On The Eve Of National Day I Spent A Day At Singapore Botanic Gardens, Alone

I have planned this Monday holiday months in advance. Because Tuesday is National Day, a public holiday. I have been wanting to have some time on my own, to reflect upon life and to simply admire nature, to be connected to the ‘bigger picture’. It seems that our souls need nourishment once in awhile especially when day in day out we are stuck in a corporate rat race.

Taken near Orchid Garden
Taken near Orchid Garden. I was told by a Chinese herbs manager that orchid stems make rather expensive Chinese herbs.

In some ways I am happy that my wife needed to work today. When both of us are on leave, we would take our time doing very little, at home mostly. Nothing is wrong with that of course. A different kind of soul nourishment. A mutual nourishment.

After dropping my wife off to work at a quarter to nine in the morning, I drove to the Botanic Gardens, a UNESCO site.

This plan of mine did not get hatched until late last night. Botanic Garden always makes me happy. Be in as in Hong Kong when I was studying or in Singapore. Today felt like a makeup session for a birthday outing that I did not have.

Armed with a camera phone, a book, and a bottle of water, I felt happy even before entering the garden. It took me some time before I could find a parking lot by the street, right at the back of the children’s garden, which is on the far end of the map.

As expected, the day was warm and the air was humid. I got a bottle of water but I forgot to bring some suntan lotion. I got a book but I forgot to bring some insect repellent.

I love my new phone. Finally I could take some photos to commemorate my days, edit and upload along the way with GPS tagging. Six hours my phone’s battery has lasted. I was tired but delightful at the end of the trip.

So where was I? Yes, the parking lot.

I am amazed that so many people hang out in the Botanic Gardens on a working day (though I must say, many must have taken leave today like me). My plan was to have a nice breakfast inside the garden upon arrival. But since I was parking so far away, I took a stroll instead as I headed towards my first destination – a restaurant that serves proper breakfast.

First thing that greeted me besides the toilet at children’s garden was a group of old folks trying to exercise. That scene actually scares me. I am motivated to start doing some exercise asap. I hope my back would bend better than them when I am at their age.

Casa Verde is right in the midsection of the garden. Quite honestly, the food is very so-so. And it is rather pricy. But the decor is rather OK. I managed to find a seat inside the airconditioned section of the restaurant. I could sit outside though. But today was a warm day. Cool air was a welcoming sight.

So I order an overpriced egg benedict that cost S$16. An additional cup of what appeared as an instant coffee that cost an extra S$4. I still enjoyed my breakfast though, because today was a happy day.

Egg Benedict always makes me happy, like I am being smiled upon.
Egg Benedict always makes me happy, like I am being smiled upon.

Over breakfast, I have started reading The Devil in the Flesh by a French author Raymond Radiguet. A book I have borrowed from the library. I don’t know how anyone can read books these days. I was so distracted by my electronic devices.

Talking about electronic devices, what’s wrong with the world today?! Here I was immersing myself into nature, listening to the sound of the insects, of the birds, and of the wind brushing against the tree leaves (of course, the sound of construction nearby can be annoying). I saw waves and waves of people glued to their electronic devices playing Pokemon Go as though they were possessed, living inside a world of augmented reality.

It is very easy to spot Pokemon Go players (more so because I was once an Ingress player).

  1. They are often in group talking to each other while interacting with their electronic devices.
  2. They have a tendency to stop in some random spots again interacting with their phones or tablets.
  3. At times, they look stressed (which is strange because no one should look stressed inside a garden).
  4. They are oblivious to all that is around them. I bet even as Taylor Swift walks by, they would still look for those virtual beings.
  5. Very often, you see them carrying a power pack to charge their phones on the go. Some would actually play with two devices (ah, good old Ingress days of mine).

Also, at times, these players (or hunters?) tend to cast me a suspicious look. As though I am there to steal their price.

Look, this is a garden. The only time I would cast a suspicious look to a fellow visitor is when he or she looks like a terrorist.

