death by paper cut

{September 7, 2015}   A death in the family

An uncle my family has been close to was diagnosed with stage 4 stomach cancer that had already spread to his liver. This was three weeks ago; last night, he passed away. He was surrounded by his family and siblings and was courageous to the end. Since he came to know of his condition, he has been telling us not to be sad and to remember the good times we had. He got his estate in order and looked bravely towards the end.

What I immediately missed about my uncle though, is not the times we had, but the moments in the future that we will not, and I think he knew this too. He told me last week that he always buys Christmas presents for all his nieces and nephews but for my daughter, he wouldn’t be there to give her any.

Another heartbreaking thought that struck me is his absence at Chinese New Year gatherings henceforth. My uncle is probably the only relative I look forward to meeting at large family events, and now what will be most palpably felt is a hole in his shape, muted and immutable.

I do wish that Emma could have the chance to get to know him. I will let her know though, how much she is loved even by someone who she hasn’t gotten to know. And somehow, perhaps his love through my proxy can transcend place and time to reach her.

As a young child, I do remember my paternal grandmother’s funeral, but only cognitively and without much sentiment. Tonight is my uncle’s memorial service and tomorrow is the funeral at the crematorium. He is the first death in the family that I’ll personally grief for.

Though it will be sad for a while, I will not despair because he didn’t. Though we couldn’t have more time with him than we wanted, he managed to say his last goodbyes and bid each of us farewell in the week leading up to his last breath.

Unlike my uncle, we might not know the day or hour of our last breath, so do live prayerfully, speak peaceably and love deeply. I know he did.

A week ago on 1 May 2015, all I had was the hospital’s baby monitor in the Labour Ward to know that Emma was doing alright. Her strong and steady heart, beat through the night while I awaited her arrival by caesarean section. I was to get some rest before the operation but I couldn’t help checking the monitor every hour or so to reassure myself that Emma was hanging in there. Perhaps hanging on for dear life.

My water broke that night – one month early – which meant that she was to be born premature. By then, this didn’t come as a surprise because a week earlier, the gynae alerted us at what was supposed to be a non-eventful check-up that Emma’s growth had tapered off between 33 to 35 weeks, the amniotic fluid had decreased and most critically, the placenta had started degenerating… too early.

We understood what that meant.

We were to observe the situation for one week and highly likely arrange for the early delivery between 2 May to 9 May. It all hung in a balance – on the one hand it was important for the baby to develop as much as possible in the womb, but on the other hand time was running out because the placenta was shutting down.

The situation forced itself however when my water broke – Emma had decided it was time. With the hospital bag all packed, we calmly gathered some final items and made our way to the hospital.

From the time I was warded, the momentum at the hospital was set by the healthcare professionals. All I had needed to do was follow their lead and trust their good hands. I was given a jab of steroids to clear Emma’s lungs because at this point of time the baby’s lungs are still filled with fluid. The professionalism and attentiveness of the nurses was impressive. Their prompt response to my every need really did help to ameliorate anxiety.

The operating theatre where the caesarean section was to take place felt like an elaborate visit to the dentist. Because I knew the gynae and his medical team fairly well there was a lot less unknowns to fear. The administration of the spinal anesthetic was smooth and I managed to remain lucid the whole time. With her father suited in sterile garb and watching the procedure by my side, all I needed to do was wait for Emma to emerge and cry. Because of the complications of the placenta, we didn’t know what to expect. Fortunately the pediatrician standing by gave us the all clear. Although she was small, weighing a mere 1.96kg, she was doing fine and did not need further observation in the NICU.

Both of us were discharged 3 days later. Our challenge now is to ensure Emma’s steady and continued growth to help her catch up with full-term babies. Every day with her is a new reckoning of her miraculous resilience. I was further informed by the theatre assistant recently that her umbilical cord was thin and small – like the placenta, it was not functioning optimally. In fact, the cord snapped even before the placenta could be removed. We were so close.

Although a wee little one, Emma is very much loved by so many of our friends and family. Her grandparents especially have been unreservedly showering their care in very tangible ways to help her newly minted parents kick-start this journey. For which we are immensely grateful.

This year, I celebrate Mother’s Day with Emma turning one week old and surpassing her birth weight by 140 grams. From tomorrow, our new family will settle in a new routine with our day revolving around her feeds, and we wouldn’t have it any other way.

