Thursday, June 21, 2007


I have been fond of animals and wildlife since I was a child but my interest in monitor lizards started when I came upon many that live around my home airport. Seletar Airport is like a wilderness area. Most Singaporeans have never explored the vast area that surrounds the airport except for the two golf courses situated there. Driving around, they usually get lost and I have bailed out a few with directions! Taxi drivers inevitably get lost going to any other area of the airport except a few of them who only know how to get to the main passenger terminal.

The vast grassy areas, shady trees and water hazard created for the golf courses and the Seletar reservoir itself has provided ideal conditions for the Asian monitor lizards to live. That’s where I met a fair share of them, either basking around or lazily taking an early morning walk on the golf links. My fascination for these creatures prompted me to look for them in Sungei Buloh, about which I wrote earlier. We were sharing the same space, the monitors and us, but I did not for a minute think that I’d have the privilege of a close encounter.

It so happened that one day I spotted a baby monitor lizard just outside my office, on the grassy area, probably foraging for food. The lizard was fairly small and I had to go up close, really slow so as to not upset the creature, to be absolutely sure that what I was seeing was a monitor lizard and not something else. It was obviously a baby and I then stopped to look around and make sure mama wasn’t around to bite me in the backside while I stalked her baby. My colleagues kept a watch as well, how nice of them, they'd have run away if they'd spotted mama for sure.

Many days went by and the baby monitor still stayed around the same area and we never saw the mother, if at all she was around. We decided that she was going to be our mascot(I think she’s a female because she’s so cute). She did not seem to be perturbed by being so close to humans and she endeared herself to us even more by her proximity. I decided that she be named Molly. I just took the first half of Monitor and first part of Lizard resulting in MO-LI, a little corruption of that word resulted in ‘Molly’ a perfectly girly name at that.

One day, we were returning from lunch and found her inexplicable stuck behind our air conditioning compressor. Whacking myself on the back of my head for not having my camera handy, I had to quickly dig out the mobile phone to take some pictures of Molly from up-close. The phone provided poor quality pictures but something is better than nothing. I had done a bit of research on the net about the way molly lives and their general behavior. When approached at close quarters by other species that seem like predators to them, the monitors are known to puff their head, puff their necks (like a sack hanging from the throat) and emit a hissing sound. They are also known to use their long whip like tail to lash out. Well, that’s what molly did to me when I got too close to her from under the aircon compressor. She did all of the above and then turned her backside and whipped me so hard that I had her tail indentation on my fingers for a while! It felt like a leather whip to be exact. My close encounter left me completely thrilled and elated.
The puffed up throat!

I’d never been whipped by an animal before, not unless you count the swipe a leopard took and the ‘Mrs’ joyfully (another animal aficionado) took pictures of that, with the paw midair and me with a silly grin dodging it! Since that animal wasn’t a wild one and the swipe had not connected to any part of me, I guess I can’t count that one as close encounters of the third kind (sorry Spielberg). But let’s not get sidetracked here. Molly left a deep impression on me (literally) and my respect for all species other than our own was reinforced.

Molly was the inspiration for me to go and look for more of them in Sungei Buloh. I saw Molly yesterday, she’s grown a bit more and she was lazily walking on the grass. When we stopped the car to see her, she stopped in her tracks to look back at us before sauntering away. I hope she hangs around here for a long time, becomes 7 feet long and continues to be our mascot.

Thursday, June 14, 2007


Recently the movie “Pirates of the Caribbean” was released, for those who have watched the series this was another fun movie and features what is supposed to be medieval Singapore. That was fiction but Singapore celebrated the pirate theme by organizing a River Raft Race on the Singapore River at Clarke Quay with some of the participants dressed up like pirates and flying the “skull flag”.

