Sunday, August 3, 2008

The Island of Pulau Ubin

On Saturday, my family and the Matheson's traveled to the small island Pulau Ubin off the eastern coast of Singapore. Translated, Pulau Ubin means "granite stone" in Malay. Apparently, in the 60's the island was inhabited by thousands who worked in the many granite quarries on the island. Visiting it now, you wouldn't be able to believe that many people lived there. The island is largely abandoned and very rural, with only a hundred or so living there now. From what I saw, the villagers are mainly farmers and fisherman, living in grass huts and wooden jetties. The island is filled with natural wildlife, including native animals, plants, and crops. Everywhere I looked a saw green. Banana trees line the bike paths, and coconuts palms were splayed along the road as numerous as concrete in the city. This small, untouched part of the world must have been how the big island of Singapore looked before urban development.

We, like most tourists, visited the island for its natural beauty and outdoor thrills. After descending off of our small 'bumboat', we rented bikes and explored the mangrove forests, the sandy beaches, and the ocean boardwalks. The coral reef was sadly hidden from our view because of the high tide. But we did see the famed 'kampongs', a name for Singapore's once popular small village that now only exists on Pulau Ubin. What's remarkable is the villagers, who live just a couple miles off the coast of one of the most technologically advanced nations in the world, rely on local wells for water and diesel generators for limited electricity. From what I saw, the wells are quite old, but plentiful. I saw at least three while there.

We rode our bikes from the eastern side of the island, where we saw the Chek Jawa wetlands, to the west, where we passed an abandoned resort with crowding vegetation overtaking its concrete floor and walls. We saw small farms filled with sweet jasmine, curry and ginger, coriander and tee leaf. There were durian and mangosteen trees, with shelled rambutans and jackfruit everywhere, left behind, no doubt, by the hidden monkeys in the trees and the wild pigs in the forest. And everywhere there is life; in the rubber plantations and the coconut farms, and in the rivers, the forests, and the surrounding ocean. It is a beautiful place, and it was a beautiful day spent with family and friends, enjoying each other's company and marveling on the great beauty that is Mother Nature.

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