage the public about the environment and, with social media and the Internet at their disposal, they believe they can.

They are currently working with Fyllum — a social enterprise which promotes bio-diversification of the ecology through youth-initiated projects — to launch a publicity campaign featuring a video of prominent local environmentalists such as Nature Society (Singapore) President Shawn Lum and Necessary Stage founder Alvin Tan.

The campaign, aptly named Care for What?, has a “Singaporean tone” that seeks to engage “both the apathetic as well as empathetic Singaporeans”, says Ms Chen.

The tech-savvy teens will promote the video through social media, in hopes it will go viral.

Ms Chen says the group has been active on platforms like Facebook and Twitter, and they hope to make use of more online methods to “spark discourse” and to gather more like-minded people.

Core team member Jonathan Tan, who joined Youth for Ecology after coming across their Facebook page, feels Youth for Ecology can bring ordinary Singaporeans closer to environmental issues.

Having participated in the Our Singapore Conversation dialogue sessions, he feels they are “not a platform to discuss the environment, with most participants more concerned about financial and economic future”.

Meanwhile, avenues like Green Drinks Singapore, which provides opportunities for networking and information-sharing, is where “environmentalists or green people talk to one another”. Youth for Ecology serves as a “bridge” between these two groups of people, he adds.

The group is happy to focus on immediate projects, but will keep an eye out for opportunities “to latch onto” for promote their cause, says Ms Chen.

Mr Bea says the group’s efforts so far have exceeded his expectations six months ago. “Sometimes, we are quite amazed at what we can do. Our ambitions grew from just being focused on the paper to public involvement,” he says.

Ms Faizah adds: “I have met enough of such inspiring young people to know there is much hope in Singapore. It is incumbent on the conscious adults among us to nurture that spirit while giving them the space to pursue that passion.”

Related links
Youth for Ecology blog and on facebook

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Secret Journeys Singapore: Dig deep to find them

Grace Chua searches high and low for hidden gardens
Straits Times 9 Aug 13;

THE Garden City, true to its name, is full of gardens - although it may take some digging around to find them.

In Toa Payoh, a neighbourhood park that most people pass through only briefly holds a labyrinthine maze of surprises. In Outram, a park on a hill is a small oasis in the city. And in Novena and Punggol, rooftop terraces and sky gardens are there to be explored.

By the National Parks Board's reckoning, there are some 300 parks in Singapore. Some, like the Botanic Gardens and the spiffy new Gardens by the Bay, are wildly popular.

But parks don't need to be official, government-managed ones. For instance, many a shopping mall or hospital has publicly accessible roof or terrace gardens. Studies have shown that hospital patients with a view of greenery are less anxious, have fewer post- operative complications and suffer less pain than those with a view of brick walls.

Other parks are well-hidden havens of quiet contemplation. Some are perched atop hills, and this physical inaccessibility is the very thing that keeps them hidden. So if there's one key to finding Singapore's "secret" gardens, it is to look up. Many are less secret and more open than you realise.

Whether above you, or at your feet, even in the quietest of gardens, there are unexpected visitors - a trio of intrepid tourists who have walked up a steep hill, or a polytechnic landscape architecture class.

You might also see visitors of the animal or insect kind: black-naped orioles that are a bright flash of yellow and a liquid burble flitting between the trees; crimson sunbirds; changeable and green-crested lizards; and assassin bugs that look deceptively like ants.

In Singapore, the jungle survives even in the smallest of gardens, amid urbanity's concrete one.

Yet, given half a chance, if not trimmed and subdued, it will spring forth, threatening to reclaim disused railway land, swallow cemeteries, and take over parks tucked away on hillsides. It's this very readiness to grow lush and green that gives Singapore part of its soul. Time, then, for some soul-searching.

Upside to Singapore's high-rises

SINGAPORE'S many high-rises have a hidden upside - they are home to roof gardens and sky terraces.

While most are in private condominiums and offices, some are free and publicly accessible to those in the know.

Often, these are planted in hospitals and medical centres - perhaps to ease the spirits of patients.

Take a lift to the eighth floor of Novena Medical Centre and you will find a small garden area with seats and a wooden deck. Across in the distance, atop another tower block, are intriguing stands of trees - for exploring another day.

Go back into the centre and you will find La Ristrettos cafe, named for a smaller-than-usual espresso shot. The cafe has an outdoor garden with sheltered tables, where a water feature's gurgle is broken only by a compressor's roar.

At Khoo Teck Puat Hospital in Yishun are several terrace and roof gardens, while even multi-storey HDB carparks at Punggol feature mid-level roof gardens.

High-rise gardens are one way Singapore can be a more "3-D" city, says scientific coordinator Stephen Cairns at the Future Cities Laboratory, a tie-up between Swiss university ETH Zurich and National Research Foundation.

The high-rises could be a better mix of work, shops, restaurants, transport functions and public spaces to "take some of the stress off the ground plane", he says. "As you put more and more people into high- rise buildings, the ground level gets more and more taxed. So you have to pull some of those functions up into the tower itself."


Khoo Teck Puat Hospital is at 90 Yishun Central; Punggol's Edgedale Plains neighbourhood has roof gardens in carparks.

A Pearl hidden on a hill with history

TO REACH Pearl's Hill City Park, I climb, on a scorching afternoon, up apparently endless steps from Chinatown.

If it seems as though many "secret gardens" are on hillsides, it is this very inaccessibility that keeps them hidden.

The shaded, wonkily pitched pathways here are more reminiscent of something in Hong Kong's Mid-Levels than middle Singapore, though far less steep. Watch out for the teeming red ants on the shiny green handrails.

But even at 3pm on a weekday, a couple canoodle on a bench, park workers shore up an eroding slope, and a trio of perplexed tourists wander until they find a short cut to get to their hostel.