The event is basically to race free-style hand made rafts that are all not sea (or river) worthy and they are built by various groups of people supported and sponsored by the Singapore Polytechnic. The rafts were made from bamboo, recycled water cans, tires, drums and pretty much whatever material that can stay afloat-although a lot of them that were designed to float actually didn’t and ended up soaking the participants. The race was only on a 100 meter stretch of water. The idea was to have fun, raise funds for charity and spread awareness (more on that later) and that’s what everyone did, the participants and the onlookers.

Organizers and saftey canoes before the race

The river raft event has been going on for the last 19 years and it was originally conceived as an awareness campaign for keeping the Singapore River clean and navigable. The atmosphere was that of a carnival, accompanied by music and DJ’s from local radio stations providing interesting tit bits of information and live commentary of the race.

A "poor" pirates' raft for sure

People had gathered in large numbers to either participate or to encourage those who were participating and it was great fun to hear remarks from by-standers who were desperately cheering on some of the teams that were half submerged and trying desperately to find movement, other than going around in circles. There was no shortage of imagination when it came to raft building and the participant’s sense of humor. To cap it all, the day turned out to be beautiful, nice, clear, sunny, after days of rainfall and cloudy weather.

Will this float? Will this win? asking questions...

Rafts lined up

These Viking pirates needed to be towed..

A painting competition was organized for kids of various age groups and many of the budding artists sat by the riverside drawing and painting the raft race as they saw it. There was rock climbing events on a simulated rock wall of course, netball competitions and food and heritage tours as part of the event.

Kids at the river side 'drawing' the race

Rafts at the starting grid

I thought you'd find hippos in rivers, here's a rhino though!

Ferrari's got more competition than from just Lewis Hamilton!

Jaws-this one went in circles and almost sank!

I’d like to add that As fund-raising is very much a part of Raft Race, a sum of $83,724 was collected for this year's beneficiaries - Autism Children's Centre, The Salvation Army Haven Children's Home, Clementi Student Service Centre and Singapore Polytechnic's Overseas Community Service Program.

Friday, June 08, 2007


Snapshot-5 is about the Singapore Arts Festival that's going on from the 25th May through the 24th of June 2007. The Arts festival is a combination of Dance (various dance forms and fusion), Music and theatre. The festival offers an audio-visual extravaganza for a variety of art connoisseurs. Information about the location, timings, dates and other details can be found on their website:

The padang area in front of the old supreme court and a view of Singapore's finance district

The opening night was actually 3 nights in a row (perhaps I should call it “opening nights”) i.e. the 25-27 of May. The opening nights event was free to everyone and was organized in an open area called the Padang. The Padang is a grassy field opposite some of Singapore famous landmark buildings such as the old Supreme Court, which I learn, is going to be a new Art Museum. I cannot think of a better use for the elegant colonial building.

The pre-show crowd

The opening nights featured an event called “Dreams in Flight” performed by La Fura dels Baus from Spain. A similar aerial performance was conducted by the same group at the last Barcelona Olympic Games opening ceremony. The show featured Artists suspended in a rotating huge steel disk that was maneuvered on top of the heads of spectators, to the accompaniment of music. The sound system and the visual background screens with projections were excellent.

The hospitality tent

I observed Singaporeans from all walks of life and in all age groups including older people in wheel chairs, had turned up to watch the event. It is great to know that so many people back an Arts Festival here. We were sitting/standing next to a group of somewhat elderly group who were enjoying themselves quite a bit. There were kiosks offering free water (called Newater) and brochures for the various events on offer during the entire Arts Festival month. Singapore has few reservoirs and few rivers and has to rely on neighboring Malaysia for potable water before they are treated here for public supply. Anyway, the older people were joking about the origins of Newater and that’s why no one bought these and hence distributed at most events for free! Testing has proved that Newater is indeed potable.

Wheel in the skies with artists performing while it was rolling and rotating over the crowds

The older couple next to us remarked that the water on offer was “Newater” and wanted to know if we knew anything about it. Sure we did, being nosy characters and wanting to know about everything. And for those who do not know what Newater is, here’s a small digression from the main topic- New Water is actually recycled water, treated water from waste water etc. The PUB (a Government body) has brought in technology that has previously been in use in the US, UK and Australia to supplement the potable water supply in Singapore.