3 to 5 May 2015 - Gleneagles 16

Within a day, I visited two green spaces that are as vastly different as the East is from the West. In fact literally, Chinese & Japanese Gardens is located in the far west of Singapore and Pasir Ris Park in the far East.

As expected, Chinese & Japanese Gardens is highly manicured and landscaped as it is meant to be in fulfilling its function of providing a zen-like ambiance for the residents in its environs. Although managed by JTC and not NParks, there is still some effort in putting up sign-boards informing visitors more about the fauna that has made Chinese & Japanese Gardens a home.

Chinese & Japanese Gardens 5 Chinese & Japanese Gardens 6

With good jogging tracks meandering around water ways, shelters, amenities and themed structures, Chinese & Japanese Gardens is a Botanic Gardens of the West. Interestingly, the birds that roost at Chinese & Japanese Gardens are endemic to Singapore more than say the resident swans at Botanic Gardens.

Grey Heron and Milky Stork

Chinese & Japanese Gardens 46

Chinese & Japanese Gardens 48 Chinese & Japanese Gardens 45

Other critters; plantain squirrel, a clutch of apple snail eggs, spiders

Chinese & Japanese Gardens 43 Chinese & Japanese Gardens 39

Chinese & Japanese Gardens 37 Chinese & Japanese Gardens 38

Views from the 7-storey Pagoda, in which someone was actually playing the Chinese Flute.

Chinese & Japanese Gardens 11 Chinese & Japanese Gardens 12

Other areas

Chinese & Japanese Gardens 23 Chinese & Japanese Gardens 52

Chinese & Japanese Gardens 25 Chinese & Japanese Gardens 56

The Mangrove Boardwalk at Pasir Ris Park on the other hand is not as big, but is chock-a-block full of biodiversity. Although Pasir Ris Park lies on reclaimed land, the mangrove at the Boardwalk is a mature mangrove forest that was “preserved during reclamation and development by maintaining tidal inundation—rivulet was dug to connect the patch with Sungei Tampines.”

Pasir Ris Park Mangrove Boardwalk 30 Pasir Ris Park Mangrove Boardwalk 7

Easily spotted among the mangrove plants are the commonly seen Mudskippers and Mangrove Crabs scuttling along the mounds of Mud Lobsters.

Pasir Ris Park Mangrove Boardwalk 6

These mounds that can reach up to 3 metres are created by Mud Lobsters as they process heaps of mud and sand to eat tiny organic matter in the mud. Large volumes of mud need to be sieved through to obtain sufficient nutrition.

Mud Lobster digging helps the mangrove community by recycling material from deep in the mud, loosening the mud and allowing air and oxygenated water to penetrate the otherwise oxygen-poor soil. This facilitates the growth of mangrove seedlings. Experiments show that seedlings grow more quickly on mud lobster-processed soil. Other plants found commonly growing on the mounds include Sea Holly. (naturia)

Sea Holly

Pasir Ris Park Mangrove Boardwalk 11 Pasir Ris Park Mangrove Boardwalk 10

Unlike some mangrove plants, Sea Holly do not exclude salt at the root level. In fact, their sap is salty and excess salt is secreted through the leaves, to be removed by rain or wind. Sometimes, the salt can be seen as a white crystalline layer on the upper surface. (naturia)


Pasir Ris Park Mangrove Boardwalk 15

Pasir Ris Park Mangrove Boardwalk 17

Watch this 5 minute documentary of the Mudskipper by David Attenborough to see this strange fish walk, jump, fight, regurgitate mud and transport oxygen by the gulpful.

While it is commonly observed is that the Mud Lobster mounds provide shelter for small quartic creatures and a range of others adapted to live in these mini-habitats (naturia), what is not often seen is this baby Malayan Water Monitor Lizard perched inside one and peering out contently at us gawking boardwalkers.

Pasir Ris Park Mangrove Boardwalk 13

Pasir Ris Park Mangrove Boardwalk 14

Also not as often seen is the venomous Shore Pit Viper in plain sight.

Pasir Ris Park Mangrove Boardwalk 23

I explored the Pasir Ris Park Mangrove Boardwalk on a guided walk by the Naked Hermit Crabs while the visit to Chinese & Japanese Gardens was an independent jaunt. Either way, there is a lot of see, learn and appreciate in the green spaces of Singapore. And anything curious encountered can be brought to light with a google search.