A walk along its paths offers views of the horseshoe-shaped Pearl Bank apartment tower through the trees, and Outram Road to the south-west.

Pearl's Hill City Park covers 9ha, but it was originally a much larger area of Chinese-owned spice plantations that may have predated the 1819 arrival of the British.

Ship's captain James Pearl bought them up until he owned the whole hill.

He retired to Europe and sold it to the Government, and the monicker Pearl's Hill stuck.

When Fort Canning was completed in 1861, the military found that the higher Pearl's Hill was blocking its firing line - so it simply lopped off the hill's top in 1891.

In 1904, a reservoir was built on the hilltop and is still the main source of supply to Chinatown.

The site became an official park only in 1971, and is a significant piece of greenery in the city.


The park's broadest, flattest entrance is from Pearl Bank near Outram Park MRT station, but it is also accessible from Chin Swee Road, Pearl's Hill Road and Pearl's Hill Terrace.

Sleepy yet awakening the senses

BLINK, and you will miss Toa Payoh Sensory Park.

Plenty of people pass through the wee patch of green, but few pause to explore its twists and turns. Indeed, several Toa Payoh residents tell me they have not even known of the park's existence.

The 1.1ha park at Lorong 5, built in 2009 on land where two older Housing Board blocks were torn down, contains surprises for all five senses.

A pair of sound- reflecting parabolic discs tempts you to clap between them to make the noise reverberate, while a set of oddly curlicued poles is a curious optical illusion.

When viewed from a right angle through a peephole in the wall, they resolve themselves into a face: an eye, a nose, an ear.

A water feature and embossed panels invite visitors to touch them. And while you are not allowed to sample the plants, the herbs and fruit trees fenced in a community garden do represent the contents of a kitchen.

It was designed by local planners Surbana International with noted Japanese landscape architect Yoshisuke Miyake, and its sense- stimulating features are intended to have healing qualities.

Four years on, it is sleepy and slightly crumbling at the edges - which is part of its charm.

A ginger cat dozes on a bench.

The odd letter has fallen off a set of panels that tells the history of Toa Payoh, an estate of 4 sq km and HDB's second satellite town.

Only half of a white textured sculpture, meant to resemble a pair of twined gourds, remains on a plinth.

The blocks surrounding the park are a mix: from two-room rental flats to newer five-room ones. Both the market and hawker centre on either end of the park have been renovated in recent years.

At dawn, senior citizens go through their calisthenics there. Even on a drizzly weekday morning, a younger man does push- ups at a fitness corner. And on weekends, children clamber over a colourful plastic play frame, a maze of tubes and slides.

Madam Leong Poh Lee, 72, is there too, resting on a sheltered bench. She has lived in a three- room flat just across the road for more than four decades.

When she married a teacher, they bought a flat from HDB for the princely sum of $7,800. "I don't want to move," the retired seamstress says in Mandarin. "Toa Payoh is so convenient."

When her son was small, they would visit the bigger, older Toa Payoh Town Park with its pond and bridges. Now, she prefers Toa Payoh Sensory Park: "It's quieter and its air is better."

In 40 years, she has seen Toa Payoh develop and gain 40-storey blocks, a bus interchange, and an MRT station. Her life, she says, mirrors Singapore's story: "Wo de cheng zhang jiu shi Xin Jia Po de gu shi." The park may look ordinary but, like Madam Leong, it tells stories of Toa Payoh and the nation.


Toa Payoh Sensory Park can be reached from Lorong 5 or Lorong 4, Toa Payoh, and is between Blocks 63, 64, 68 and70.

An oasis of calm away from bustling Orchard

MOUNT Emily Park may be the Singapore park with the least payoff for the most work.

At least, that's what you may think initially as you hike up the 130 or so steps from the air-conditioned lowlands of Dhoby Ghaut and along winding roads to the humid hilltop, or make the climb by the other way from the Rochor side.

Compared to more famous cousins like Fort Canning Park and the Singapore Botanic Gardens, or the brand-new Gardens by the Bay, Mount Emily Park is relatively ignored as a city park.

But if you want a breath of fresh air and a moment of calm away from bustling Orchard Road, Mount Emily is perfect.

The neatly manicured 3.1ha park lies between Little India and downtown Dhoby Ghaut, and rises between the Rochor and Stamford canals, which were once rivers. One edge backs onto the Istana, though all that can be seen of the presidential residence grounds are tall hedges behind white metal bars.

The park once had a municipal reservoir that was converted into Singapore's first public swimming pool in 1929.

While no official information exists on when it closed, the Singapore Sports Council left it out of annual reports after 1982.

This, and the surrounding Mount Sophia and Wilkie Road area, were once home to schools like Methodist Girls' School and Nan Hwa Girls' School, which have since moved.

The dome of the Sri Guru Singh Sabha Sikh temple rises in the distance.

Tiers of new condominiums are visible all the way down to Little India.

Fitness enthusiasts often work out with their trainers there in the morning.

In the afternoon, children scamper about a playground frame.

A lone jogger rounds the path, while young labourers in janitorial gear take a break on benches. A kingfisher darts, a streak of white and blue, into the trees.

Singapore Polytechnic landscape architecture students troop up the steps.

They're doing a project on the Rochor Canal area, about areas fragmented by urban development, says senior lecturer Idris Bidin.

Why here?

Mr Idris says: "In landscape, we talk about the impact of different land forms. This is elevated ground, with a panoramic view.

"The air quality is different and there's more privacy as you move up."


The park once had a municipal reservoir that was converted into Singapore's first public swimming pool in 1929. While no official information exists on when it closed, the Singapore Sports Council left it out of annual reports after 1982.


