The above picture is from an earlier post “Hiking Singapore Style” of a snake Aidan found while hiking in the MacRitchie Reservoir. He was proudly holding the creature and stated it must not be poisonous because it did not bite him. Well thanks to his grandmother’s research it turned out he was wrong. Grandma Diana contacted the Nature Society of Singapore and they identified the serpent as a Twin-barred Tree Snake which is in fact venomous. Fortunately its bite is only harmful to small rodents. Let hope our talk about not picking up unidentified critters made an impression! Here is a copy of the information they sent from the ecologyasia website.
Twin-Barred Tree Snake
This beautifully patterned snake is rarely seen. It is easily identified by the reddish upper body colour and the black-edged white bars. The flanks are light brown speckled with white, and the ventral surface yellow-white.
As with the Paradise Tree Snake, this species is able to glide considerable distances by inverting its ventral surface and launching itself from the tree tops.
It is a mildly venomous back-fanged species, with a quiet temperament. The species ranges from southern Thailand to Malaysia, Singapore, Sumatra, Borneo, Riau and Java.
The Twin-barred tree snake is strikingly patterned – the above specimens are from Singapore’s central forests.
Family : COLUBRIDAE
Species : Chrysopelea pelias
Maximum Size : 75 cm
On February 14th our family experienced a loss. Admittedly we never met these individuals but yet their demise is still painful. The fallen are four bottles of a beautiful ruby-red 1998 Aussie shiraz that Andy had purchased online to celebrate the year we were married. To make a long story short, they were not properly labeled for delivery to an age appropriate person and they were destroyed (aka poured down the drain) by the local police and alcohol commissioner lest they go down to gullet of some poor vulnerable minor. They were blameless victims of society that often replaces reason with bureaucracy.
Ironically the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre occurred not in Singapore which has a reputation for having many strict rules but rather in the “Live Free or Die” state of New Hampshire. The event led me to reflect on some of the reputations of the laws and crime in both countries.
We have been in SIngapore for two months and I can tell you that the culture is very “rules” orientated. There is not much room for flexibility. It starts early in the young. Last week we were at the Children’s Garden and Aidan was playing in the dirt as usual. Around him gathered a group of pristine looking preschoolers none of them were playing much in the sand or grabbing at his toys.
Contrast that with my own American child in his brand new school picture clothes this fall.
The most frequent question heard when I told friends I was moving to Singapore was “Isn’t that the place where you can’t chew gum?” It is true gum is not sold in Singapore. The ban on chewing gum actually had a logical beginning. Singapore invested a lot of money in a subway system and when it was newly opened a few doors were broken by wads of chewing gum. This happened once or twice which was a few times too many for the government.
“Gum control” however is loosening up. One can bring in a small amount for personal use. You can legally chew gum just don’t throw it on the ground when you are done. Apparently, to the locals it does have a forbidden quality. I recently tried a Supa Street exercise dance class at a local gym. The teacher was a young man dressed in a hoodie and sporting an elaborate goatee. When he entered the room I saw a woman slip him a baggie. “What’s this?” he asked. The response…”Bubble Yum from the States.”
Singapore has an international reputation for being very strict on illegal substance use. To put it mildly drugs are a definite no-no. The death penalty is mandatory for those convicted of trafficking, manufacturing, importing or exporting a set weight of drugs. For example having just over a pound of marijuana. Possessing these quantities is deemed as prima facie evidence of trafficking. In other words, if you possess these quantities (and possession means you had control of them), you are deemed to be a trafficker and therefore subject to the death penalty. For better or worse, the law has been effective in keeping out drugs in a country just a little over an hour from the Golden Triangle.
One of the most valuable aspects of travel is the mirror that suddenly reflects back on own culture. America certainly has its peculiarities, foibles and stereotypes. One area where our reputation is particularly bad is the level of gun related violence. A woman from New Zealand told me she wants to visit the States but she is afraid of getting shot. Is her fear that invalid? On Facebook this weekend I read of one gun related injury and a suicide at a North Beverly Massachusetts Starbucks I pass on my way to work everyday at home.
One story about how crazy our gun laws are has stuck with me. A few years ago in Massachusetts an eight year old boy shot himself in the head with an Uzi at a gun show. It is apparently not illegal for a child to fire an extraordinarily powerful automatic machine gun as long as a parent gives permission and there is someone with a gun license nearby. His father, ironically an emergency medicine doctor, was standing right next to him, so all was fine minus the wound to the boy’s head. I would argue that the laxity of America’s gun laws is a little bit more messed up than restricting the sale of bubble gum to or maybe even capital punishment of drug dealers.