Maybe you might even come across a pet Moluccan Cockatoo and a wedding entourage at your next boardwalk.

Pasir Ris Park Mangrove Boardwalk 31

{July 28, 2014}   Beyond the Sunny Island

Proverbially, Singapore is the sunny island set in the sea. However the sea and other islands of heritage beyond the shores of the sunny island are often neglected. Sentosa doesn’t really count in this context.

Singapore initially had more than 70 islands that are part of our sovereign nation. The number has changed over the years because of reclamation and the merging of islands to form larger land masses, and the creation of other artificial ones. Check out Wikipedia for the current list of islands.

I managed to have a closer look at two such land masses and learn a lot more about the past and present islands of Singapore through three ways. Firstly, by visiting the Pulau Balik exhibition – presently at the National Museum of Singapore to 10 August 2014 (it should be part of our Permanent Exhibits if you ask me). Secondly, by being the lucky few to have successfully registered for the Lighthouse Tour organised as a signature programme of Singapore Heritage Festival 2014. And thirdly, by kayaking to the southern islands with Kayakasia.

The housing estate where I have lived for nearly thirty years is situated very closely to the western coast of Singapore. So close that the three prominent smokestacks form the landmarks of the horizon from the apartment. When they burn at night, the orange fumes and gases emitted from the smokestacks look like the Eye of Sauron, just that there are three of them instead of one. Ruefully, they are called joss sticks in my family.

Blue Pandan Reservoir 1

Because Jurong Island is always in my periphery vision and sometimes, line of sight, coming along side it in a ferry enroute Sultan Shoal was highly interesting. Although to most others, this area must appear like a desolate industrial wasteland, which it is, it feels to me like an extension of my neighbourhood and a hop, skip and jump away from home, which it also is. Fascinating.

Singapore Heritage Festival - Lighthouse Tour 16

Singapore Heritage Festival - Lighthouse Tour 17 Singapore Heritage Festival - Lighthouse Tour 20

Jurong Island was officially opened in 2000 after the merging of 7 islands to serve as a base for more than 90 petroleum, petrochemical, and specialty petrol companies. The largest island among the 7 was Pulau Ayer Chawan. The three smokestack are standing on what was Pulau Seraya. In fact, the road the running near the smokestacks is Seraya Avenue.

Cluster of islands that formed Jurong Island, and Jurong Island now.

NMS - Balik Pulau 23 Singapore Heritage Festival - Lighthouse Tour 14

Just to the south-west of Jurong Island lies Sultan Shoal Lighthouse. Built in 1895, the Lighthouse is now unmanned and powered by solar energy.

Sultan Shoal Lighthouse

Singapore Heritage Festival - Lighthouse Tour 23

The highlight of the Lighthouse Tour was visiting Raffles Lighthouse on Pulau Satumu which is 23 km south-west of Singapore. It it also Singapore’s southernmost island. At 10 days at a stretch, two people are stationed at Raffles Lighthouse to supervise its operations. Except for the lack of internet connection, Raffles Lighthouse is self-sufficient with electricity, running water and basic amenities.

Normally closed off to the public, access to Raffles Lighthouse is highly restricted. It was therefore a very rare opportunity made possible in this collaboration between NHB and MPA to allow people to set foot on Pulau Satumu and ascend the 90 steps to the beacon.

Raffles Lighthouse on Pulau Satumu

Singapore Heritage Festival - Lighthouse Tour 31

Singapore Heritage Festival - Lighthouse Tour 36

Singapore Heritage Festival - Lighthouse Tour 54 Singapore Heritage Festival - Lighthouse Tour 50

Singapore Heritage Festival - Lighthouse Tour 58 Singapore Heritage Festival - Lighthouse Tour 59

Singapore Heritage Festival - Lighthouse Tour 52

It took only 10 to 15 minutes for a leisurely stroll along the circumference of the 1.3 hectare large Pulau Satumu. The waters were clean and clear. At the jetty, I spotted a parrotfish and a baby shark.

After spending one hour exploring Raffles Lighthouse and Pulau Satumu, we boarded the ferry that took us back to the mainland. In total, the Lighthouse Tour took about more than 5 hours because traveling to Pulau Satumu from Pasir Panjang Terminal took 2 hours including a detour to Sultan Shoal, and another 1.5 hours from Pulau Satumu to Marina South Pier.