Access to Mount Emily Park is up Handy Road, then Sophia Road via stairs, or via Mount Emily Road near Little India MRT station.

A community farm for play and photos

FROM the canal path along Sungei Ulu Pandan, or the flats around Clementi Avenue 4, the only clue that Clementi Farm exists in the neighbourhood is a set of nondescript signboards and a couple of staircases that lead you there.

On weekdays, Singapore's largest community farm is quiet. In the morning and late afternoon, farmers - mostly senior citizens - putter around tending to their crops of brinjal, cucumber, chilli and lime on 8m by 4m plots.

Several grow flowers and herbs, like roselle for brewing tea; one grows a spectacular Phaelanopsis orchid. And chiku trees have sprouted at the edges of the farm.

When the farmers are out, the gate to the community farm is locked. When they are in on weekends, the space is transformed as multiple generations of Clementi residents of all ages drop by to farm, chit-chat with their friends, shoot artistic photographs, or play.

Before the 1,250 sq m farm was officially opened in March this year, it existed under the legal radar.

It sits on former railway land, the tracks still visible all the way to Clementi Avenue 6. People had been growing bananas, rambutans and other crops on rustic plots there for decades.

Last year, tho ugh, some residents complained about mosquitoes and smoke from burning leaves, and Holland- Bukit Timah GRC MP Sim Ann had to help work out a compromise.

So the Clementi Farm is not quite as secret as it once was, and the new plots are smaller than the old ones. "It's sad, lah," says retired fireman Haji Wansi Dahri, 79, who grows mint, chye sim, kangkong and other vegetables to share with neighbours.

"But illegal is illegal."

Still, he'd rather be out here. "If you sit at home, watch TV, it's no good. Coming here is like exercise."

Land's edge
Grace Chua strays from her usual path and walks around the sometimes strange edge of Singapore
Straits Times 9 Aug 13;

The Kranji Beach, just one stop in School of the Arts graduates Charis Tan and Mariel Chee's quest to walk around Singapore's perimeter in three days, offers views of the Johor Baru skyline from afar. st photo: nuria ling

LIFE can be boring. We fall into habits like well-trodden paths, seldom going out of our way to explore. For many of us, that well-trodden path is to work, or school, the hawker centre and the mall.

On my days off, my own circuit is the last two plus the library and the cinema.

True, as a reporter, I do get to go off the beaten path.

I've seen Jurong Island from a bus while out to cover the opening of a power plant there. I've been trailed by friendly stray dogs along Pasir Ris Farmway in the course of stories on pet farms, and been stuck in mud at Lim Chu Kang's sulphur-smelling mangroves when writing about discoveries of sea creatures there.

But it seldom involves pausing to find, or even, savour new aspects of my country's landscape. I've never indulged in the sheer pleasure of wandering along a path just because - well, because.

And yet, I have longed to see Singapore differently, as I've never seen it before. To walk, slowly, taking in the sights.

In an age when we can hop on a train and be at the other end of Singapore in an hour, we can forget how to really walk.

My chance to really walk came when I heard about two teenagers who planned to walk around the edge of Singapore, partly for charity but mostly because they could.

Recent School of the Arts graduates Charis Tan and Mariel Chee, both 18, aimed to do a three-day, nine-stage walk around Singapore's perimeter - about 130km in all.

I joined them on the second stage of their walk, when they set off from Boon Lay MRT station one Sunday at 8am - their Day Two. They were joined by three friends, and Charis' parents. Photographer Nuria Ling and I were tagging along for one section: Boon Lay to Kranji.

Mariel and Charis are no strangers to adventure. Nor is this the two best friends' first walk around Singapore: In 2009, at age 15, they had done it for a lark "to be able to say, we walked around Singapore", Mariel says. It took three days, including a camp-out at the Japanese Garden to watch a meteor shower.

Though they have raised several hundred dollars for the Little Flower Projects, a charity which provides long-term care for disabled orphans in China, it is not a fund-raiser walk, Mariel says. "It's about getting people to see Singapore in a different way."

Mariel, a performance artist, is also having us take photos on disposable cameras, to see the walk through the eyes of participants, possibly to use as an artwork.

By 9.30am, we are ambling past the entrance to Nanyang Technological University, and up towards the Choa Chu Kang cemeteries and the sparsely inhabited farm zone of Lim Chu Kang.

Circumnavigating Singapore exactly is not possible, of course. A large section of the western coastline is military land. Instead, we walk up Lim Chu Kang Road, a road broad enough to land a plane on. Out here, even though we are far from the city, traffic is king. Lim Chu Kang Road lacks a sidewalk, and trucks rush towards us at terrifying speed.

At the Christian cemeteries we pass through - so rare in land-scarce Singapore - sculptures of angels with their hands folded in prayer, and a small chapel, fascinate the group. We linger there longer than planned. Further up, we catch the pungent ammonia whiff of an egg farm.

At a junction, we hesitate, considering walking to the far end of Lim Chu Kang Road to see the jetty and some mangroves. In the end, Charis and Mariel decide they are on too tight a schedule. As we plod on, I reflect that I've driven through the Lim Chu Kang area on my way to fish farms or Sungei Buloh for news stories, but I've never experienced its vastness on foot. Suddenly, Singapore seems that much bigger - and suddenly, your mind is also freed from thinking of it as boring.

At noon, we round the corner onto Neo Tiew Road, stopping to gawk at the BBC World Service's antenna farm, which is just visible through the trees. "It looks like a UFO landing site," Mariel says of the British broadcaster's transmitter centre. Antenna towers dot the rolling green landscape, while herons perch atop radio-signal receivers that resemble fishbones.

For lunch, we tuck into banana curry and chicken wings at the Bollywood Veggies farm. By 2.30pm, we are at Kranji Beach, having covered 16km at a leisurely stroll over six hours.

