Northeast monsoon 2011

The monsoon this December in Singapore has been quite pleasant and nicely marked the year’s passage.  But I am sure some have suffered the relentless downpour on certain days that are described as monsoon surges.

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The info below taken from the weather.gov.sg FAQ site

Singapore has two main seasons, the Northeast Monsoon (December to March) and the Southwest Monsoon season (May to September), separated by two relatively shorter inter-monsoon periods. Although there are no distinct wet or dry periods, the mean monthly rainfall shows drier weather conditions from May to July and wetter conditions in the months from November to January. . February is also a relatively dry month. The beginning and end of the monsoons are usually not very well-defined. Hence, from year to year, there could be slight delay in the beginning or end of a monsoon period. This probably accounts for the monthly rainfall anomaly experienced from year to year.

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Sumatras are line of thunderstorms which usually occur during the Southwest Monsoon season from May to October each year. These squalls develop at night over Sumatra or the Malacca Straits and move east towards Singapore and the west coast of Peninsular Malaysia during the pre-dawn and early morning. They are often characterised by sudden onset of strong gusty surface winds and heavy rain lasting from 1 to 2 hours as they move across the island. Maximum gusts of up to 50 knots have been recorded during the passage of a Sumatra squall.

This below is from the Monsoon update page from the weather.gov.sg

Northeast Monsoon

(Updated on 27 December 2011)

Northeast Monsoon conditions have set in over the region since mid-November 2011.  The Northeast Monsoon season typically starts with a wet phase (December to January) followed by a dry phase (February to early March). During the wet phase, the Northeast Monsoon season is characterized by short duration thundery showers in the afternoon and early evening, and about two to four episodes of monsoon surges. Monsoon surges refer to the steady strengthening of northeasterly winds blowing from the South China Sea. These monsoon surges usually bring periods of prolonged widespread moderate to heavy rain lasting two to five days, occasionally windy conditions and cooler temperatures. During the dry phase, generally drier and windy conditions can be expected.

Based on long-term statistics from our climate station, December is the wettest month of the year (287.4 mm), followed by November (255.9 mm) and January (241.3 mm) respectively. The mean daily minimum temperature is lowest for January (23.3 deg Celsius), followed by December (23.5 deg Celsius) and February (23.6 deg Celsius).

The monsoon surge which has been affecting the region for the past several days has eased.  Windy conditions and passing showers in the afternoon are forecast for the next two days.  Short duration thundery showers in the afternoon can be expected for the rest of the week.

The traditional chicken curry at Christmas

On Christmas day, while the children are still asleep, I am already up and dealing with the chicken, curry paste, coconut milk and eggs that I bought the day before.  I like to buy the ingredients from the wet market and the one nearby has a shop run by an Indian lady who sells the curry powder mix, ground onions, garlic and ginger.

She told me to marinate the chicken by massaging the ginger and garlic paste into the thawed chicken for an hour or so.

Another important thing to do is the cook the curry paste in some oil in a wok to bring out the flavors of the spices.  I also realize that if that is not done, then the rawness of the ginger, garlic and onions can still be picked out.  Of course the caramelization of the onions will not occur as fully as it should.

 

Chicken curry

So here it is – marinated chicken in the pot.  What I had missed here is to fry the paste (portion that wasn’t used in the marinating).  So I did that in a separate pan.

 

Chicken curry

The outcome is this.  Notice I also added in hard boiled eggs – a tradition handed down from my family.  But I wonder where it originated from – lots of people are surprised when they scoop up an egg.  Hey, what do you expect from a pot of chicken?

The recipe

Part I – Ingredients

  • Chicken x1 (chopped to smaller parts)
  • Curry paste (For meats).  Preferably buy from a local wet market (if in Singapore).  The paste I buy has the dry curry spices as well as a separate packet of ginger-garlic paste and separate packet of shallot (onion) paste
  • I small packet of coconut milk
  • Spices – cloves, cinnamon bark, star anise, cardamom
  • Oil
  • Salt to taste
  • Coriander leaves
  • 5 hard boiled eggs
  • 5 Potatoes, peeled.  Starchy or waxy are fine – both kinds add a different texture when attacking the potatoes.  However the starchy ones tend to break down faster but leave a nice thickness to the gravy.

