Saturday, July 04, 2015

Island-Hopping through St John's Island, the fabled Lazarus Island, Seringat Island and Kusu Island

The beach on Lazarus Island - a wide C-shape bay and more sand than most beaches in Singapore.

St John's Island, the fabled Lazarus Island and Seringat Island

The three islands are connected - Lazarus to St John's, Seringat to Lazarus. All you have to do is find your way to St John's and you'd have access to all of them! 

St John's Island

The most well-known of the three, the island has holiday bungalows for rent and well-loved beaches of its own to boast.

Partner-in-crime Thamsy in red carrying a foldable chair and food, among other things.
A landmark that you can spot from the boat, hundred meters before reaching the island.
My cousin mentioned that she used to stay in this house during Sec School badminton camp. There was a row of such houses, which we didn't have time to explore, but looked old and worn, like they had a story to tell.

A lookout point on the causeway to Lazarus. Amazing.

Lazarus Island

As with many experiences that people try to sell you, this one is a tad hyped up.

There're nothing (save for one shelter) on this beach, except sand, sea and trees so you're completely immersed in nature, which I was a happy with, but could be a bad thing for some people. It's on you to bring all you need to make yourself comfortable - a huge beach hat, 1.5l of water and sunblock, in whichever combined amount you would prefer (and I recommend equal), a mat, and some snacks.

When we were there the sun was so hot that you'd want to be in the water or under shelter.

If it weren't that hot, it would have been way more relaxing. It's a decent stretch of beach with white, fine sand, a view of the sea not littered with countless cargo ships and very few people. We visited it during the school holidays so there's no doubt that if you visited it on a normal week day, you'd see almost no one.

If you got a boat.

Seringat Island

Not much has been written about Seringat Island. It's even quieter than Lazarus, which has stolen the limelight for having "the best beach in Singapore". I much prefer it actually! There's a nice path that leads you around the island and a couple of picnic shelters facing the sea thrown in for good measure.

Thamsy and I ended up spending most of our time there, looking at the residential estates of Sentosa Cove and enjoying the food that he prepared. The aspiring home cook is a life saver. We'd be living on chips if he didn't have pursuits like these.

Kusu Island

On the way back to the mainland, the ferry dropped us off at Kusu Island for an hour. You could probably cover its perimeter in twenty minutes. We climbed up to Datuk Kong, which appeared to be a place for prayer, and chilled out by the beach. It gives off a bit of East Coast type of vibe, but more zen. 

Kusu Island means "Turtle Island" and there were tales of how the turtle saved early sailors who reached its shores and the island's mystical healing powers. With more time it I would have liked to soak up the cultural heritage of the place.

Iconic Chinese temple in the background, and one of the many homages to turtles on the island.

Thamsy doing his best to be the last picture in Tyra's hands so he would not have to pack his bags and go home.

How to get there:

The ferry schedule as of June 2015.
Charter a yacht. Waiting for Thamsy to become a millionaire for this. Or more economically:

Singapore Island Cruise will bring you to St John's Island and back for $18, stopping by Kusu Island for about an hour on the way back.

A typical weekday trip will see you leaving Marina South Pier (which you can get to via MRT to the station of the same name) at 10am and coming back to the mainland at 4.15pm. The weekends offer more timings, which you can check out here.


Straits Times: Lazarus Island's laid-back charm
Expat Living Singapore: A step-by-step guide to finding Singapore's best beach

Sunday, May 31, 2015

I failed Maths. I'm a Math Tutor.

At the end of Sec 2, my academic life was in a sorry state. I failed almost all my subjects with an average score of 46. My parents and I were called into the principal's office and informed that I was no longer allowed to continue my education in the institution.

I was in a state of disbelief and so, blocked out most of what happened. With less than a month to the new term, I, thankfully, got myself a place in Sembawang Secondary School.

So what went wrong? For one I had a tough time transitioning from Primary School, especially to the school that was then ranked the #2 co-ed school in the country. What was most disappointing for me though, was how I did for Maths. I had this mousey teacher who couldn't control our notorious class. He was short, with hair coming out of a mole on his chin, and a voice so soft that he resorted to speaking into a mic with a portable speaker clipped to his pants. I didn't understand anything that came out of his mouth and got so frustrated that I scribbled Maths Makes Me Mad and DDR arrows in the textbook so I could practice the moves under the table during class.

I ended up learning nothing from him and he made no attempt to help me escape my fate. While my smarter classmates graduated and others got retained, I slipped through the cracks.