Barefoot, silent

WALKING can be used in a kind of performance art, says Mariel, who is attending Yale-NUS this year. She writes about or photographs the experience, sometimes walking barefoot to feel the ground, sometimes in silence with the company of friends. Meanwhile, I imagine Charis, a music major, composing a soundtrack to the walk in her head. And that's where Nuria and I leave them, to straggle on towards Admiralty.

Physical challenge was not the point of this walk - as it turned out, the journey is the point.

I'm the sort of goal-oriented, Type-A person who logs the distance and speed of my runs. But during the walk, I realised that distance and speed were less important than paying attention with all my senses to the pong of a dead monitor lizard by the roadside, or the whirr and hum of fat carpenter bees.

I saw poignant rows of small rainbow pinwheels, planted beside graves, whirling in the breeze. I meditated on the loved ones who return, year after year, to put pinwheels in the ground and lay flowers on stones.

This type of journey requires three things:

The time of a walk matters. The anticipatory stillness of the Central Business District before dawn is much different from the frenzied CBD at lunch hour.

The speed matters. A stroll along Punggol Waterway, stopping to peer at plants and spot critters, is much different from jogging along it focused on your watch.

The company matters. You can have three completely different walks solo, with a loved one, or with friends, and all three will be a good time.

So often, we think of our paths in life as neat straight lines. But we should make room for, and time to appreciate, detours - we shouldn't forget we can stray.

Seaside confidante
Maryam Mokhtar rekindles her friendship with a beach which shared many private family moments
Straits Times 9 Aug 13;

CHANGI Beach greets me the way an old friend does on our latest encounter - picking up just where we left off.

It has been at least four years since I last visited the beach, a childhood playground for my two now grown-up sisters and me. But the soft sand and coconut trees, lanky and bent with age and which line the 3km of shoreline, look the same as ever.

I am visiting the beach with my parents over two weekends to uncover memories over three generations and five decades.

Changi has borne witness to many family events - my mother's childhood spent playing amid the trees of her house just across the beach; the first encounter between my then 21-year-old mother and the man she was to marry, my father; countless weekends with my sisters, building sandcastles and running towards the waves, then scrambling away, giggling.

We drive slowly past the roundabout along Nicoll Drive, which is close to the house my mother used to live in as a child, back in the 1960s and 1970s. Shrubs and trees now cover the area where the 2,500 sq ft house once stood.

My grandfather, Mohamed Aly Moideen, a British Royal Air Force driver, pooled his humble savings to buy the single-storey house made of stone, zinc and wood for his young wife and six children in the late 50s.

But he did not live to see them grow up in it, dying of a heart attack at 42. His departure left my grandmother, Habsah Abdul Rahman, then only 29, to raise the children and run the household, a feat she pulled off successfully all on her own.

My mother, Hamidah Aly, now 52, recalls that while her family could not afford luxurious toys, they found many ways to have fun, making use of what they had around them. They were surrounded by 22 coconut trees, 20 soursop trees and a sprinkling of rambutan, palm and drumstick trees, each planted by my grandfather years before, and which provided a forested enclave for playing hide and seek, tree-climbing and observing the noisy chickens at the coop my grandmother kept.

Deftly de-husking coconuts from the trees around her house, my nifty grandmother would give my mother the kernels to use as bowls for masak-masak, the pretend-play game of cooking that she would play with her two sisters.

Ingredients comprised leaves from the trees and fish caught from the river behind the house. My mother remembers that even the cats refused to eat these culinary creations.

Another time, my grandmother painstakingly hammered an iron nail into an old milk can before placing a large candle in it for my mother to play with at night. Till today, my mother remembers the soft shadows and the gentle glow of the lantern.

The clear skies and waters of Changi Beach became a classroom of sorts - the clouds posed a test in deciphering the shapes of animals, and the waters taught the art of pronouncing the various English and European names of ships that went past.

Changi's sandy shores were also the setting of another thrilling game - treasure-hunting. As the waves rolled in, my uncle, the only son in the family, would quickly search the waters for "gold" that glistened in the sunlight - in reality, coins that had fallen out of the pockets of swimmers.

Even when my mother moved with her mother and siblings to an HDB flat at Chai Chee at the age of 11, she did not forsake the beach. As a teenager, it was the go-to destination for her and her friends, the trees providing shade as they listened to stories shared among confidantes. As she grew into a young woman, it would also bear witness to her first encounter with her future spouse.

In 1982, my mum's good friend asked her along on a group outing. The date had been arranged to pair up a friend with another acquaintance, then 30-year-old Mokhtar Amin. The group of six met outside The Cathay cinema before adjourning to Changi Beach in the evening.

As it turned out, it was my mother who hit it off with Mokhtar Amin. She recalls them both pointing to a salt bottle at their dinner table, in reference to a superstition they had read of throwing salt over one's shoulder to get rid of bad luck.

They would also learn that evening that they lived just a block away from each other in Chai Chee.

The beach remained a personal favourite for them on outings and for years after they married in 1985. They would pass on this fondness for the beach to their three daughters.

As I walk on the sand on my visit that weekend, my parents take a rest and sit on a fallen tree trunk on the shore as planes soar overhead.

My mother then tells me how she would dress us in bright colours to spot us easily from afar as we played, and I remember the plastic pails and shovels, my tools of trade almost every weekend growing up.

The homemade egg sandwiches, potato chips and $1 ice cream slices were fuel that energised us through a hard day's "work" of sandcastle- building and seashell-collecting. My parents say they took us there so frequently to give us a sense of playing freely - beyond the walls of our then five-room flat in Ubi Avenue. They wanted us close to nature, just as they had been growing up. We would stay in the sun for hours, having short rests in the shade before taking a dip in the sea, devouring curry puffs afterwards.

