mercredi, avril 15, 2015

A day on Pulau Ubin and Chek Jawa (August 2014)

Pulau Ubin, Singapore

One positive thing about being an Overseas Singaporean is the pleasure I discover playing tourist in my own country each time I return home. When I was a teenager, I thought that it would be really cool to travel around the world and stay on my own. I still think it great, but I also look forward to seeing my parents in our old flat and getting back into "the routine" once I'm back on the island. Just thinking about this makes me homesick and with age the feeling intensifies.

Singapore is both a concrete jungle and a garden city. It is both a modern city and a place steeped in traditions practised by those who occupy its heartlands. I have learnt over the years to look beyond the facades of modernity into the true Singapore where new and old, east and west merge or co-exist in various degrees. We really do have the best of many worlds.

Last August, I finally brought my family of 5 to Pulau Ubin. The last time I visited was probably back in the 1990s when I was an Elderly Befriender volunteer with the Ang Mo Kio Social Service Centre. Us volunteers occasionally received training from the social workers and we also had bonding trips to help us remain more coherent as a group (consisting of people from very diverse backgrounds and ages as it was).

From Changi Point to Pulau Ubin jetty

Today, Pulau Ubin (Granite Island) probably has one of the last kampongs left in Singapore. Heard that only 38 people lived on the 10km2 island in 2012, from the few thousand back in the 1960s. We took a bumboat from Changi Point Ferry Terminal one morning after it had 12 passengers onboard.

Hub loved the island - the laid-back, old Singapore feel, the greenery, mud tracks, wooden houses...It was almost like stepping back into time, into another world. And it's so cool because it's so near to modern Singapore.

The Village

Make a quick visit to the public toilets near the jetty before you set out to explore the island unless you fancy doing it out in the nature with possible visits from gigantic monitor lizards while you are at it. We came across one as we were cycling and it was impressive how it hit a van (with its powerful tail) which was parked next to it (the driver stopped to take a picture of said lizard). It was scary and fascinating at the same time. There was also a family of wild pigs near Chek Jawa that residents seemed to be familiar with.

Some of the wild residents

Before we rented our bikes (easy to do so from any of the several shops lining the main street of the main village), we visited a vegetable garden (with deadly mosquitoes, so do come equipped with long sleeves and pants or powerful creams) and walked through the village. The bikes had seen better days, but what the heck, it's all part of the rustic nature of the island, besides they were not expensive to rent. A couple of cyclists have lost on their lives on "cemetery road" while going downhill or engaging abrupt ends so do consider hiring a helmet too.

Quarry lakes and wooden houses

We discovered that Ubin has a world-class Ketam mountain biking trail, and saw a couple of guys with special bikes going on it. It poured at some point when we were on the island and we took shelter in one of the various shelters along the tracks. Fortunately, rain doesn't usually last long in Singapore, you get a shower and then life continues.

The island is very green and the quarry lakes are beautiful. We didn't go on any guided tour because the timing wasn't right, but do check out the NParks website for guided walks or visits on the island.

Chek Jawa

We did visit Chek Jawa though. There is a boardwalk (through mangroves and the coastline) that is open daily from 8:30am to 6pm and you leave your bikes in a parking area near its entrance. We also climbed up the Jejawi Tower for a view of the canopy and surrounding islands. I loved the viewing jetty in the sea, felt just so calm and peaceful.

View of the canopy

Before leaving the island, those who love seafood could dine in the village. We didn't since the younger kids do not eat seafood, but I heard the food there was quite good.

On certain Sundays, I believe that a Malay cooking class is held in one of the wooden houses, maybe I'll return one of these days for the experience. I've never lived in a kampong before, having started out my life in a 3-room HDB flat in Toa Payoh.

Bye bye Ubin!

I hope that Pulau Ubin would be allowed to remain idyllic and not too developed so that mainlanders could have somewhere to go to if they would like to take a break from city life; not to mention remember a bit of the past by.

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