Part II – method

  • Marinate the chicken with half the ginger-garlic paste for like 1 hour before.
  • Add some oil and brown the marinated chicken for about 10 mins and remove
  • Meantime, heat up some oil and add some whole spices (cloves, cinnamon bark, star anise, cardamom) and fry till fragrant.
  • Add in the remaining ginger-garlic paste with the onion paste and add the curry powder.  Mix in the wok in a low heat till the fragrant.  I think that would be about 5-10 mins.
  • Add in the chicken and mix well till the curry covers the chicken well.  The chicken at this point would have started to cook and will break apart easily so its time to add in water and the peeled potatoes.
  • Add in water till it has a curry-like consistency of your choice.  I prefer mine like a gravy.
  • Now its time to cover the pot and leave the heat to low.  Slow cooking makes the meat more tender – the faster the protein denatures in the high heat will result in a rubber like consistency with rushed curries.  Open the pot occasionally to stir the curry.  After about an hour of this, the curry is about done.
  • Now stir in the salt to taste and finally add coconut milk.  I usually add about half of the packet but if you like the curry richer, then add the entire packet.  Its all about customizing it to your own taste.  Once all these have been done, you can add in the hard boiled eggs and garnish with a generous bunch of coriander leaves.  I think the ammonia from the eggs do something nice to the taste.
  • Note:  The coconut milk should be added in at the end.  I add salt at the end as the salt can draw out the water from the chicken at the start and leave it less succulent.
  • Coriander leaves top the curry off very well.
  • Now you can eat it.  Best with rice or for me, the french loaf.

For a more complete recipe from scratch, the page at rasamalaysia.com looks quite authentic.  But I think the idea is perhaps to keep this simple and then vary it according to your taste.  I remember meeting Otterman halfway up Gunung Belumut with a pack of curry powder and a packet of chicken so that he could cook chicken curry for his friends when they reached the summit and set up camp.

The curry chicken with hard boiled eggs is something of a memory vessel for me – my parents used to lug a huge pot of curry with hard boiled eggs, armed with several large baguettes (french loaves) and a long day of inspecting rock pools would end with some curry by the sea.

soccer by the beach

 

 

 

Pedals

I cranked up the Mac and fired up Garageband ’11 and as I fiddled with guitar settings I was pleasantly surprised to see the pedal effects on the right.  The new Garageband version 6.0.4 is really a vast improvement and importantly in its sound.  The guitar sounds cleaner and the effects do what they are meant to (meaning they sound like the real thing).   However, I am still a little disappointed with the Wah effects; its hard to replicate the Cry baby wah sound so when you add wah effect it sounds a bit too mild.  While the interface for the pedals are pleasing, its really difficult to rotate the knobs using the mouse – perhaps a straight forward vertical or horizontal sliding level would suffice.

GB

 

Ladies’ Kisses – almond cookies with chocolate in the middle

This almond cookie is easy to make and very very sinful.  After I baked it, the food frenzy that ensued was a blur.  I regret eating it, I think.  One can only eat two of these at a time.  We all had 3 or 4.

The recipe comes from this book called – The Cookie Book by Catherine Atkinson.  This book has nice pictures of each of the recipes written; I don’t understand cooking books without pictures.  The recipe can be found here in the blog: ” A year of cookies“.  (Interestingly the person who blogged this did just that – bake cookies 365 days!).  I can’t imaging doing that without getting sugar overload.  The sugars in some cookies can make up close to a quarter or a third of the calories in the cookie.  See how sugar cubes literally stack up in the calorie charts of different cookies here.

Ladies' Kisses

The dough is easy to make.  It’s just sugar, flour, almond, an egg, vanilla extract and butter.  It needs to rest for 2 hours in the fridge before you take it out and roll them into balls.

Ladies' Kisses

After you pop them into the oven to wait for 20 mins, you can melt the chocolate by double boiling, i.e., in a bowl over a pan of water that is being heated.

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The cracks form on top of the cookies after 20 mins in the oven.  The smell of roasted almonds permeating the kitchen is quite something.

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The fun part is to spread the melted chocolate in-between the cookies to make a sandwich.  This makes the cookie irresistible.

Ladies' Kisses

Freshly baked cookies are so distracting to kids who have to do homework.

Ladies' Kisses

I think I made them a bit bigger than its suppose to be but still I think the size is attractive.