My father throws a pebble and I watch it hop on the surface of the water. I remember him teaching us how to do this, though I never quite mastered the art. Yet these experiences were a formative part of our childhood, and perhaps helped define us.

Like our parents, we share a dislike for crowds and confined spaces, and retain a soft spot for the beach and its sea, sand and skies.

As we grew older, work, friends and other commitments took us away from weekends at the beach.

We had also moved to Marine Parade and subsequently Tampines, and headed instead to East Coast Park whenever we needed a quick beach fix.

As a veil of darkness slowly descends, we make our way back to the car.

Waves brush gently against the shore. Other families are starting up their barbecues, the young ones enjoying a last dip in the waters.

Another car pulls in, ready to take our spot. But a friendship this old can hardly be replaced, and as we depart, the leaves merely rustle gently, for proper goodbyes are never needed between old friends.

Singapore seen in squares
David Ee: Singapore takes on a different shape with Instagram photographers
Straits Times 9 Aug 13;

OUTSIDE Bugis MRT station one Saturday, a group of weekenders hunch over their smartphones, the default posture of many Singaporeans.

But peer closer and you find not WhatsApp obsessives but Singapore's new breed of mobile photographers, ready to explore yet another corner of the island.

This is InstaSG, Singapore's community of 4,300 Instagrammers.

Instagram is the photo-sharing and social media platform that took the world by storm in 2010. Photographs are presented in a square format like nostalgic Polaroids.

Once a month, InstaSG gathers strangers for "photo walks" to document what they see - unexpected vistas, split-second human moments, the unexpected.

The zest and talent of this movement of "citizen photographers" led The Straits Times to partner InstaSG to mark this year's National Day with a selection of their community's best shots of the Singapore they know.

From June 28 to July 9, InstaSG members submitted digital pictures of the more unusual, hidden or non-touristy parts of Singapore.

The result is an insider's look at Singapore.

The eight winning photographs selected from more than 2,500 entries capture the serenity that still exists on the island's fringes and back alleys - in Punggol, Pulau Ubin, tiny lanes near Duxton.

Says teacher Irene Teo, 28, whose shot of a river bank on Pulau Ubin was among the winners: "I love the tranquility of the place; something that's missing from fast-paced Singapore."

Student Ian Chow, 20, and chef Nabil Taufiq Tan, 47, found their inspiration along the narrow back alleys of Tanjong Pagar.

"Back alleys always give me that sense of belonging," says Mr Tan. "They bring me back to my childhood, watching scenes like people chopping vegetables behind their restaurants."

For Mr Ryan Paul Augustine Lim, 20, who is waiting to be enlisted for national service, Instagram photos open a window into Singapore.

"Sometimes, we need to take pictures to get a better idea of where we really are, which is Singapore," he says. "It helps us see what's around us in a new way."

The love of photographing their days and nights with their trusty phones bonds the community, diverse as an SBS busload of passengers. Students show up, as do artists, professors, engineers and stay-at-home mums.

There is no rivalry, and everyone wants to share and learn, 20-year-old twins Yafiq and Yais Yusma tell me.

Many, including freelance photographer Hannah Teoh, 31, come simply to see the faces behind the myriad user names that create these photographic works of art.

"The user name becomes your alter ego," she says. "Then you meet them and it's like, 'Hi, I'm Superman, I'm Clark Kent.'"

Ghost-town roads
Yio Chu Kang, withits Japanese cemetery, remains elusive to David Ee
Straits Times 9 Aug 13;

WHEN I was a boy, if prata was on the dinner menu, there was only one place to go - Jalan Kayu.

The ramshackle lane in the north-east in Yio Chu Kang has long been a favourite with Singaporeans as the place to eat roti prata, after roadside eateries sprang up there when the British built the Seletar airbase in the 1920s.

But for me two decades ago, the lane existed in my imagination as a solitary place secreted away, found only in the deep of night.

Delirious with expectation, we would pile into the family car at night and head off. The road name would flash by as we exited the Tampines Expressway, conjuring up images of greasy delights in what felt like a "cowboy town" far away.

Even today, Jalan Kayu, and indeed Yio Chu Kang, retains this aura of remoteness. The area remains elusive to me and perhaps to many more Singaporeans.

Ask people to point out Yio Chu Kang on a map, and I wonder how many can. Its namesake road meanders from Upper Serangoon Road to Upper Thomson Road, sandwiched between Ang Mo Kio and Hougang.

At 9.4km, it is perhaps the country's longest road (if you consider Bukit Timah and Upper Bukit Timah roads as separate entities). But it has no eponymous mall. No "hub". Its MRT station delivers you into a maze of nondescript Ang Mo Kio avenues.

Chances are, you drive down Yio Chu Kang Road and chart your position by the new towns that cloister it. But trail off either side and at last the elusive suburb begins to emerge, the one that only its denizens tend to know. Even if, as I discover, they too struggle to articulate their geographical bearings.

Across the road from Serangoon Gardens, ringed by crammed suburbia, is a Japanese cemetery that has been there since the late 19th century.

It is the final resting place for early Japanese, including prostitutes, who made Singapore their home, as well as war dead from World War II.

A prayer hall takes pride of place, and bougainvillea trellis corridors and an old lychee tree have drawn residents seeking rest alongside the dearly departed. Students turn it into a study spot. Others simply nap under the hall's gently curved eaves.

I come across local resident Chester Tan as he walks home. The 20-year-old remembers running around the tombstones as a child with his cousins on the Mid-Autumn Festival night, lanterns and sparklers aglow.

Where does he tell people he lives, I ask. "Serangoon." He shrugs. "They wouldn't know if I said Yio Chu Kang. The road is just one whole stretch, it doesn't seem like a place."

