Saturday, 18 August 2007

Welcome trip 07/08: Pulau Ubin (by Alan)

It was the early hours of 18th August 2007, but I had to wake up earlier to get myself prepared for the day that was ahead. All I could remember now was the cool morning that had almost hypnotized me to sleep. It was unlike any other weekend. The major difference was that I was detached from my bed.

There was a mass gathered at the steps just outside of the Chinese Heritage Centre of NTU. It was not open on that day, so I guessed it must be the crowd that I was going to spend my Saturday with.
I have passed by that building they named Chinese Heritage Centre definitely more than once; however, it cannot understand how come it seems more than usually unfamiliar. I couldn’t resist the chance to roam around, despite most of the areas being closed.

It was one of the more landmark buildings in NTU, with its unique ancient Chinese architectural style. There was an opening right in the middle of the main hall ceiling. That opening was consistently visible throughout most of the floors. I have heard before that it had a practical usage, which is to illuminate the building naturally.

Upon reaching Changi Ferry Point Terminal, everyone did a last round of checks. The bumboats service could only ferry a maximum of 12 people per ride excluding the ‘captain’. Due to our large numbers, we were divided equally onto 3 different bumboats. It was a spectacular sight, looking at how 3 boats tag along one another and ferried us over to the shores not far away, Pulau Ubin.

The Pulau Ubin pier was just a short distance walk from the only bustling town center. The scene that greets the visitors, are the scene from olden Singapore. It was a scene where older generation lived to talk about it and many of the younger generation can only see from photos. It was a scene of a struggling new town called Singapore, being ‘preserved’ on Ubin.

The ‘preservation’ was apparent. The vast difference between the main island and its sister island. There seemed to be no town planning at all, where only a small road leads from the pier to the town plaza. However, it is undeniable the charms that this sleepy little town brings, a breather for those running in the rat race.

We headed towards the ‘Green House’ which is located along the only road leading to the town center of Ubin. It is there where we met the Nature Guides that would be giving us a trail around the sights and scent that Ubin has to offer. We headed over to the information kiosk to begin our trail briefing.
At the kiosk we were roughly briefed about what we were expecting. Everyone was all ears about what we were about to do. The name of the trail was known as the Sensory Trail. To not only see, but feel and smell as well, providing an all-round experience.

The Sensory Trail was adopted by Singapore Association of the Visually Handicapped and Singapore America School. That was officially launched on 15th April 2000 by America Ambassador to Singapore the Honorable Steven J. Green.

Just a few steps away from the information kiosk, the trail had a brief prelude. Along the way to the beginning of the Sensory Trail, there were already plants along the road side which was valuable and can only be found on Ubin. We were also learning about plants which kill trees because of their symbiotic nature. A slow death for the trees, drawing parallel to cancer patients, everyone sympathized.

Along the Trail, we were exposed to many different types of species of plants. Most of which were naturally found on Ubin and some re-introduced. One of plants that are on the Trail is the common plant known to most Singaporean, pandan. As the guides explained, on about the Trail and plants, I couldn’t stop basking in the refreshing scent of pandan.

There was also a Secret Garden located along the Trail. The Secret Garden hosts a variety of chef’s familiars. There were curry leaves, pepper plant, etc. The whole garden was packed with other edible plants as well. Not to mention even a plant for oral anesthetic purpose. Everyone was resisted the temptation to take a bit of the garden into their hands and admired the plants in that natural glory under the supervision of the guides.

Alas, as the saying goes, the good rarely lasts long. As we were continuing to explore the Secret Garden, the skies bode ill omen, big black clouds. The rain started to pour and dampen not only the plants and trees, but our trail. We had to make our way back to the ‘Green House’ as soon as possible to avoid any wet weather complications such as thunders and lightings.

Back at the ‘Green House’, we contemplated the next step, LUNCH. There were a number of restaurants at the town center; however, we wondered if there was any one that could house our large numbers. Some of us accompanied the Muslim friends to the halal outlets located further away from the town center. Everyone was recharged after the meal. Firstly, the rain had stopped and secondly, everyone was ready to continue to enjoy the sights and plants that Ubin had to offer.

Other than learning about the plants that grow on Ubin, we also had a chance to know a bit more about Singapore history. For example, there was the Gelam tree, which once populated a particular place in Singapore. Due to the abundance that place was later on known as Kampong Glam. The bark of the tree was used by the Bugis and Malays to caulk the seams of boats, while the timber was used to replace rotted hull planks and doubled as firewood. The fruit was dried, ground, and used as a type of black pepper.

The Trail ended roughly around the later part of the afternoon however, it didn’t end there. The organizers prepared a photo hunt around Ubin for everyone that attended. So the rule of the game is to take photographs of the various places around a certain area in Ubin. The places where clued by only a photograph distinct to that place. The clue was only helpful when the distinct feature was recognized easily, in many a times; we were just hoping to bump into other groups who already found the spots.
The photo hunt ended nicely. Most of the teams got the spots however, in each competition a winner has to be decided. The winners proved that winning was indeed a title nothing more. The spoils of the victory were shared amongst not only the winning team but to every other group as well.

The day was drawing close. Everyone gathered at the pier for the finale photo session. SAY CHEESE