La Fura dels Baus (Spain), the artists who were in the giant wheel

Aerial dancers

Fire works with Aerial dancers

Back to the Arts festival now and the aerial event included, a group of Singaporean volunteers who had undergone training recently, being suspended 40 feet in the air from a crane, strapped to a net, performing aerial dances. Various lights were focused on them and during the last part of their act, massive fireworks were launched, lighting up the skies. It was meant to project optimism about the event and about life itself in the years to come. I am sure that the theme for such an opening was also to give art a fun image, art is fun, art is bold, art is interactive, brings people together and is an expression of hope.

Saturday, June 02, 2007


(Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve Entrance)

Many Singaporeans have heard of Sungei Buloh but many of them have not yet visited the place, including most of my colleagues at the company I work. We are all aviators but not all animal lovers. One weekend we set of on a trip to the North Western part of Singapore, mentioned in detail in Snapshot – 3, my previous post. Getting there by public transportation is the same as getting to Bollywood veggies, in fact, Sungei Buloh is the first stop on the bus after Kranji MRT.

(Monitor Lizards aplenty)

Sungei Buloh wetland reserve is the only place in Singapore where estuarine crocodiles exist. The park officials are not sure how many there are exactly and they are always looking for volunteers to help spot them. The trouble is, is that these animals are very elusive. What you will find in plenty, are birds, fish (mud fish in particular), during low tides, water monitor lizards and mosquitoes! It is a wetland reserve after all. Last time I saw plenty of mud fish was while taking a boat ride on the Malacca River in Malacca, Malaysia.

Sungei Buloh wetland reserve has a website that describes in detail about the park and its activities. A link with pictures about the Kranji bus service is also available on their site:

We did a lot of trekking through the park, on well marked and maintained trails. The park has put up enough observation shelters where one can “hide” and watch the wildlife in action. Wetland reserves are a very important part of the eco-system. In a steel and glass city state like Singapore, this is hardly what one expects but it is here all right, waiting for wildlife enthusiasts to come and leave behind only their footprints and nothing else please. We visited mid afternoon and thanks to the trees, shrubs and water all around, the heat wasn’t oppressive and there was plenty of natural shade on the walking trails.

(Did not see this guy, just the sign board warning that he is around)

I have to make repeated trips there for sure. My day will be made when I spot at least one croc in the wild here at the Sungei Buloh reserve. I’ve seen them everywhere else, but not here, not so far.

(Mud fish, posing for me)

Monitor lizards are found in good numbers in Singapore, even in Seletar Camp, a part of the Seletar Airport. A close encounter with one of them, a baby actually, got me to do some research and visit the Sungei Buloh wetland reserve. Apparently these creatures (Asian Monitors) were found all over Asia in the past, including India where they have now been reduced to almost nothing, population wise. India’s growing poachers, lack of will and general apathy has led to the decline of even the greatest of them all – the tiger. What chance does a monitor lizard have? Hunted for their meat and skins just as other species, they are marked for extinction there. Interestingly, they don’t figure on the endangered species list either.

A general tip: wear loose clothing, full arm if possible and ensure that you have drinking water, mozzie spray and sunblock if you are prone to burning up easily. It is a good idea anyway.

(Monitor basking on an incline)

(Part of the reserve from the Tower)

(One of the Observation Towers)

The visitor center has a museum of sorts, and class rooms where educational programs are conducted about the reserve. The area around the visitor center is literally crawling with Monitor lizards and some of them are really big.

(Monitor who chased people! Never seen that before!)

When leaving the reserve, we saw a big monitor, like Godzilla, charge a group of visitors and sent them running on the boardwalk, screaming. It was a mock charge of course, it’s their territory and they don’t want us invading, for sure. For my close encounter with what’s almost certain to be our mascot, a baby monitor at Seletar, that’s a short post coming up in a couple of days.