But then again, who am I to judge? I have lived through those insane time with Ingress (the step-father of Pokemon Go?). I am still spending a lot of time at home playing video games, even at my age. To my defense though, I think what is going on behind closed doors is none of others’ business (duh, my YouTube channel has betrayed me). Roaming in public places like Botanic Gardens in a zombified state, that is weird.

Or perhaps, I am the weird one. Because if I am to count the number of people whom I have come across playing Pokemon Go versus those who were like me enjoying the scenery and the ambient, we the real lifers are definitely outnumbered.

This is called Sundial Garden. I tried to read in one of the huts but the heat and the insects were too overwhelming.
This is called Sundial Garden. I tried to read in one of the huts but the heat and the insects were too overwhelming.

I got lost a few times inside Botanic Gardens. How often when you read a map by the roadside and even though it has “You Are Here” in a font and color that cannot be missed, you just not sure which road leads to where?

If I were to design roadmaps, I would certainly go that extra mile and draw two things right at “You Are Here”. A simple line to denote where the signboard is from a top down view. And a man or an eyeball showing you where you are facing.

One great thing about getting lost is – besides the extra exercise I so need (remember the old folks at the beginning of this entry?) – I came across places that subsciously I wanted to visit but I was not really looking for them.

Like a toilet and a place for food. The gift shop was a bonus.

By the time my late lunch was served, my colleague at work has already called me for help. The good news was that it was not something unexpected. I was mentally prepared. The bad news was that I was at least two kilometers away from my car, not counting the extra miles I would need to partake once I got lost. That is a story for another day.

Or not ever.

Work.

Ugh.

On another positive note though, I really enjoy reading Devil in the Flesh. It is about a young boy in love in great details. It is about a young boy in love with a girl who is with another man. It is about a young boy infatuated with someone older than him. All three, I can relate.

At times I do wonder the what could have been, especially when I am alone.
At times I do wonder the what could have been, especially when I am alone.

Rice Propagation At Jacob Ballas Children’s Park

This post comes in two parts.  Part one on what I have done in a national garden today.  Part two on the toad and snake my wife has encountered.  We save the best to the last so first, here comes part one.

I am a big fan of corporate volunteering activities, even though some are pretty laborious – at least to an office worker like me.  Next week, my wife and I will be holidaying overseas.  So why not wrap up this work year with some volunteering work at the Botanic Gardens?  As usual, I have little idea on what I have signed up for.  The event was in the afternoon.  My wife and I took the opportunity to have lunch at the garden.  She asked what to do while waiting for me to literally get my hands dirty.  I said, why not take a nap and play her favorite Android game Duo Lingo?

We visit Singapore Botanic Gardens often.  But it was the first time we visited Jacob Ballas Children’s Park.  Admission is not free.  And it is – I think – for the children.  Hence, the why.  There were only a handful of us from my company joining the activity today.  We were led by a young female staff who walked a lot faster than we did.  Oops.  I hope we were fit for what we were about to do.  And we have gained access to a restricted area!  Exciting.  As we walked in, I saw rows and rows of plants that I do not know of.  Once we were indoor, I saw this lying on a bench waiting for us.

These are baby rice.

The young staff then announced cheerfully, “Today, we will do rice propagation!”  I looked at these two trays of ‘baby rice’ and was wondering, do we need twelve of us working on this?

Turns out we do.

First, we have to take empty pots, put the fertilizer at the bottom and fill them up with soil.  Then, we have to move the pots to the bench area where those who were assigned to work with the plant would need to take out three tiny stalks of rice and plant them onto the pot!  How fragile these stalks are.  All of a sudden, this activity was going to take some time because there were many stalks.

After planting the stalks onto the pots, we would need to water them and transport the pots to an outdoor nursery area where we lined them up on the top shelf, and the bottom.  Something like this.

Rice pots!

In life, I seldom take the role of what everyone is doing.  So I volunteered to be one of the two transporters.  It was a rather tough job.  Two of us went around looking for pots from the bench ready for transportation and moved them onto a trolley.  We then took turn to water the plant, pushed the trolley to the designated area, and arranged them nicely.  Under a hot sun!  We must have moved more than 200 pots in the afternoon.  Tiring it was, but pretty fun stuff we did.  I have a much better appreciation of what goes behind the scene in maintaining such a large world class garden.