The other area that I get a questions about from foreigners pertains to our health care. People are especially interested when they find out I am a family doctor. A woman from France was surprised that in a country as wealthy as America everyone does not have health insurance. Unfortunately this blog entry is already too long to delve down that path. To begin the scratch the surface would take me days to write.
For now we are simply trying to stay out of trouble. Let’s hope we have no more run-ins with the law and drink one tonight for our poor lost “friends”…
Today I took the children to their first play. Actually, I have to qualify that it was their first professional performance. Aidan reminded he was in a wonderful production of Scrooged this Christmas at Brookwood School. Nevertheless, we went to the Esplanade Recital Studio to see Hello Elly!
The play is inspired by a story called the The Elephant and the Tree written and illustrated by Singaporean author Jin Pyn Lee. I was not familiar with the book but we purchased a copy at the production. It is simple but nicely illustrated in black and lime green. It tells the story of an elephant and a tree that grow up happily together, then watch their forest destroyed by man and finish their days in captivity recounting a better time when they were free.
The elephant has to work hard labor for humans and the tree becomes a wooden saddle strapped to his back. Kind of an darker version of The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstien from my youth. .
Fortunately, the play was much lighter. The actors sang songs about elephants and the production was based on Elly the Elephant and Tree’s quest to find words that begin with each letter of the alphabet. The children sat on the floor instead of in chairs and there were many aspects that involve their participation.
The program stated the show was for 2 to 4 year olds. Aidan was on the older end of the audiance spectrum but he enjoyed it. It distressed him though when the cast member described first as “the hunter” was looking for Elly and we were asked not to tell where the elephant was hiding nearby. The two year olds of course kept yelling “He’s Over There!!!” Aidan kept telling them to shut up so the elephant could be free. Definitely a difference in developmental stages.
Fortunately the “hunter” turned out to be a park ranger and the deforestation of the trees could be undone by clapping and singing “If You’re Happy and You Know It.” Aidan astutely asked if the buildings were gone where then do the people live. Ugh, too many questions for a ABC play maybe that is why 4 is the upper age limit
At the end of the play Aidan said “That Rocked!!” so I took that as a big thumbs up. In April they are staging a production of The Magic Seashore where you join the lead characters Ling and Peppy to learn the ups and downs of prepositions!?! Only in education obsessed Singapore are the preschoolers learning prepositions in America we are happy if our toddler say “up” and reach somewhat in the proper direction.
Little India as the name suggests is the bustling center of SIngapore’s large Indian community.
Saturday afternoon we decided to have lunch at the Spice Junction which is known for their southern Indian food. One house specialty, Meen Pollichathu, is white fish marinated with spices; wrapped in banana leaves and broiled on an iron griddle. It was wonderful.
Little India is well known for its markets. The streets are lined with carts selling fragrant flower garlands. The aroma is so sweet and unique it brought back wonderful memories of the time I spent in India in 2001.
The Tekka Market has such quality and diversity I have read even Michelin starred chefs collect ingredients for meals in virtually any type of cuisine.
The seafood variety is wonderful both fresh and dried.
Aidan however did not think the smell in the fish area of the market was as pleasurable as the ones by the flowers.
I have to give a special shout out to the fruit stall where I met my new love, the Mangosteen. I actually tried it on a tour of the market with Sharm our relocation liaison the first day I was in Singapore. I am so obsessed with the taste of this sweet purple fruit that I actually looked up the calorie count to make sure this is really heathy and not some secret weapon sent to destroy the fitness goals of unsuspecting westerns. Fortunately they are in fact “good for me” so I continue to indulge.
Here is the first meal I make in Singapore. It was a Wagyu Beef Stir Fry. The veggies and fruits are from the Tekka Market. You can see there is a mangosteen on the plate.
Tonight’s dinner, which was leftovers with the kids, must have been extra special because I ate two :).
On our last day we toured the spectacular Angkor Thom whose name translates into the “Great City”. This last and most enduring capital of the Khmer empire lies about a mile from Angkor Wat on the right bank of the Siem Reap river.
The city was heavily guarded, fortified by a moat, wide embankment for solders and guard towers. Enclosed were the residences and administrative centers of the priest, palace officials and military. The first sight as we approached Angkor Thom was the imposing face of the 75 foot high tower gate.
The bridge is still a very functional entrance for an assortment of transportation vehicles be it tuk tuk…
Angkor Thom was first founded in 899 but a majority of the structures were constructed by Jayavarman VII who reigned from 1181 to 1220. He was also the ruler who built Ta Prohm which I explored in the previous “tree temple” post. Andy called this man the “Cambodian Donald Trump” which given the amount of buildings attributed to him seems accurate.
