Colourful Nature

Something for the start of the rainy season and you can’t go outside – colour-by-numbers kits of butterflies and peacocks by Faber Castell. These are simpler (kids’) versions of the usual paint-by-numbers kits. So the number of colours is fewer and the coloured areas are not as numerous and detailed. But still, to do them well enough to hang on your wall takes a bit of effort and concentration. Good training to tame my impatient nature. And I’d say I’m happy enough with my new fixtures. Comes with Faber Castell markers and watercolor pencils.



Heritage Trees at Duxton and Spottiswoode Park

As part of the Singapore Heritage Festival 2014, numerous tours were organised for the public to visit all kinds of sights throughout Singapore, from age-old clans and historic neighbourhoods, to offshore islands and national parks. Besides tours, there were also activities to cater to other varied interests such as tea appreciation, Chinese opera, and outdoor spice garden cooking. It was incredible, and the response must have been overwhelming for many of the activities were fully subscribed. One of the tours was a walk through Duxton Plain Park and Spottiswoode Park to get acquainted with our Heritage Trees [1], and that’s one of the tours we still managed to get ourselves into! But it was no less enjoyable even though it was our third or fourth choice of the activities we wanted to participate in.

Anyone can follow this same trail, and the parks alone are so full of character they are worth a stroll on their own right anyway. Walking through the parks gives me a sense of tradition and timelessness, and yet also of growth and of being part of something bigger. For there are pockets of old buildings and old trades which still managed to hold fast in our ever-modernizing society, and yet they run alongside gleaming and towering blocks of high-rises, and play host to young families pushing strollers. And just another street away there are modern office blocks, swanky restaurants, and cars and people hustling along. Before New York City had The Highline, we had Duxton Plain Park, which is also a park converted from a disused railway track [2].

Our guides for the morning were staff from the National Parks Board (NParks) and a couple of volunteers from Nanyang Technological University (NTU), all of whom who did an excellent job sharing their knowledge and interest in trees and in landscaping with us.

The walk inspired me to try my hand (literally) at drawing [3]! So I’ve tried to draw a map of the trail and some of the trees and leaves. The trees that we were introduced to are numbered accordingly on the map. Not all the trees are on the Heritage Tree register, the ones which are designated Heritage Trees have signboards next to them if you’re on the trail and are indicated below.

Map of Heritage Trees trail

Map of Heritage Trees trail

1. “Bodhi” tree, Ficus religiosa (Designated Heritage Tree)

This tree is sacred to Buddhists and is usually found on Buddhist temple grounds. Its leaves have a distinctive heart-shape. It is also known as 菩提树 in Mandarin.

Bodhi Tree

Bodhi Tree

2. Broad-leafed mahogany, Swietenia macrophylla

As the name suggests, this tree is used to make furniture. The trunk has a scaly bark and the tree has distinctive fruit pods that point towards the sky, hence it also known as 向天果 (“heaven-facing fruit”). The seeds have large, flat wings, while the leaves are made up of sickle-shaped leaflets.

Broad Leafed Mahogany

Broad Leafed Mahogany

3. Senegal mahogany, Khaya senegalensis

A close relation of the broad-leafed mahogany, this tree also has compound leaves and good timber.

Senegal Mahogany

Senegal Mahogany

4. Indian rubber tree, Ficus elastica (Designated Heritage Tree)

The latex of this tree can also be used to make rubber, but of an inferior quality compared to the commercially grown para rubber tree (which we often see in plantations in Malaysia). Coming from the fig family (as you can tell from the scientific name), the trunk is made up of aerial roots which have grown downwards. The tree pollinates via a particular species of wasp which crawl inside the “fruit” to lay eggs. Technically the inside of the “fruit” contains the flowers, hence in Mandarin it is known as 无花果 (“no flower fruit”).

Indian Rubber Tree

Indian Rubber Tree

5. “Octopus” or “Umbrella” tree, Schefflera actinophylla

Native to Australia, its flowers grow in spikes at the top of the tree, which remind me of the bunga manggar decorations used in Malay weddings.

Octopus Tree

Octopus Tree

6. Tembusu, Fagraea fragrans

Native to Singapore, this is the species printed on the back of the Singapore $5 bill (that particular tree can be found in the Singapore Botanic Gardens). Its flowers give off a strong fragrance in the evening, and the bark is deeply fissured even in young trees such as the one below.

Tembusu Tree

Tembusu Tree

7. Common Pulai, Alstonia angustiloba

This tree grows in a tiers like a pagoda when young but loses the shape as it matures. Its flowers grow in clusters that also exude a sweet fragrance.