Ladies' Kisses

This is one of the easiest cookies to make but looks like lots of effort been put in because the cookies sandwich the chocolate middle .  Excellent recipe and great tasting cookie too.  The almonds come through nicely and the smell highly delectable as the almonds get roasted.  They are a bit too sweet for me to have more than 2 at a time so I would suggest using a chocolate that is semi or non-sweetened.

 

 

Bishan Park ride to collect cake

Cycling to collect a cake is a great reason to commute on a bike.  So my mum asked if I wanted half a log cake… why of course.  So Josh and I were off…. swoosh.

Josh with his Polygon

When we reached there, I discovered my sister and Jon were back from their honeymoon in NZ and a what a nice way to catch up over some kway chap.  Noodle boy loves his noodles flat or round.

Breakfast with the honeymooners

She asked me where I would be bringing the kids in the afternoon and I thought Science centre or prawn fishing.  Somehow the cookie crumbled towards fishing.  My sis feeling bored, decided to tag along.  This farm is in Pasir Ris.  It is the least crowded and the atmosphere is pretty laid-back.

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Its pretty fun.  Matt does well sitting there for an hour without whining.

Mindfulness…

It must be the rainy weather – it lulls me into a good meditative mood ever since young.

To be mindful is to be highly aware of the moment and also in the moment – distracted neither by the past nor the future.  It takes a few calm breaths of awareness to achieve this and once it is achieved, a flower can be better appreciated… aisehman.

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“People usually consider walking on water or in thin air a miracle. But I think the real miracle is not to walk either on water or in thin air, but to walk on earth. Every day we are engaged in a miracle which we don’t even recognize: a blue sky, white clouds, green leaves, the black, curious eyes of a child — our own two eyes. All is a miracle.” 
― Thich Nhat Hanh

Penang food – love

When I heard people extol the deliciousness of Penang food, I didn’t think much of it.  I have been there, but when I was about 5; so food didn’t figure much unless it was cotton candy or hmmmm… I can’t remember what I liked to eat as a kid; perhaps chicken rice.  So anyway, this trip with the family that was meant to be a getaway turned out to be a food epiphany; and so I join in the chorus of Penang food extolment.  And curiously, the atmosphere in Penang is something I have missed very much in Singapore… I must have misplaced that feeling, which somehow, became buoyant in Penang.

Perhaps less words and some pictures.

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Let’s start with the dish that blew our palates away – The Char Koay Teow.  This was for me the epitome of the epiphany.  It didn’t help that I had to chopstick-fight my way to the noodles but luckily my kids are not so wieldy with the chopsticks so I could shovel more kway teow than they.  They food was still hot even as we polished it off.  Must be the one plate of food cooked in one wok at a time OR we finished it so fast it didn’t have time to cool.

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Talk about not waiting for food to cool.  Josh loses patience with thermodynamics and gets his palate owned by the oyster omelette.  Serves him right.

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Oyster omelette

I can’t quite put my finger on it but although we have the same type of food in Singapore, the taste of the counterpart food in Penang just tastes lighter, more flavourful, in the correct portion and gives you that “just can’t get enough of it” feeling.  Am I biased?  Can’t be.  I read in a Penang cook book I borrowed from NLB that each plate of food is cooked individually in the wok so that it gets the right amount of heat.  It must be such subtle practice that adds up.  Read this interview on Asiaone with Chef Loh Hong Chye (of Copthorne King’s Hotel), a Penang-born PR in Singapore.

On the Penang dish that he missed, he said:

“I miss the or luak (oyster omelette) from home. The kind sold here is dry and crispy but the Penang version is softer and more moist. The or luak in Penang also has Thai fish sauce added to it, which lends it a stronger flavor.”

I couldn’t help but detect a Thai influence in Penang cuisine.  Most of the sauces and soups have a sweet-sour flavour; tamarind features strongly in dishes like the Penang Assam Laksa of course (assam is the malay epithet for tamarind).  See this review of the Penang Heritage Book in the Kuali.com.

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Josh is 9 but eats like a pig.  His favorite is anything with noodles.  Here he is vacillating from noodle to noodle.  Left – Hokkien mee and Right – Penang Assam Laksa.

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Chicken Satay – can anything be more balanced in flavour?  I can’t remember how the chicken tasted like but the sauce was wicked.  Having been accustomed to the rich peanut sauce dip in Singapore, I was pleasantly surprised by this sauce – light, sweet and sour.  An explosion of flavours.  With family it is okay to double dip, or quadruple dip.

