Wednesday, 21 March 2018

Singapore's kampong

Although I've stepped foot into Singapore a number of times, I must admit that this was the first occasion that I had gone to Pulau Ubin. This is a small island to the north-west of the main Singapore island and the only way to get there is by a bumboat from the Changi Point ferry terminal. There are bumboats waiting for passengers all the time but one will only pull away when there are 12 passengers filling the boat.

I didn't know what to expect when I took the crossing with my friends but once I had arrived at the Pulau Ubin ferry terminal, I was blown away by the rustic charm of the little village. It was just like being transported back into the 1960s; time having stood still on the island while the rest of Singapore marched into the 21st Century. The closest I could compare this village with would be the backwaters of present-day Balik Pulau in Penang.

But this part of Pulau Ubin was anything but quiet since this was the first place that greeted visitors upon arrival. Bicycle rental shops lined both sides of what was supposed to be the main street. Restaurants and sundry shops too. And the obligatory Chinese temple and an accompanying stage.

We just walked away and took the direction of a tarred road towards the Chek Jawa visitor centre, passing by this small altar worshipping the Ma Chor deity. After a while, the tarred road gave way to well-worn dirt trails. Monkeys were a-plenty. Bold and completely unafraid of their human cousins. My friend's wife had her plastic bag containing unfinished food snatched out from her hand. Soon, we decided to arm ourselves with sticks to chase the monkeys away should any stray near to us. Wild boars too. We saw boars crossing the dirt trails. "Just stand still and allow them to move off," my friend advised me. But what if they are moving towards us? "Then start praying hard and hope you don't shit in your pants," he replied. Very practical.

Soon we arrived at the Chek Jawa visitor centre, housed in a double-storey Tudor-styled building which was once a holiday home for a British official about 80 years ago. Who was he? I don't know. Nobody seemed to know. From there, we walked further to the Chek Jawa boardwalk. Unfortunately, with time not on our side, we forewent the chance to walk out into the sea and had to retrace our steps to the visitor centre.

Walking back to the ferry terminal, we took a different route, slightly longer, that passed by the incredibly serene, submerged Balai Quarry. Another photo opportunity here. After this small detour, the trek back to the ferry terminal was relatively uneventful. No more boldly brazen monkeys to shoo away, no more wild boars to hide from but we saw a monitor lizard scampering away in the undergrowth, and no more dodging the bicyclists. Arriving back at Changi Village, it was time for .... food. We were famished!

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