The Lighthouse Tour ballooned for me an expanded perspective of Singapore’s reach. While we go about our busy lives on the mainland, it is humbling to cast an eye in the far distance and know that out there, unsung heroes are keeping watch of our waters and safely leading approaching vessels to our habours as they have done for almost 160 years. Being a seafaring merchant, I wonder if my grandfather’s vessel depended on the flashes from these lighthouses from time to time.

Singapore Heritage Festival - Lighthouse Tour 3

My grandfather’s recent resurfacing of his travel documents is as far back as family archives go. I would like to have these translated sometime soon. He also had a travel document in Dutch when Batam was a Dutch colony.

1939 Certificate of Registration, China 2

1941 Dutch Identification for Batam 2

On another occasion this June, I explored on kayak the cluster of islands just to the south of Sentosa. Starting from Siloso Beach on Sentosa, we kayaked south-east to St John’s Island, continued along the south shores of Lazarus Island, headed northwards to Kusu Island and Pulau Seringat before returning to Sentosa along the beach fronts.

Southern Islands with Kayakasia 1 (Annotated by Kenneth Pinto)

The cluster of islands then and now.

NMS - Balik Pulau 7 Southern Islands with Kayakasia 31 - Pink Lagoon at Seringat Island

St John’s Island, Lazarus Island and Pulau Seringat have been linked up by overland bridges and expanded in size. Singapore Island Cruise operates ferry services from Marina South Pier to St John’s Island daily. Lazarus Island, Seringat Island and the man-made pristine cove are accessible via the link bridges.

I was told that the man-made pristine cove is called Pink Lagoon, however, I have yet to find any official name of this cove. The infographic at the Balik Pulau exhibit calls it the “800-metre long swimming lagoon” with no specific name either.

You need to bring your own supplies because there are no vendors selling food or beverages. There is a toilet at the reception area which is a short walk from the beach that looks to be in booking-ready conditions, outfitted with air-conditioning too.

Southern Islands with Kayakasia 25 - Pink Lagoon at Seringat Island Southern Islands with Kayakasia 27 - Pink Lagoon at Seringat Island

Southern Islands with Kayakasia 30 - Pink Lagoon at Seringat Island Southern Islands with Kayakasia 29 - Pink Lagoon at Seringat Island

Southern Islands with Kayakasia 19 - Pink Lagoon at Seringat Island

Southern Islands with Kayakasia 32 Southern Islands with Kayakasia 23 - Pink Lagoon at Seringat Island

The clear waters and fine sand makes for a picturesque island getaway comparable with an exotic resort destination, which is the intended effect. A webpage on Pulau Seringat posted by Wild Singapore has consolidated news clippings about developments on this expanded island.

Some key highlights I extracted from the webpage:

2000 –  The plan was to offer visitors a Mediterranean resort-like setting only 17 minutes away by ferry, patterned after Italy’s renowned vacation spot, Capri.

2004 – Details later revealed included plans for a five-star 290-room hilltop hotel, a three-star 170-room beachfront hotel, 70 waterfront homes and 1,700 units of housing. There was even talk of a road from Sentosa to the islands, or a causeway, like the one linking the mainland and Jurong Island.

2006 – Thousands of cubic metres of sand were imported from Indonesia to make the beach. Another $120 million was spent to bring water, electricity, gas and telecommunication infrastructure from Sentosa to the islands. 5,000 lorry-loads of soil were brought in by barges, an entire coconut plantation in Malaysia was bought, about 1, 000 trees was trucked and shipped to the island. This was part of the $60 million worth of reclamation and infrastructure work on the southern islands of Pulau Seringat, Kias, St John’s, Lazarus, Kusu and Sisters’ islands. One idea is to develop the islands into a ‘premium resort’, a getaway for the rich.

2008 – A third integrated resort was being considered. It will be on a smaller and more luxurious scale than either of the two resorts. Most of the development will likely be on 30 ha of reclaimed land at Lazarus, Renget and Kias Islands. The total development site, comprising all seven Southern Islands, adds up to 115.6 ha – almost a quarter the size of Sentosa Island.

All this means is that in the pipeline, there will be more pollution and waste generated alongside the destruction of biodiversity and increase exclusivity for the rich. If further development takes place, I doubt the zero carbon-footprint means of visiting these islands via kayak will be allowed in the future.