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One with the satay or Steve Jobs would say groking the satay.

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Okay, so bangers and mash doesn’t really belong to Penang but hey, they even do this well at the Hawker centre.

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We were by the famous Gurney Drive hawker centre one of the days but didn’t get a chance to try out the Pasembur, or Indian rojak.  Well, next time then!

 

Afterthought

Well this youtube video is hilarious, the dancing stall owner selling the Pasembur.  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a9I1qyjEXKA

 

Chocolate cake in a hurry

I got this recipe from this ABC Queensland website.  It’s super fast and easy to do and turns out pretty decent.  Moist enough and no bitter taste from the leavening (must be the sugar and Tudor Gold Cocoa powder.  The kids love to help out in baking and of course eat the cake. Cooking is an excellent way to bond with the kids.  I use a non-stick baking pan and I grease with butter.  I give the icing a miss though.  It takes about 10-15 mins to prepare and 30 mins to bake.

You need:
1 cup self-raising flour
2-3 tablespoon cocoa powder
1 cup caster sugar
2 eggs
1/2 cup milk
90g. butter, melted
1 teaspoons vanilla essence

Method:
1. Pre-heat oven to 180deg.C. Grease a 20cm ring tin.

2. Sift flour and cocoa powder into a bowl. Add remaining ingredients and beat with electric mixer for 3 minutes. Pour mixture into prepared tin and bake for about 30 minutes or until cake springs back when lightly pressed. Remove from oven and stand for 5 minutes before turning out onto a wire cake rack to cool completely. Dust cake heavily with icing sugar before serving, or if time allows, coat with chocolate icing.

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There is a cake frenzy in the back ground… even the lego characters are flat out on their back.  Cake has a nice crust on top, nice chocolately taste that is not too overwhelming and not dry at all.  I think I didn’t beat this cake enough though.

Sungei Buloh in December – great time to go!

One of the nicest time to be in Sungei Buloh is in December.  This December is no exception but it has been extra nice as the weather has become mild yet cool.  The star attraction, of course, are the migratory birds.  Its fun looking at them, taking pictures and listening to their calls.  Sungei Buloh is well equipped with posters, guidebooks and drawings that you can almost learn what you see without a guide.  But you need to be patient.  The bird hide is such a lovely place to sit and stare at wildlife; especially at this time of the year when it is cool.

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Here are some egrets and storks (Milky stork perhaps).  The white in front of the brown and green is just so lovely to look at.

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Some nice waders (they look like the Common Greenshank)  See this guide from the Sungei Buloh Nature Reserve website to differentiate the waders.

I thought my kids would be interested in the waders but the Malayan monitor lizards were more exciting for them.  These lazy lounging lizards are easily encountered along the trails and even at the entrance of the reserve.

 

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They spot another one sliding – what an adventure!  Will these monitor lizards eat them up, they wonder.  Matt forgets that he wants to go to eat ice-cream.

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“I have got my eye on you…” thought the largish lizard.  The size of this makes everyone think its a crocodile.  Nice.

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A feeling of excitement as the kids circumnavigate the reptilian threat.

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These lizards aren’t sleepy all they time. When they manage to rouse, they can engage in fights among themselves, clawing each others’ back in the process.

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This is the first time I see the Cymbidium flowering.  What a lovely wild orchid, unaltered from hybridization by man.  It looks naturally beautiful.

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This is an Orb Web spider.  This one is almost 4-5 cm long from head to the end of the abdomen.

 

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Above it are probably males or they might just be spiders hanging out on the web for scraps of food.  Its always a nice thing to tell kids that the males become snacks for the female spiders after they kiss.

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The flowers hang down but the fruits face up.  Its interesting to note that the Simpoh Ayer turns its stalk after the fruit is ripe.  All the better for the pollen to fall on the bee and the fruits to be visible to birds I guess.

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It starts to rain but what a good time to get a coffee at the cafe that overlooks the pond.  Buy fish food for a dollar and get the pesky kids out of your hair for the moment.  Matt sticks out his hand to feel the pitter patter of the rain drops.  I used to do that when I was a kid, these days I just rather drink a coffee and stare into the rain.