The ornately decorated Bayan was the official state temple and stands in the center of Angkor Thom. From a far it looks chaotic especially when compared to the stately and symmetrical Angkor Wat.
Once a top the terraces the beauty of the Bayon expresses itself magnificently. Especially impressive are the stone faces that look out in each direction from the towers in all there were 216 present.
The temple was originally dedicated as a Mahayana Buddhist shrine, later rulers altered it to Hinduism and later back to Theravada Buddhist before being abandoned back into the jungle. Today there is again some evidence of its religious importance.
The Baphuon is a temple located northwest of the Bayon. It was built in the mid-11th century not by ”J VII” but by another ruler whose building style was not as sturdy. By the 20th century most of the structure had collapsed but in April 2011 after 51 years it was reopened. Unfortunately it was deemed to steep for children under 12 so we viewed it from afar.
However, nearby was Phimeanakas which was also quite steep but deemed accessible for adventurous 5 year old boys. Aidan was more than happy to climb to the top while poor Sydney had to look on enviously from below. Legend has it that the King had to lie with Nagini, the girl with a serpents body, every night in this temple before going to his wives and concubines. If he failed to perform this duty even one night the kingdom was doomed. Hmmm-maybe that is why Andy offered to trek to the top while the girls stayed below…
Sydney would scream with delight at each passing pachyderm…
I preferred the stoic Elephant Terrace with its spectacular carvings.
At the end of our tour we finally took a photo with all four of us. Usually the photographer is left out.
Once again the vastness, expanse and intricacies of the Angkor Complex are overwhelming and stunning.
Ten years ago I worked at Lynn Community Health Center just north of Boston where I cared for a fairly sizable Cambodia immigrant population. On occasion the staff would order from a local restaurant. I remember fondly the spring rolls which were wrapped in delicate rice paper and filled with fresh carrots, mint and glass noodles. I knew then the food was wonderful but I was unprepared for the diversity and fantastic creativity of the Siem Reap dining scene.
Our first meal was a quick light lunch at the Le Meridian after we checked in while waiting for our room to be cleaned. Sydney had changed for a brief moment from begging for “Chicken Rice” to “Noodles”. We ordered an Indonesian style noodle dish and got this wonderful presentation with satays and a fried egg as well.
One evening we went to Sugar Palm which is located in a beautiful house with a large open air balcony and wooden floors. This restaurant serves fairly traditional Cambodian food.
Angkor Wat may be the most famous temple but a short distance away lies Ta Prohm which is more unusual and stunning. Here fig and silk-cotten trees magically entwine ancient stone temples and carvings. The beauty of Ta Prohm remains in large part to the foresight of a French Archeological team who in the early 20th century decided the site would be largely left as it had been found as a “concession to the general taste for the picturesque”.
Wandering throughout this ancient beauty, I felt as though I had stepped into a Indiana Jones movie.
The site in fact is famous as the back drop of scenes in Tomb Raider released in 2001. I know this because I heard many tour guides discuss this in many languages, “Angelina Jolie” remarkably is pronounced the same throughout the world.
Ta Prohm was founded by the Khmer King Jayavarman VII as a Mahayana Buddhist monastery and shrine beginning in 1186 A.D. The structures were dedicated in part to his mother. When I asked Aidan what he would build for me someday he responded he has a few legos in Singapore. Not quite an ancient temple but I am sure Aidan’s structure will be built with love none the less.
The carvings were fantastic.
Some of them like this ancient face peaked out from between the serpentine vines.
The children had fun at the ruins. Sydney does a great interpretation of the 900 year old dancers.
The trees in the structure were very soft this contributed to their ability to surround rather than encompass the temples. There were naturally a lot of holes and breaks in the trunks.
There were a few surprises found in the day to entertain us all.
This site was fantastic and my favorite day of touring the Angkor area. The ancient Ta Prohm was eerie, haunting and beautiful.
Angkor Wat is the most famous complex in the Angkor Archaeological Park which stretches over a massive 150 square mile area. The temple was built but the Khmers or the traditional people of Cambodia for king Suryavarman II in the early 12th century. A remarkable amount of the structure remains 900 years later. Partially due to its importance to Khmer people and also because of its surrounding moat which provided some protection from the encroachment of the jungle.
Angkor Wat – the “Capital Temple” – is so much a part of Cambodia that it has been on every version of the Cambodian flag since 1863, the only building to appear on any national flag.
The temple was originally Hindu dedicated to the god VIshnu. Later it was converted to Theravada Buddhism which continues to the present day. The statues show elements of both religions.