Today, he is not headed to the cemetery but a nearby exercise area. "There's nothing to do there. Just look at things." His friends, he says, think likewise.

Other residents feel the same way about Yio Chu Kang as a whole, where the nearest mall can seem an endless bus ride away.

But others, with years behind them and memories of a gentler time, love precisely that dearth of "purpose" they find here.

When Madam Jamie Pang and her husband opened Seletar Hill Restaurant at Jalan Selaseh in 1991, she thought the area so ulu (Malay for remote) that she replaced its glass doors with wooden panels so she wouldn't have to stare out at its "ghost-town" roads all day.

More than two decades later, it is its very "ulu-ness" that keeps her here, especially as her family lives in hectic Ang Mo Kio Central.

"We spend more time here than at home," she says. Her favourite drive from home takes a detour down the Thomson end of Yio Chu Kang Road. "It's just trees all the way," she says.

I know what she's talking about. One mesmerising stretch of road, just beyond the right turn to Jalan Kayu, opens up into a majestic boulevard. Giant Khaya trees with trunks the width of small cars line the central divider.

In our greener-than-green "City in a Garden", we sometimes fail to see the trees for the forest. Here, you cannot but notice them, dwarfing all of modernity beneath them.

At Jalan Selaseh late on one rare chilly evening, a chatty grandma tells me how, back in the old days, British airmen from the nearby airbase would gather for drinks at the now long-gone Chusan bar. They would stock up at the provision store her late husband ran.

Today, while the Brits have gone, a provision store remains on the lane. Regulars down pints at The Lazy Lizard next door.

Little, it seems, has changed, even as it has. But as with elsewhere in Singapore, changes are evident and everywhere.

No one but the residents might remember, but where the spanking new Greenwich Village condo-mall hub now stands, there used to be a beloved wet market and food centre.

All the old-timers I speak to detest the new pretender, which smugly masquerades as the "village" store it unceremoniously replaced (across the road, an upcoming condo swankily touts itself as The Topiary).

But none question it, and all dutifully eat at its cookie-cutter, over-priced food court, and find newer, yet already familiar comforts in Gong Cha, Toast Box and Awfully Chocolate.

"It's possible that in 50 years, all this greenery and ulu-ness may be gone," says retiree Lee Boon Kee, who lives on a quiet cul-de-sac near Upper Thomson.

I can still see the old kampung road, now overgrown, skirting the adjacent forest. Rambutan and durian trees still stand where the kampung used to be. And residents, he says, still venture into the forest from time to time to harvest fruit.

A cement-mixer roars past, heading to a nearby construction site.

The nearby former clubhouse of the Singapore Teachers' Union is being re-developed into a condo, he says. His next-door neighbour is doing much the same, adding extra floors to tower over the modest terrace houses.

As storm clouds gather, I make haste to a cafe I frequent. It is one of my favourite places in the area, I realise as I walk, along with the Japanese cemetery park and the Seletar Hills estate with its wide boulevards. Except that the cafe probably technically lies in Thomson, while the cemetery, according to Chester, is in Serangoon. And Seletar Hills estate, well.

Where does all this leave Yio Chu Kang? For a district boasting a road so long, it remains a nebulous one but refreshingly so.

In order-obsessed Singapore, where most things have their exact place and purpose, it is telling when a place appears not to be that, and not to matter.

Jalan Kayu, when I think of it now, is located just where it is.

No one really needs to know exactly where Yio Chu Kang is. But go there and you'll discover it.

Just don't expect to find much to do, which is much the point of the place.

Leave it next, please
Denise Chong: Learn to fall in and out of love with places quickly as they come and go
Straits Times 9 Aug 13;

SOMETIMES, Singapore feels like a sunny graveyard.

Ghosts of roads and buildings past, with stories drifting around them, rise out of the ground and fade away as I walk by. Their outlines are only as distinct as the emotions that power them.

I recently walked past an unusually shaped bus-stop shelter near the Marina Bay MRT station. Its organic-looking structural design made it seem like a sun-bleached spine of a massive prehistoric creature, its flesh rotted away.

It suddenly resurrected in my mind the ghostly shape of the Marina South entertainment complex which once stood nearby.

Then for a few seconds, sounds, heat and colour rushed back as I remembered the area when it was still steaming with hotpot restaurants and vain-pot Ah Lians.

I had not cared for that old, gaudy version of Marina South, but it probably meant something to couples who shared steamboat dinners and assorted torrid memories there.

Where do Singaporeans go to reheat old romances if places keep disappearing?

Maybe a story or two from this National Day Special quickened your pulse and you now plan to explore new places as well as old haunts - trigger fingers hovering over the Instagram app, the sketchbook pencil, the camera button. Take that picture, be quick on the draw, for the places could go sooner than you think.

Perhaps there is no need to be so sentimental. Commit to the country as a whole, but accept that neighbourhoods come and go, so make the decision to fall in and out of love with them in double-quick time.

I used to be afraid of, yet drawn to, a short shadowy pathway near where I lived as a teen by the Tanjong Pagar Railway Station. The curving path was cracked where powerful roots pushed their way from the dark earth through the asphalt surface.

Trees leaned overhead like giants curious to see what a girl was doing, wandering in their dimly lit domain.

In the middle of the urban jungle that is Singapore, it felt like I was heading into the woods of an unhappy fairy tale, like I was walking to another land. Actually, it did literally lead to another land, for standing at the end of it, right in the interior of Singapore, was a gateway to Malaysia in the form of the railway station. Malaysian rail operator Keretapi Tanah Melayuused the land for the station under a 999-year lease with the tracks leading to Johor. The station was closed in 2011 and the land returned to Singapore.