So just as I was starting Sec 3, my parents hired a maths tutor. When she worked with me, things became surprisingly easy. It took me two months to learn what I was supposed to know in two years, and before long I was competent enough to follow what was going on in class. I became engaged during lessons, and my teacher was actually brilliant. She was sharp, precise and taught with such clarity that it would've been hard not to understand her. With their help, I ended off my O levels with an A1 for E Maths and A2 for A Maths.

My math teacher in NYJC, whom some said looked like Garfield, had a wicked sense of humour and a knack for shaming students who didn't put in effort, was a genius. With that, I sailed through to an A at A levels.

When I completed my NS, I was looking for a job before starting my tertiary education. On top of being a sales assistant at Sony and enjoying the thrill of selling big ticket items over the Christmas holiday, I started tutoring Math.

I had been someone who royally sucked at maths and helped me empathise with the kids, forcing me to explain complicated things in the simplest ways, channeling the great teachers I had. Then, if the kid was cooperative, slightly hardworking and just a bit clever, they would reach heights they never imagined. It was gratifying to change their mindsets from "trying to make it" to "the sky's the limit". That's why I didn't stop teaching through my years as an undergrad and my first job.

And now, I'm a Math Tutor.

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Doing More on All Fronts

It's been 3 months since I left my nine-to-five job.

My initial plan was to stand in the sun and I've literally visited nature reserves, parks and reservoirs with the recent ones being Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve, the Green Corridor and the Peirce Reservoirs. I enjoy being outdoors and practising photography as well as the company of friends who were game enough to go on these trips with me.

Other than that, things have been going slower than expected. 

The three things that I really want to do this year are:
1. Teaching Tuition
2. Freelance Writing
3. Travelling 

I see these things as complementary to each other - gathering the resources and skills I need to do the things I enjoy to afford me this freedom to continue my current lifestyle. They are a prelude to something bigger, such as discovery walks, trekking trips and food-tasting overseas for an extended period of time.

To do that, I need more focus on doing the long-term, "achievement" oriented things, like getting more tuition students and writing jobs. I might have gotten a bit crazy with this new-found freedom, like a kid in a candy store. I've been valuing pleasure over achievement, doing the simple, easy stuff such as spending far too much time on social media, meeting friends and hitting the gym.

The only way I can get more done out of this year is by sharpening my focus and prioritising what I need to do over less important tasks.The tough part, of course, is discipline and time management. As it is, my schedule is packed and I'm running all over the place all the time, doing as much as I can, but I think I can still do more.

At this juncture I'm trying to string all the different themes of my life together, even when they seem to be pulling in different directions. I want to do more on all fronts - discover more places, walk more, write more, photograph more, teach more, meet more people, eat more food.

People say that being busy is a disease but I'm anxious not to take my time here for granted. I'll do more, achieve more, be more productive. Work harder, run faster, party crazier. Push more on all fronts. And perhaps that's what this time is for. I'm at the cusp of a lifestyle change. It will always been for the better, because I'm making a move and finding out what works and what doesn't.  

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Getting closer to wildlife at Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve

When it comes to places for spotting wildlife, not many places in Singapore come close to Sungei Buloh. In fact, it's so popular with nature photographers that just before I visited, I came across this disheartening article on their actions stressing animals just to catch the perfect shot. As such, I resolved to stay on the path, not disturb any living things and leave good photos to chance.  

Part I - The Boardwalk

Enter the Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve Visitor Centre via Kranji Way to gain access to the new boardwalk which was opened to visitors late last year. The route through this area is full of lookouts, and you'd be able to see the Johor Straits, and the mud levels. 

I enjoyed this part tremendously because of the beautifully designed, vaguely conical lookouts which reminded me of both acorns and birds' nests. The structures blended perfectly with the surroundings and made for some interesting photos.  

This area was also particularly rich in wildlife, with familiar animals such as crabs, mudskippers, spiders, wild dogs, birds, monitor lizards and I've heard that you can even catch sight of a crocodile if you're lucky! We didn't, despite our best efforts, so we might have to go back there to give it another go. 

The red pincers gave it away.
A pretty shy mudskipper.
I spy a spider.
There were quite a few of these lookout points along the boardwalk.
The steps going up and down through the reserve made it a real "Jungle Gym".
The pretty shaky rope bridge was amusing to cross.

Part II - Mangrove

The reserve can be accessed by another entrance, with parking, via Neo Tiew Crescent.

