Singapore is a city, an island and a country. Small in size but with a population of 5 million people. I found Singapore very green, humid and…unfortunately very hazy. But also with striking architecture, old colonial houses and the sometimes surreal new buildings and stunning structures such as the Supertree Grove in the Gardens by the Bay.
As the haze was so prominent during my visit I have to mention this issue. I stayed at first with Joe and his friends and his flat that has this amazing view over looking the Gardens by the Bay. This huge recreational park area created from a vision Singapore had, to transit from “A city with a garden” to become “A garden with a city” opened in 2011.
I had envisioned sitting on the balcony looking out over all this splendour, but unfortunately the haze was so bad that most days we couldn’t even have the doors to the balcony open. The haze is seasonal apparently and is the smoke that drifts in from, mostly illegal, slash-and-burn fires in Sumatra and Kalimantan in Indonesia, when clearing away peat-land and precious rainforest to make way for plantations for the lucrative palm oil trade. This smoke spreads widely and affects many countries in South East Asia.
Joe monitored daily the PSI (Pollutants Standards Index) levels that measures the air quality and this year the haze was worse than ever apparently. Facemasks were de rigueur when venturing outside on the days when the levels were between 200 – 300 PSI, which is when the rates are cranked up to Very Unhealthy from merely Unhealthy. One day all the schools were closed because of the haze being so bad, so I guess that the rate was over 300 PSI meaning Hazardous.
I find all this very distressing! And the fact that this is an on going phenomenon that appears every year I find mind-blowing. Who are behind these fires? Why are they so difficult to stop? The huge amount of people and animals that suffer from them. The amount of rain forests, the natural habitat of Indonesia’s orangutans or as they are called here orang utans, that are being destroyed. These precious rainforests that are also the lungs of our planet…
The Gardens by the Bay have two enormous domes of which one is the Cloud Forest with a 35-meter-tall-mountain inside.
Entering there was like stepping into a totally new world, with waterfalls, lush vegetation and CLEAN fresh and cool air.
What a relief being in here and just breathe! It was so nice to walk down the ”mountain” in a mist of fresh air.
One gets to see close up the plant life from tropical highlands up to 2,000-metres above sea level. It really showcases the clever way nature is constructed. How each delicate plant supports another, to cleanse the water and thus the air, whirling around as a thin mist of mini-droplets.
Cloud forests make up about 2,5% of the worlds tropical forests. And a huge concentration of the world’s plant and animal species live here. Many live nowhere else.
But it also showed the dangers these fragile environments are facing today. This became apparent just by looking through the glass panels of the conservatory. Clean air is a gift. Being in the current haze has made me acutely aware of this.
These huge glass domes are sustainable. They collaborate with the Supertrees outside that help them capture solar energy and they also works as exhausts. And the discarded plats material provides them with energy that cool the air. Well eventually I had to venture outside to reality but it was a great break.
The Marina Bay Sands isn’t only a hotel as I first naively thought. It’s a integrated resort which I learnt is: a 2561-room hotel, the world’s largest atrium casino with 500 tables, a convention-exhibition centre, a shopping mall, a museum, two theatres, 7 ”celebrity chef” restaurants, two floating Crystal Pavilions, a skating rink and on the rooftop a 340-metre-long infinity swimming pool!
How they fit in all of this in I do not know since it also is masses of open air in the ”legs” providing it with a cathedral-like feeling.
This kind of place does little for me but the architecture is remarkable. Like a huge spaceship rising out of the park in the haze.
My housemates were amused that I, as an adult, wanted to go the zoo without even a child as a disguise. But I felt very strongly a need to go and visit the orang utans so I went there one day. Singapore Zoo is very green of course and is situated to the north of this very small country, beautifully on a small peninsular of it’s own.
I spent most of my time there looking at these wonderful relatives of ours, peacefully going about their days.
Their use tools such as a long straw of grass to fetch water within a hollow stone. And the ”kids” watch and learn.
Their children play just like ours do.
They all have their own personality. Some are playful and mischievous. Others serious. Serene. Staring at them made me feel embarrassingly like a voyeur.
There are now only 7 500 wild orang utans left in Sumatra. A highly endangered species and this is so sad.
The Supertrees made me feel a bit like being in the movie Avatar. They are fantastic in themselves standing some 30-50 meters high.
But the magic starts really as the daylight fades and dusk comes. Then they light up and become quite spectacular.
The people that are not on treetop level gather under them and enjoy that changing of the colours accompanied by music. A great way to end a day.
Copyright and photo: Anita Martinez Beijer