The pathway was a shortcut to the hot tea and curry puffs sold in the cafeteria of the now defunct station - another ghost fading away in the railyard as the last train had rolled off the tracks a couple of years ago.

But there was an almost secret fork in the path which led deeper into a tiny, forested area at the top of the slope. Secret, because nature tried to cover the tracks with grass, roots and leaves. Maybe there was not even another path. Maybe I just made my own way and wandered off on the side like a stray cat. When I tilted my head up, I saw only trees softly fringing a view of the night sky, which lifted me slightly out of reality since views in Singapore were more often sharply framed by brick, glass and concrete.

The faint little stars hung in space like fragile fairy lights.

Today, when I stand again at the edge of this path, views of buildings peek through the greenery. Pricey condos are piling up around it. Perhaps that pathway will also soon give up the ghost.

Bury it, I say. I have stumbled upon this realisation on my own life journey: that by just doing what I like - wandering/wondering - I can find new paths. If Singaporeans go on doing what they like, living full lives, they will create interesting new neighbourhoods by their very actions.

Love to drink an espresso with a local-flavoured macaron in a beautiful cafe interior? More streets of quirky, independent cafes and bakeries will percolate into existence.

Love to kick a football around with your mates? More grassy spaces will win unofficial status as neighbourhood pitches.

Let go, like something new. Love the next one.

Walk this way
Straits Times 9 Aug 13;

IT’S ENTICINGLY possible to play traveller within the tiny 700-sq-km confines of Singapore.

In these pages, our writers explore places that feel secret or secluded. We walk through emerging enclaves, linger in secret gardens, seek corners of the glitzy metropolis that retain a remote aura.

Some enclaves are being reshaped by young global souls who find affordable spaces for their new indie lifestyle shops – amid old-time purveyors of provisions and tyres in places like Havelock Road and Jalan Besar.

This melding of old and new renews cities and reveals Singapore afresh.

Often, there is deep allure in childhood places, which almost feel like an imagined country, as places come and go in a flash, in a nation that races towards the future. Our travelogues here are also inner journeys.

The changing story of Singapore can be tracked through many, many personal journeys that will coalesce into a soulful alternative map of the nation over time.

On this secret map, a hillside garden in Chinatown or a bus commute can define Singapore as potently and pleasurably as the well-loved Botanic Gardens or a flight out of Changi Airport to an exotic destination.

This National Day Special opens the door to just a handful of places with secrets, depths and quirks that can be unwrapped by any Singaporean explorer on home ground.

When Singaporeans – world travellers par excellence – sojourn through the country, more vivid journeys will arise.

Discoveries abound.

- Lee Siew Hua
Editor, National Day Special 2013

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Generating energy from waste

Straits Times 9 Aug 13;

Sembcorp’s new steam production facility will be able to supply 140 tonnes per hour of steam to industrial customers on Jurong Island when completed in 2016. The over $250 million plant, to be located in the Sakra area of the island, will use about 1,000 tonnes of industrial and commercial waste as fuel each day.

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Thailand: Corals south of oil spill site Ao Phrao found bleached

National News Bureau of Thailand 9 Aug 13;

BANGKOK, 9 August 2013 (NNT) – Department of Marine and Coastal Resources officials have noticed adverse effects of the oil spill in Rayong on some coral patches to the south of spill site Ao Phrao.

Department director-general Nopphon Sisuk said experts who had visited Rayong to check on the condition of corals around Samet island reported that some colonies of coral to the south of Ao Phrao were bleached. The affected area covered about 50 square meters.

However, as the coral patches in other areas have been found to remain normal, the bleaching could have been caused by other stresses experienced by the coral colonies aside from the oil spill, Mr Nipon said.

Meanwhile, the Natural Resources and Environment Ministry has ordered its officials to deploy buoys in the sea to create a perimeter around the bleached corals in order to help reduce additional stresses that may affect the patches. The corals will also be able to rejuvenate faster with the buoy perimeter helping isolate them from disturbances.

PTTGC, the company that owns the pipeline which leaked crude oil into Ao Phrao, will take full financial responsibility for rehabilitating the corals until they return to normal.

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Green turtles swallowing more plastic than ever before, study finds

Research conducted across globe finds an estimated 80% of debris comes from land-based sources
Australian Associated Press 9 Aug 13;

Green turtles are swallowing plastic at twice the rate they did 25 years ago, according to a new study.

The finding is based on data collected across the globe since the late 1980s and analysed by researchers at the University of Queensland.

Study leader and PhD candidate Qamar Schuyler says green and leatherback turtles are eating more plastic than ever before and more than any other form of debris.

The ages of turtles and their habitats are also factors.

"Our research revealed that young ocean-going turtles were more likely to eat plastic than their older, coastal-dwelling relatives," Schuyler said on Friday.

Amazingly, stranded turtles found adjacent to heavily populated New York City showed little or no evidence of debris ingestion.

But all stranded turtles found near an undeveloped area of southern Brazil had eaten debris, Schuyler said.

"This means conducting coastal clean-ups is not the single answer to the problem of debris ingestion for local sea turtle populations," she added.

But she said it was an important step in preventing marine debris input into the ocean.

Schuyler said an estimated 80% of debris comes from land-based sources.

That fact showed how critical it was to manage man-made debris at every point, from its manufacture to the point of a product's consumption.

Saving turtles from debris
ECOS Magazine Science Alert 23 Aug 13;

Endangered green and leatherback sea turtles are swallowing plastic at twice the rate they did 25 years ago, according to a recent study published in the journal Conservation International by researchers from the University of Queensland (UQ) and CSIRO.

After analysing global research data from the past 25 years, the research team – including Denise Hardesty and Chris Wilcox from CSIRO's Wealth from Oceans Flagship – found that these two turtle species, in particular, appear to be eating more plastic today than ever before.