The bridge that links the visitor centre to the reserve.
This part was significantly different. It was no longer a wooden boardwalk structure. Instead, we found ourselves walking on a dirt track that led us round the perimeter of the mangrove.

From one of the lookout towers. Spotted some white birds from here.
At this point we were probably a tad tired out from the noon sun and the initial exploration at the board walk. However before we left, one of  the inhabitants at this small pond with "deep water", came by to say bye.

Sungei Buloh is huge and if you really want to see it all, it would probably take 4-5 hours. Also, it is no Bishan-AMK park. There aren't any food places around, so you might want to bring along some snacks and drinks for the walk.

NParks - 
Straits Times - Get closer to nature at the Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve

Sunday, May 10, 2015

From Buona to Tanjong Pagar on the Green Corridor

Earlier in April, I explored part of the Green Corridor, from Buona Vista to The Rail Mall, which you can read here

Curious about the other half which runs from Buona Vista to Tanjong Pagar Railway Station, I set a date with Thamsy to take on this 6km route. 

The journey down south had ample greenery and snaked through the back of some of the older HDB estates which looked as if time had stood still since the 90s, especially when it was quiet in the morning. We had an enjoyable time walking, but what we saw became rather repetitive. Comparatively, going northwards was more interesting - with highlights such as the Bukit Timah Railway Station and some parts of the railway which was still intact. 

Our end point, Tanjong Pagar Railway station, now only opens during public holidays and special occasions. It became a bit of a disappointment as we had to make our way out of a fenced-up dead end - a field - that didn't offer much. Hence, if you're thinking of trying this route, and you can check out some maps here, it would be more rewarding if you went on a day where the Tanjong Pagar Railway station was open. It would really be the perfect end to this long walk.

Nevertheless, here are some things you can expect to see while making your way down this route:

Graffiti my soul.

"I'm not religious, but it feels so good, makes me want to pray, pray you'll always be here."

The old and the (relatively) new.
The black dog actually invited us to be part of their "entourage" but we were too slow.

The Interlace, one of my favourite residential projects. The stacking blocks amaze me always.
From an overhead bridge
This would probably be a barrier for the train which runs through the track, now just a brown path on the left
Said disappointing field that marked the end of our journey, but was relieved to have ended the long walk!
Next up, an entry on Sungei Buloh! If you can't wait, you can check out my instagram for some pictures to tide you over till then.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Two Sides to the Peirce

I've heard of Upper and Lower Peirce reservoir but I had no idea if they were places you could visit. So it came as a surprise when we found ourselves there for over four hours checking out one of the more hidden spaces of greenery that Singapore has nestled in its central water catchment area.

Lower Peirce 

Thamsy and I kicked off our exploration of the Peirce reservoirs through the Casurina Entrance, which houses some familiar Ban Leong Wah Hoe Seafood and Casuarina Curry Restaurant near by. There are at least two boardwalk routes from Old Upper Thomson Road that lead you through Macritchie-like greenery and into Lower Peirce Reservoir. 

When we were there on a weekday morning, we saw a lot of folks doing their morning exercises and workers cleaning up the reservoir. 

It was nice, but not as spectacular as its "twin", the Upper Peirce Reservoir. 

Upper Peirce

The only sensible way to get to the very out-of-the-way Upper Peirce reservoir is to drive. We didn't, so we ended up walking some 3km down the ridiculously long Old Upper Thomson Road clearly meant for cars. (Let me know if you have a better way in for people who walk!)

Random drain pretending to be a soothing stream passing under the road is somthing Thamsy likes
There weren't many cars passing through so we made good of that by doing things like this

The great part about Upper Peirce Reservoir Park is, when you eventually get to it, its dramatic view is definitely worth the trip. It was my first time there and I've only ever seen it in pictures. Because of how inaccessible it is, we saw very few people. It might be different on the weekends but I'm sure it's way more chill than its counterparts like MacRitchie.

Unlike PM who saw a snake on his recent visit there, we didn't get a chance to see much wildlife. Hence you can be assured that it would  be unlikely that you'd encounter slithering reptiles or crocodiles or other dangerous animals, making the place extremely human-friendly.

The highlight was this strip between Upper and Lower Peirce:

Hiding under the trees for a picnic is something I'd do when I go back

For a different perspective, you could check out this blog -  for some bits of wildlife and more pictures, and also, of course, the NParks website.

Where should I explore next?