8. Sea Almond, Terminalia catappa

This is my favorite tree as I like its elegant and tidy appearance. It also grows in tiers like a  pagoda, and there are many along East Coast Park with weird and wonderful buttress roots. Similar to the Sea Almond is the Madagascar Almond except that its leaves are smaller.

Sea Almond Leaf

Sea Almond Leaf

View from Spottiswoode Park with Sea Almond trees in the background

View from Spottiswoode Park with Sea Almond trees in the background

9. Rain Tree, Samanea saman (Designated Heritage Tree)

A dignified giant, it’s so-named because the leaflets close up when it’s about to rain. Also known as the “5 o’clock” tree in Malay because the leaves close up before sunset. Yes, sunset used to be at 5 o’clock when Singapore was on a different timezone! We didn’t always follow this timezone of GMT+8 that we have now [4]. The bark is flaky and scaly.

Rain Tree

Rain Tree

10. Binjai, Mangifera caesia (Designated Heritage Tree)

Belonging to the family of mangoes, the fruit of this tree has a lovely, sweet fragrance and can be used in cooking.

Binjai Tree

Binjai Tree


References and Recommended Reading

[1]  Lots of information, as well as regularly conducted free tours are available on NParks website:

Heritage Tree register

NParks nature tours and walks

NParks Know 10 Trees – Guide to Heritage Trees in Singapore

[2]  Two blogs with excellent information and research into Duxton Plain Park:

Remembering Singapore

The Long and Winding Road

[3] If my drawings offend, please forgive me. My last art class was in Sec 2. I picked up pencil, pen, and paper for the first time in umpteen years and followed these websites to learn how to draw trees (one of the darn hardest things to draw in this world!):

Foliage tutorial on WetCanvas forum

How to Draw Trees Quickly and Easily

[4] Explanation of why Singapore has the time zone it has:

Why is Singapore in the “Wrong” Time Zone?

Hello, Hornbills!

It was work that brought us to Amara Sanctuary Resort on Sentosa for a couple of nights. My husband for work, and me for not working. I had thought to myself, what’s there to do on Sentosa? Apart from over-engineered “fun” and the artificial environs, the alternative was to simply hole up in the hotel room and enjoy the air-conditioning. Much to my surprise, I discovered there’s more to Sentosa than just expensive spas and man-made attractions.

It was close to noon as I was returning to our room, and as I prepared to clamber up the stairs I did a double-take. What was that on the corridor outside our room? One was on the fire hose reel and the other on the railing. They were two big birds with rich black feathers and bright yellow beaks. Their eyes were huge round black and white orbs. They were very still. I thought they might be fake. Perhaps Amara had put these fiberglass models and we had missed them when we checked in. I quickly reached for my iPhone. Snap! Speed over skill was the imperative here. I eased up the stairs as gently and silkily as I could manage. Alas! The fire hose reel one took off in flight and sought refuge in the Malayan fig tree just outside. The one on the railing remained, and eyed me steadily, as if daring me to continue up the stairs. Regardless, I continued, snapping away. Then it too flew off and joined the other one in the tree. As I tried to continue taking pictures of them in the tree, they hopped onto the higher branches and away from my intrusive human and digital eyes. It was a real joy to see such color and beauty, and my best photo doesn’t do them any justice.

Sentosa Oriental Pied Hornbill

Oriental Pied Hornbill

These are Oriental Pied Hornbills, and I think the fire hose reel one was female as it had a smaller casque (that thing on top of its beak – or bill in this case). According to Wild Singapore, they are listed as “Critically Endangered” in Singapore. They disappeared from Singapore in the mid-1800s, but have been re-established through the Singapore Hornbill Project. Almost heart-wrenching is this article on Sentosa Cove in Wild Singapore. “When I first started working for Sentosa in 1995, there were hornbills flying around the island,” says Gurjit Singh, Group Director, Property, for Sentosa Leisure Group. “You won’t find them around here anymore. I used to sit in the old ferry terminal building, which has been pulled down, and every morning this hornbill would sit outside my window.” Heartening to know that 11 years after Sentosa Cove was launched, there are still hornbills on the island.

Besides hornbills, peacocks and peahens are a common (if you could call these birds common!) sight all over the island. There are a couple of fake ones in a tree on Palawan Beach, but if you ignore those, these are just birds to behold.

Amara Sanctuary Peacock

Peacock welcome

Shutters Peacock

Peacock looking for a watering hole

Sentosa Peacock

Peacock and peahens

Also, a toucan in a cage, a somewhat-like-a-peacock-but-not-really-a-peacock, and a red lory in the Butterfly Park and Insect Kingdom attraction.