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The rain stops and we get ready to leave.  By the pond is a Sonneratia alba tree. (you can tell which species it is of three species from this excellent website).  Apparently, the flowers of the Sonneratia attract the bats that pollinate the durian flowers.  So more Sonneratia more durian!  Also, this particular Sonneratia is the host trees for fireflies in Malaysia (Not sure if there are any at Sg Buloh though).  More of this wonderful tree from Ria Tan’s work.  Anyway, this tree with its persistent red stigma made me feel more Christmasy then the whole Orchard road waste of electricity light up.

 

 

 

Park Connector Ride – Bishan to Kallang waterside park

The road beckoned and I was eager to try out the new foldie to see how it would do on a long ride on Sunday. The Bishan-Kallang Park Connector Network (PCN) is a long stretch from Bishan and you can technically ride till Ford Road and hit the East Coast Park but there are the obstacles in the form of bridges; the road crossings are easy compared to having to carry your bike up an overhead bridge. Having said that some of the bridges have a narrow corridor for pushing you bikes beside the steps.

In a nutshell, after cycling to Kallang Riverside park and back; I had a most peaceful experience and importantly safe one, free from danger posed by traffic.

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Starting from Bishan Park

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The overhead bridge over Braddell Road.  Note the narrow “corridors” or slopes on either side of the steps that make it easier to push bikes up.  But even then, its going to be tough for smaller kids to push their bikes or wheelchairs to cross the road.  See this post on “Biking experiences” for some comments on the bike unfriendly bridges on this park connector – the blog is so interesting as he lugs his entire family with 3 small children on PCN rides!  His kids must be strong and healthy!

 

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The view that greets the eye is most pleasant and this part of the connector gives you a nice ride till St Andrew’s Village

 

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Those are the Potong Pasir HUDC flats.  The river here has a most peaceful look about it.

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This is the crossing for Potong Pasir Ave 1 – relatively quiet.  Usually people cross look like they’ve gone to the market on weekends.  The ride from this crossing will bring you along side the St Andrew’s village and the crossing there will be a little tough as the bridge is bike unfriendly.  (I am not sure about the road crossing although that seems like a distance away).

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Here are the instructions to cross the Jalan Toa Payoh and PIE.

 

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Here is the map of the crossing from the NParks website.

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The bridge is bike unfriendly but for someone keen to burn calories; it makes for a good workout.

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Calories are always lurking around the corner and there is an instant reward for that crossing –  a PRATA SHOP there at Moonstone Lane-Opal Crescent junction.  Excellent excuse to have a prata and kopi break.

 

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Another crossing to make but this time is a low bridge across the river

 

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This is a place to stop and take in the river flow.  Whie this PCN ride has lots of crossings, there are some over the rivers that make it quite a scenic ride.

 

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Is this a longkang (drain) or a bike groove?  I used it to guide my bike up and down the bridge.

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This sign is quite the 60s and I can hear P. Ramlee in the air if I close my eyes.  By this building there is one road crossing to make and then an overhead bridge before passing Kolam Ayer.

 

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This bridge has only one slope beside the steps for pushing your bike up.

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At the end of the Kolam Ayer stretch is a road crossing and then a very unlikely narrow passageway to continue the PCN.

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This is Boon Keng Road.

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Kallang MRT.  Somehow this landmark is where I always turn back.  Its like reaching the top of Bukit Timah Hill.  This time however I continue.

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To cross Kallang Road, you have to ride down to the traffic light at the junction of Kallang Road and Lorong 1 Geylang.  This is where you will get to the Kallang Riverside Park but the park is split into two by the Sungei Kallang.   I moved southwards using the eastern park and then explored then rode back the western park.   I found the latter to be nicer.  Its a bit quiet there so no really advisable to ride when its dark.

National Aerated Water Co Pte Ltd

The eastern River Side park is a bit of a bummer as it ends abruptly thanks to a few restricted areas. But there is the Nicoll Highway to use to cross over the the other side.  I used that to turn around. Would have loved to explore how to reach the East Coast Park but it was time to turn back.

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Odd.

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Licuala peltata - a very huge licuala.

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Fig trees seem to be immune to development in Singapore

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What’s left in a clearing are fig trees.

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The Tern Link P9 – such a smooth ride.

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Prata for the hungry people back home who probably were still sleeping at 11 am.

 

Some useful websites for the Bishan-Kallang Connector

http://www.nparks.gov.sg/cms/index.php?option=com_visitorsguide&task=parkconnectors&id=22&Itemid=74

http://thebookofshadow.blogspot.com/2011/02/boating-transversing-park-connectors.html

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o2omK1D0b8o