Before we parted, one colleague wished to take some pictures of the fruit of our work.  Just as I led her into the nursery area, one Indian staff frantically said, “No photo!” We were puzzled.  Just when we were about to ask why, he frantically waved his arms and screamed, “Water!  Go!  Now!”  Lo’ and behold, all the water sprinklers were switched on simultaneously!  We were deep inside the rows of plants and both of us ran like mad!  What a laugh we had.

What’s the point of doing what we did?  I learned that each stalk of rice produces six seeds.  So I guess by propagation, we help to increase the seed pool.

When I finally reunited with my wife, I asked her what she has done while I was gardening.  She told me that she had a half-an-hour nap on a bench (no wonder her eyes were so big when we met).  After she woke up, she saw a toad hopping towards her and stopped in front of her.  Not long after, there was a snake coming from behind going after the toad and the toad – naturally – hopped away.  Both disappeared into a bush nearby!  My wife said she jumped out of the bench seeing the snake approaching her.

“Where are the photos of the toad and snake?” asked I.  She said none.  So I conclude that either she was dreaming of a toad and snake during her nap.  Or the toad came to her, woke her up, and warned her of the snake.

OK.  One last picture to share.  Here is the entrance of Jacob Ballas Children’s Park.  All photos are taken using my mobile phone, Nexus 4.

Entrance of Jacob Ballas Children's Park

Bethany And I, At Botanic Gardens

I can now begin to understand why some single men like to borrow babies in order to chat up with girls.  When I walk alone, no one stops and looks at me.  But when I carried my niece Bethany, inside the Botanic Gardens one fine Saturday, all the women around me smiled at – collectively speaking – us.  Bethany is a chick magnet, I discover.  She must have ignited the maternal instinct to all whose around us.  And I have not received that much attention since the last time I have paraded myself by the swimming pool, in my condo, wearing my swimming gear, under broad daylight.  All those domestic helpers, they really should find some real works to do.

One fine day, my sister messaged me and asked if we should bring Bethany to the Botanic Gardens, now that Bethany can walk.  Jolly good idea.  It would have been fun had we been able to catch some morning sun.  But alas, it was a Saturday.  And Saturdays are full of morning rituals such as housecleaning, such as I waking up early and do my blogging, such as Cynthia trying very hard to get out of bed.

I finished my lunch first and hence I was tasked to take Bethany out for a walk, while my sister, Benny, and Cynthia continued to have a good chat over their fish and chips.  I had no idea how a baby would react if she is momentarily taken away from her parent.  I thought Bethany would scream, but she did not.  Nevertheless, I briefly took her out, feeling totally awkward, and returned to the restaurant only to be sent out by the gang of three.  OK.  Perhaps I should plan a longer walking route.  I carried Bethany, under a hot sun, from one end of the cafe to the first patch of green land that took less than 2 minutes of brisk walking.  I found a nice piece of relatively shaded flat land and I put Bethany onto the ground.  After a few minutes, I ran out of things to do.  So I lifted Bethany up and headed back to the cafe.  I suppose I have yet to discover how to spend time with a toddler.  After we regrouped, I continued carrying Bethany and the four of us were running around in the garden playing catch-me-if-you-can with Bethany.  Eventually, she felt asleep on my shoulder while I was soaked in sweat.  I couldn’t even open my eyes.  That reminds me.  Next time, I should wear a sport headband and carry a fresh towel.

Benny took the photo below inside the cafe, zoomed in through the glass window.  He love this photo and so do I.  Benny observed that one time I put her onto the ground, she came right back to me with open arms.  So we reckon Bethany and I are bonding, somehow.  Bethany and I were quite far away from the cafe.  When I waved at the trios, Bethany followed my cue too.  Later on, my sister asked, “Was she able to recognize us inside the cafe?”  I am not too sure.  Maybe I shall ask her once she can speak.