In fact, team leader Qamar Schuyler from UQ, said turtles ate more plastic than any other form of debris.

‘Our research [also] revealed that young ocean-going turtles were more likely to eat plastic than their older, coastal-dwelling relatives,’ Ms Schuyler said.

The study found that stranded turtles in areas with high concentrations of marine debris did not experience a correspondingly high probability of debris ingestion.

‘Amazingly, turtles found adjacent to the heavily populated New York city area showed little or no evidence of debris ingestion, while all of the turtles found near an undeveloped area of southern Brazil had eaten debris,’ Ms Schuyler said.

‘This means conducting coastal cleanups is not the single answer to the problem of debris ingestion for local sea turtle populations, although it is an important step in preventing marine debris input into the ocean.

‘Results from this global analysis indicate oceanic leatherback turtles and green turtles are at the greatest risk of being killed or harmed from ingested marine debris.

‘To reduce this risk, man-made debris must be managed at a global level, from the manufactures through to the consumers – before debris reaches the ocean.’

An estimated 80 per cent of debris comes from land-based sources, so it is critical to have effective waste management strategies and to engage with industry to create appropriate innovations and controls to assist in decreasing marine debris.

Related link
Global Analysis of Anthropogenic Debris Ingestion by Sea Turtles:

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World Heritage queries proposed dredging of Great Barrier Reef

UN body expresses surprise that the government did not inform it of its upcoming decision on expansion of coalport
Oliver Milman 9 Aug 13;

The United Nations body responsible for world heritage has said the Australian government has not informed it of plans to create one of the world's largest coalports adjacent to the Great Barrier Reef and should put development on hold.

Marc Patry, programme specialist at the UNESCO World Heritage Centre, told Guardian Australia that a letter was sent to the government on Thursday asking for more information on proposed dredging to expand the Abbot Point site.

It is expected that Mark Butler, the environment minister, will announce on Friday whether he will allow for 3m cubic metres of seabed to be dredged and dumped to allow a doubling of the capacity of Abbot Point.

The port, which sits north-west of the Queensland town of Bowen, now ships nearly 2m tonnes of coal a month. Environmentalists say further development would severely damage the World Heritage-listed Great Barrier Reef.

Patry said he was surprised the government had not told the World Heritage Centre of Butler's upcoming decision, a situation that is similar to the non-communication of dredging at Gladstone.

"I would say yes [I am surprised] as we had discussions with the Australian government before this happened," he said. "The development at Gladstone went ahead and we were not informed in time.

"Generally speaking it's the procedure that we are told about big projects so we can ascertain the impact on the site, but we haven't heard anything from the government, as far as I understand.

"We sent a letter yesterday to the Australian government to ask for information on the issue. They should know we are watching and curious to see what is happening, to ask if there has been an environmental impact statement and to remind them of the World Heritage meeting in June."

Patry is referring to the World Heritage committee gathering in Cambodia, which warned that the Great Barrier Reef would be listed as 'in danger' next year unless Australia met targets to not build new ports and to minimise expansion of existing ports.

"The best way forward is dialogue here," Patry said. "We have asked for new information but we won't be flying out for a visit. The best bet, I would say, is for the decision on the dredging to be postponed while the impacts of it are assessed.

"Digging a hole anywhere, on land or sea, never has zero impact. The question is whether this dredging would impact on the values the reef is recognised for. We just don't know at this stage."

According to Patry, it is unlikely that the committee would decide to fast-track the reef's 'in danger' listing.

"There are exceptional circumstances where this could happen, but World Heritage is a collegial body of governments, where information is shared by governments and we get to the facts. If we feel there has been a contravention of the values, we will certainly raise this with the Australian government and ask that it not go ahead.

"We trust the information the Australian government gives us. The Great Barrier Reef is a star World Heritage site and we are always concerned about the welfare of the wildlife there."

While conservationists say that increased development and shipping on the reef would damage its vast coral ecosystem, as well as animals such as sea turtles, dolphins and dugongs, supporters of the Abbot Point site argue that it will bring vast economic benefits.

Polling has showed that the majority of residents on the Queensland coast are against dredged waste being dumped within the Great Barrier Reef marine park, although some MPs and parliamentary candidates have come out in favour of the idea.

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U.S. declares 'unusual mortality event' as dolphin deaths rise

Francesca Trianni PlanetArk 9 Aug 13;

Federal scientists investigating an unusually high number of dead bottlenose dolphins washing up on the East Coast said on Thursday the carcasses are showing up at a rate that is seven times higher than usual.

More than 120 dead animals have been discovered since June from New Jersey to Virginia, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Fisheries Service said.

Federal scientists have declared it an "unusual mortality event" and are investigating the cause, said Maggie Mooney-Seus of NOAA Fisheries.

A number of things can cause dolphins to strand, including harmful algal blooms, infectious viruses, injuries due to ship strikes, pollutants and human-made runoff, NOAA said.

Although the cause has not been determined, early tissue analysis showed that one suspect could be morbillivirus, an infectious pathogen, said Teri Rowles, national marine mammal stranding coordinator for NOAA Fisheries.

Marine stranding response centers are collecting information on the deaths and necropsies are being performed, but it could take several weeks to determine what led to the deaths, the NOAA said.

In this month alone, 28 dolphins were found dead along the shores of the East Coast.

It has been 25 years since the last large die-off of dolphins along the U.S. coast. In 1987, more than 740 animals died of morbillivirus on the coast from New Jersey to Florida.

Scientists warned the public not to approach the animals if they see one stranded because they could harbor an infectious disease.

They ask that dead or stranded mammals in the Northeast be reported to NOAA's marine mammal stranding network at 1-866-755-6622.

(Editing by Ellen Wulfhorst and Steve Orlofsky)

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