The structures up close are wondrous.
The carvings are intricate and beautiful.
Ok some of the carvings are interesting and a little frightening.
Tourism is relatively new in Angkor. The area was given World Heritage Site designation by UNESCO in 1992. However throughout the 1990′s lodging options were very limited and it was still very dangerous to visit. As recently as 1994, a western tourist was killed by a presumed Khmer Rouge member near the Wat.
Today things are very different over 2 million people visit annually and besides the shouting of tour guides it is a very serene peaceful place.
When the view is so beautiful I do not think you can keep people away.
I just hope the preservation can be done in a way to sustain this view for the next millenia and beyond.
I must admit I was very apprehensive about our journey. Cambodia holds a infamous place in very recent history. The Khmer Rouge’s insane desire to take the country back to “year one” which they deemed a time before any Western influence killed 20% of the population or about 2 million people between 1975 and 1979. The targets were first anyone with education, teachers, doctor and even those with eyeglasses (they assumed this made you literate) then they moved on to just about everyone else. The country is still one of the poorest in the world. The Angkor Wat looked beautiful but did I really want to take two small children there.
Recently I did begin to notice many positive reasons to visit. Many people in Singapore had been and had wonderful things to say about their time in Cambodia. Travel and Leisure magazine last July ranked Siem Reap as one of the “World’s Best Cities”. It was in fact ranked seventh which is one spot above my all time favorite city Sydney. I did a bit more reading and my apprehension faded.
My experiences in Cambodia will take a few posts to document but I want to share some of my impressions. Cambodia, at least in Siem Reap, is easier to navigate than other developing nations I have visited. The infrastructure is very good. There are wonderful restaurants with English menus and fabulous food.
Travel is strikingly inexpensive. This reflects the general low wages of the citizens. Many Cambodians live off of $1 income a day. Our guide said that as an English teacher in a respected high school five years ago he earned only $80 a month. Tuk-tuks which are a motorcycle pulling a rickshaw are a popular form of transportation. A ride to town five to ten minutes away costs $2. The driver will wait the two hours while you eat dinner and then drive you back. If you give him $5 he is very pleased. The kids loved the tuk-tuks. Sydney would protest when we had to ride in a car.
When traveling around it was striking how few elderly people I saw. This was confirmed when I read that 70% of the population was born after the Khmer Rouge lost power in 1979. As of 2010 the life expectancy for a woman is 65 years old. This may not sound great but as recently as 1999 it was only 46!
There were many children but very few that have blue eyes so our kids once again became celebrities. At a store near our hotel where we often went to buy juice, Aidan was so fawned over and kissed by the lovely young Cambodian women that you could have inserted George Clooney and never know the difference. They were also popular photo accessories at the temples. I think this is a role they could get way to used to.
There are few visible remnants of the civil wars. Most notably there were a few victims of land mines asking for money. On a more positive note, we encountered a group of amputees playing beautiful music for their cause. Sydney and Aidan danced and did not seem to notice their injuries. Our guide told us an estimate 10 million land mines were likely installed of which 4 million have not yet been found.
I kept looking for bitterness in the people about what they had been through but all I saw were smiles. I am certain some scars run very deep. There is finally now a tribunal in place to attempt to bring some healing to the Cambodian people. Ironically the first and only man who has been convicted had his sentence extended from 30 years with 13 of them already served to life. The appealed decision was handed down the day after we arrived. This man/monster oversaw the S-21 detention center in Phnom Penh where an estimated 17,000 people went in and only 12 survived. Justice for Cambodia seems to be slow but at least there are some visible signs.
The Khmer Rouge attempted to abolish religion but today 95% of the population currently practices Theravada Buddhism. We saw sign of this throughout our travels.
I have to give a special thanks to the kindness of the staff at the Le Meridian hotel where we stayed. The general manager Gregory personally sat with us for at least a half hour upon our arrival and gave us tips for enjoying our stay. He had a seven year old son and was especially cognizant of what young children might enjoy. Three days later when my daughter, who still cannot stop putting everything in her mouth, developed an inevitable case of vomiting and diarrhea I called him to find out if medical was available if she became dehydrated. He told me if she needed care there is a wonderful hospital ten minutes away run by a world class Bangkok group. He would personally drive us there if needed. In the meantime the staff laundered our clothes at no cost and returned them in two hours. The chef sent broth and toast and the housekeepers helped me throughout the night with bed changes. Fortunately she improved and we did not need medical help but the reassurance it was there was comforting.
Overall our stay was a wonderful experience. I will tease you with a bit of beauty from Angkor Wat but the remaining photos will be posted another time soon.