Strictly: Sojourning

You’ll be very pleased to know that we’re nearly at the end of our week of extreme sightseeing. We’ve had long walks, weird animals and the craziness of Chinese New Year so far. Tomorrow (I think) we will be finishing off with a sojourn to Sentosa, but before we get there we’ve got another sojourn on our hands, to the little island of Pulau Ubin. Due to circumstances that will become apparent the day itself didn’t actually last very long, so I don’t think this will be the longest thing you’ll read today, but I’ll give it my best shot.

Not mine! From http://blog.asiahotels.com/wp-content/uploads/2008/09/welcome-to-pulau-ubin.jpg

I’ve wanted to visit Pulau Ubin for a while now but didn’t really have an excuse to go until I had visitors descend on me. For those who don’t know Ubin is an island off the North coast of Singapore, within spitting distance of Malaysia. It’s famous for the fact that it’s remained almost completely preserved, and therefore offers a snapshot of what life in Singapore would have been like before its mass urbanisation. Ubin is basically a jungle with a jetty, some kampongs, mangroves and a coastal boardwalk that offers a stunning view of the island, Singapore and (probably) the coast of Malaysia. I genuinely really, really wanted to go, and while we were there we had a nice time. It was the getting there and the getting home again that were horrific. Our main mistake was that we decided to go on a public holiday. Now we hadn’t really thought about the implications of this. Singaporeans love to shop so I guess I had just presumed that on their officially sanctioned days off all the locals would go shopping. Oh no. On their holidays all the locals go to Pulau Ubin, apparently.

Because of the sort of people we are we left home late, took the MRT the ridiculously long distance to the end of the line and then had to suffer waiting half an hour for a bus to take us to Changi Village as we got repeatedly jostled out of the way. This should really have been our first clue that our destination was going to be busy. After a cramped, sweaty and overlong bus ride we were disgorged in Changi Village and, before embarking on the next leg of our journey, we sought out lunch. That was the easiest part of the day. Next came the first of many queues. Now you think the British love to queue. It’s true, we do, but the Singaporeans like it more. At least we moan about queues, when we’re in them and when we’re out of them, but they love it and will do it happily, and probably indefinitely. And so we queued, and queued, and queued, waiting for the local bumboats to go back and forth to the island carrying their measly 12 passengers at a time. As you can imagine, seeing as how everyone in Singapore seemed to want to go to Ubin, it took a while. I can’t remember how long, all sense of time was lost on me by the end of the queue, but probably a good hour or so. So anyway, we queued for the boat. And eventually we got to Pulau Ubin, which I’ll come to in a minute. But while I’m on the subject of queue’s I’m going to mention the hellish queue we suffered to leave the island. Now I can tell you that queueing because you want to go somewhere is one thing, queueing because you literally have no choice in the matter because you’re stuck on a tiny jungle island and just want to go home so you can sit down is something else entirely. I think it’s the inevitability of the latter queue that’s most depressing. Typically, when we got to Ubin there was no one trying to leave. When we tried to go home everyone was having the same idea. And so we queued, again, for upwards of two hours this time, as people snaked around the kampongs and a hilariously ramshackle police station trying to amuse themselves. Of course, because it was a queue, there were people who skipped in and pissed everyone else off. At home this would be cause for a lot of grumbling and dirty looks. In Singapore, however, these actions lead to a woman with a megaphone being mega angry and threatening to arrest anyone who had skipped the queue or who failed to stand in single file. It was pretty intense and a really weird way to finish a day. Of course, after we queued for ever to get off the island it then took another two hours to find a bus that took us in the right direction and that 2000 people weren’t waiting for and slog it home. But these were the (main) downers, and now I’ve got those out of my system I will talk only about the good bits of the day. Oh, and bike riding, which is something I am highly apathetic about.

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Yes, it’s true, the pictures above speak no lies. Christie and Tom managed to get me to do something my mother has been trying for years, they actually got me on a bike. I even peddled it a little way (but not up any hills, naturally).

Once on Ubin we did pretty much the only thing you can do on Ubin, we rented bicycles. Because the entire population of Singapore had got there before us there wasn’t a lot of choice left, so we took the ones that weren’t held together with gaffer tape and pipe cleaners and wobbled off into the jungle. Now, Singaporeans drive like regular people (unlike their neighbours in most of the rest of Asia) however, they cycle like maniacs. More than once I was almost taken out by someone who shouldn’t be allowed to be in control of a bike, and I’m no Bradley Wiggins, so me criticising someone else’s bike skills is a big deal. But I didn’t die through dangerous cycling, and we made it deep into the heart of Ubin and down to the Chek Jawa Wetlands, a famous ecosystem made up of mangrove swamps, sandy beaches, rocky outcrops, regular jungle and other types of habitat I never even knew existed. The highlight of Chek Jawa is the wooden boardwalk that snakes through the mangroves and out over the ocean, and offers some pretty stunning views and wildlife spotting opportunities. Christie (or hawk eye as she is now known) proved her crazy ability to spot any animal at 500 paces during our trip to the zoo, and so acted as unofficial nature tour guide, pointing out fish, regular crabs and some crazy one clawed mini crabs. I took a video of what I like to call their ‘come hither’ dance, the one move they made for the whole time we were watching them, where they basically gestured at each other to come see what they’ve got going on using their freakishly developed claw. Unfortunately my technological skills have failed me and I can’t upload it here, so you’ll have to make do with a few too many pictures.

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All the queuing and dangerous cycling aside we actually had a really nice day on Ubin. Yes, I discovered that I still don’t really like cycling, but I wasn’t even close to being the most incompetent person on a bike. And yes, we learned just how humid mangrove swamps are, but the wetlands on Pulau Ubin are genuinely beautiful, and because Singaporeans hate using their own two feet as transport the boardwalk was actually pretty deserted. We also climbed up a lot of steps to reach a lookout point that gave panoramic views of the ocean and the island, and offered some stellar photographic opportunities. It was a good day that I will remember never to repeat on a public holiday, but that I will do again on a weekday when all normal people are at work.

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Leah Out X

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