Embarking on Kusu Island on a quiet Saturday

Southern Islands with Kayakasia 17 Southern Islands with Kayakasia 10 - Kusu Island

Southern Islands with Kayakasia 15 - Kusu Island Southern Islands with Kayakasia 12 - Kusu Island

Link Bridges

Southern Islands with Kayakasia 8

Southern Islands with Kayakasia 5

Looking back – Singapore’s city skyline from St John’s Island

Southern Islands with Kayakasia 6 - St John's Island

In most Singaporean students’ lexicon, MacRitchie is synonymous with the Cross Country. I did it both in secondary school and JC and did put my best foot forward, trudging through the treks towards the promise of unadulterated, thick and chilled milo straight from the milo van. Even the condensation on the green milo paper cups looked thirst-quenching.

At no point however, was the flora and fauna on our minds. Even now on my occasional brisk walk through the 11km yellow loop, I don’t come across many animals beside the impassive long-tailed macaques.

It was at a slow walk through the short Venus Loop led by Chloe Tan of the Toddy Cats that many of the shy critters were spotted.

Macritchie Reservoir Park 127 - Map

Many-lined Sun Skink

Love MacRitchie Walk at Venus Loop - Led by Chloe Tan 22

Malayan Colugo

Love MacRitchie Walk at Venus Loop - Led by Chloe Tan 28

Simpoh Air with seeds not yet eaten by birds or monkeys

Macritchie Reservoir Park 96


Macritchie Reservoir Park 126

Monitor Lizard

Macritchie Reservoir Park 127

Long-Tailed Macaques stretching out on the boardwalk

Macritchie Reservoir Park 124

Emerging new leaves

Macritchie Reservoir Park 104

Biodiversity is everywhere, we just need to bid our time to observe, listen and stop to smell the flowers.


I attended a MacRitchie Awareness Walk on 26 July 2014 led by stalwarts of Singapore’s green spaces Subaraj Rajathurai and others. The Spiderman of Singapore, Joseph Koh also come along and lent us his expertise and sharp eye for spiders.

The 7km route started from Lornie Road and ended at Venus Drive.

MacRitchie Awareness Walk (26 July 2014) 1 - Lornie Road to Venus Drive (7km)

The walk began with Serin, Subaraj’s son scooping up an Oriental Whip Snake for us to have a closer look. Although the Oriental Whip Snake appeared calm being passed on among the walk participants and safely returned to the nature reserve, I wouldn’t recommend randomly touching the wildlife especially without expert supervision.

MacRitchie Awareness Walk (26 July 2014) 8 - Oriental Whip Snake

MacRitchie Awareness Walk (26 July 2014) 12 - Oriental Whip Snake

The reflection of the morning sun upon the dewy grass makes the lawn wolf spider‘s lair easy to spot. In each sheet-web lies the solitary lawn wolf spider awaiting its prey such as grasshoppers to be caught in the gossamer.

MacRitchie Awareness Walk (26 July 2014) 23 - Wolf Spider

Here is a somewhat cross-section of lawn wolf spider’s sheet web spun around a shrub of nodding clubmoss.

MacRitchie Awareness Walk (26 July 2014) 25 - Wolf Spider

Other species of spiders spotted are the Argiope catenulata, a variant of the St. Andrew’s Cross spider…

MacRitchie Awareness Walk (26 July 2014) 30 - Argiope Catenulata

MacRitchie Awareness Walk (26 July 2014) 28 - Argiope Catenulata

and the Golden Orb Web Spider

MacRitchie Awareness Walk (26 July 2014) 31 - Golden Orb Web Spider

MacRitchie Awareness Walk (26 July 2014) 32 - Golden Orb Web Spider

Dragonflies, butterflies and moths were fluttering about too.

MacRitchie Awareness Walk (26 July 2014) 47 MacRitchie Awareness Walk (26 July 2014) 46 MacRitchie Awareness Walk (26 July 2014) 45

Indigo Dropwing Dragonfly

MacRitchie Awareness Walk (26 July 2014) 49 - Indigo Dropwing Dragonfly

Trumpet Tail Dragonfly

MacRitchie Awareness Walk (26 July 2014) 50 -  Trumpet Tail Dragonfly

To keep up to date with future walks, check out those organised or publicised at the Love Our MacRitchie Forest webpage.

MacRitchie Awareness Walk (26 July 2014) 16 MacRitchie Awareness Walk (26 July 2014) 38 MacRitchie Awareness Walk (26 July 2014) 40

et cetera

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