My Little Sister Is Pregnant – And Photos From The Botanic Gardens

Being a photographer for my sister and Benny at the Singapore Botanic Gardens

In fact, as you can see in the photo above, she is very pregnant.  So, why am I keeping mum about this significant news for so long?  I don’t know, can’t really pinpoint.  I mean, she is my little sister and the thought that she is carrying a baby seems so out of my wildest imagination.  On the record, I am very happy for her and my good buddy who is responsible in this whole thing.  And too on the record, I have been persistently telling this happy couple  that the little one will call me “big brother”, instead of that forbidden U-word.  They protest of course saying that this is so against the tradition.  I highlight of course that whenever the little one calls me “big brother”, I will give the little one a gift.  One U-word from the little one and there will be no gift.

My parents and my little sister would testify that on the surface, I am not the warmest person on earth.  I am not brought up from a family that often hug each other, or to say I-love-you to one another.  I am not even someone who would get himself involved in his family’s day to day life.  Having confessed that, I do tend to drop everything I do if my family calls-for-action.

But all these have to change, somehow.  I have been trying to get more involved with my sister’s pregnancy.  One day out of the blue, she asked if Cynthia and I could join them for a weekend lunch and help them to take some photos.  I am more than happy to play a part in recording this significant timeline of theirs, especially having gone through some of the old photos that my dad has taken for us.

We love the Botanic Gardens.  My sister, my mother, and I could spend hours photographing everything under the sun, literally speaking.  Just March this year, I took my parents from Hong Kong to visit the Botanic Gardens.  And just March this year, my sister and her hubby got married in Singapore!  How time flies.

It was a very warm day, under the noon sun in the Botanic Gardens.  Benny was the golf umbrella carrier, to shield my little sister from the hot sun.  It has been a long time since I last went for a photo trip.  My back hurt a bit, my hands hurt a bit, but it was worth it.  I love the results of some of the shots.  Before the session, my sister hinted that I often take too long to process the photos.  I hinted that if we are to look for quality over quantity – especially if we are only looking for that one photo for the wall – it should be fast.  She then hinted that she would want to have all the photos in RAW format so that Benny can process then.  Uh-oh.  No way!

Below are some of the highlights.  May God bless this happy couple and the little one with good health.  And if it is not too much of a trouble, bless me with some extra energy to follow their journey like a paparazzi please.

For My Parents With Love In The Beautiful Landscape of The Singapore Botanic Gardens

My Parents at the Singapore Botanic Gardens

My 74 years old dad said the funniest thing.  He told me that these days when he went fishing, along the harbor of Hong Kong, young photographers often take him as their photo subject.  And in his tone of reminisce he said, “When I was a young photographer I was doing the same.  Now that I am an old man, it’s my turn [to be photographed by the strangers]”.  We all laughed.  But on what?  We don’t know.  I don’t know.  I don’t want my dad to be old.  I want everything to stay the same.

Reality is, we all get older as time goes by.  Decades ago I was my dad’s photography subject.  Who doesn’t like to see little babies, little kids, so full of innocence, so full of joy on pictures, on prints?  Decades later my parents have become my photography subject.  Kids and old folks – the two most common picks for the photographers on human portraits.  It is the innocence and the wisdom; it is the sign of creation and the mark of time; it is a blank story book filled with possibilities and a memoir that inspires.

Why the Singapore Botanic Gardens?  It’s rare that both my parents are in town, thanks to my sister’s wedding.  It is the green and the fresh air, the flowers and the butterflies.  My family loves to visit parks.  Back when I was in Hong Kong.  A tradition that I still carry with me today.  Some of the happiest moments of my life happen in the parks.

That’s why.

For the viewing of a personal photo collection dedicated to my parents, please click here.

P.S. An entry written with my Nokia N96 the sms style hours before my sister’s wedding dinner at a cafe at China Square Central while waiting for Cynthia’s make up session at Raffle City to be done, synchronised with Nokia free OVI service using the free Wireless@SG wi-fi network.