Sentosa Toucan

Toucan in a cage

Like Peacock

Like a peacock

Sentosa Red Lory

Red lory

Uppingham School Chapel Choir South East Asia Tour 2014

Uppingham School is one of the leading music schools in the UK, and their choir has chalked up various accolades such as performing at the Westminster Abbey, singing for the British Royal Family, and collaborating with the Hong Kong Philharmonic Orchestra. My church, St. George’s Church, was fortunate to host them for an evening as the first stop of their South East Asia Tour this year. The concert was held in support of the Deanery of Laos, so attendance was free with donations accepted.

The evening included two songs about dragons, which juxtaposed Eastern percussive sounds on the marimba against Western choral voices. The best word I can use to describe the marimba’s sound is amusing. It was lilting, exciting, suspenseful, quick, and sharp. And it’s amazing to watch the musician, a teenager in her final year, strike the chords so deftly.

Other songs were slightly more traditional, and the evening ended with a Fauré requiem. In case you’re like me and have no idea who Gabriel Fauré is/was, he was a French composer from the late 19th to early 20th century. This was also known as the late Romantic period, characterized by more drama, mood changes, louder “louds,” softer “softs,” and stronger emotional expression.

And emotional it was, for the angelic voices floated up like a leaf in a breeze, going to a place in my heart that only music can reach, and carried me along with it.

Find out more about St George’s Church

Find out more about Uppingham School

Uppingham ChoirUppingham Choir


Though I didn’t know anything about Fauré, he inspired a student called Claude Debussy, whose composition of Claire de Lune I can recognize (it’s a long stretch I know!). Here’s a beautiful rendition:

Semakau Stroll

Water- check. Mosquito repellent- check. Camera- check. I pulled on my Nike trainers for the first time in about a year. Thankfully they weren’t falling apart yet, especially the soles. In the early Sunday morning, traffic was light and the drive to West Coast carpark 2 was a breeze. I managed to arrive just two minutes later than the appointed time. Already my mum was waiting with her Bike Friday all folded, and a slight frown on her face. I glanced at my phone and realized she had sent me 3 text messages, one of which said “I hope you are not late again!” I felt a pang of both guilt and irritation.

As we strode towards West Coast Pier, the air was like a cool kiss on our cheeks. And the cranes of Pasir Panjang terminal yawned sleepily overhead with a gentle whir. West Coast Pier was a third-world-like mess of bags, packages, and signboards spilling out onto the street. There was even a metal cabinet with padlocks securing double doors. One said “For Intertek Only,” the other said “For Inspectorate Only.” I wondered if these oil sampling companies took off from launch boats here, and what strange equipment they kept in the cabinet. A group of Chinese and Malay workers squatted by one side chatting and smoking. Another group sat by themselves on chairs outside, dozing or daydreaming with earphones on.

Wing Chong welcomed us and got us to fill out the relevant paperwork. Soon we were standing by the jetty, inhaling the salty breath of the sea and the fumes from our launch boat. Wing Chong directed the captain to take the scenic route, and so we slid out over the calm, early morning waters around Singapore’s biggest industrial area. Stretching across the horizon were oil storage tanks of Jurong Island, Singapore’s national bird – the cranes – at Pasir Panjang, container ships at berth, oil tankers waiting offshore, and the flares atop the towers of our oil refineries. And as we passed the automobile terminal, we could see row after row of spanking new vehicles catching a glint of the rising sun’s rays, with the ships that had discharged them from her belly – the RoRos – lying dormant by the dock. As we sailed on towards Pulau Bukom, I could make out the pyramidal chimney-like roofs of the clubhouse area where I had spent many happy weekends as a child. And the enigmatic Pulau Hantu lay just across the water, captivating with coconut trees swaying around a deserted but tidy and clean jetty.

When our launch boat unloaded us on Pulau Semakau, it was hard to believe this was a part of Singapore, save for the logo of the National Environmental Agency on the only building on the island. We were told the landing site was originally Pulau Seking. Pulau Semakau and Pulau Seking – united by the ashes of 13 years of Singapore’s waste. Wing Chong gathered us together, and off we went on my first real bird-watching trek.

So here is my bird journal:
– Savanna Nightjar
– Paddyfield Pipit
– Lesser sand plover
– Scaly-breasted munia, chestnut munia, white-headed munia
– Black-shouldered kite
– Collared kingfisher
– Great-billed heron (resident named Jimmy)
– Black-tailed godwit
– Blue-tailed bee-eater
– Common green shank

Visit for events organised by Nature Society of Singapore.

Cranes – Singapore’s national bird

Enigmatic Pulau Hantu

Wing Chong introducing Pulau Semakau

Trekking into the heart of the original Pulau Semakau

Graveyard of coconut skulls

Remnants of the old Malay fishing village on Pulau Semakau

A fruit from a plant with spiky leaves growing near the mangroves