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Trip 35 -- Kangaroo Island and Singapore Walks

Singapore day 3: Bukit Gombak to Clementi
Sunday, March 12, 2023

Today: 50495 steps/40.07 km/24.90 mi/7h 30m
Total: 137188 steps/110.62 km/68.74 mi/20h 11m

Lars's place was less than a two-hour walk from today's hotel by the shortest route, but taking such a route would have meant omitting the entire western blob of Singapore island. To continue a good-faith counterclockwise perimeter walk, I had to head back north to the shore and cross over the Kranji Dam before proceeding south.

I knew today would be the longest of the five Singapore walking days, but I'd gotten to bed late and had no need to arrive early, so I let myself wake up naturally. That happened around seven, and as I prepared to leave, I saw all of Lars's roommates, all up early on a Sunday. There was even one more woman I hadn't seen yesterday. She gave me a brief I-didn't-know-there-would-be-anyone-on-the-coach look and I responded with a how-many-other-people-is-he-hiding-back-there look, a tidy exchange too succinct to be supplemented by spoken greetings.

The only person I didn't see was Lars, who had had trouble sleeping. I showed his mother where I was leaving the key and headed down the elevator a little after eight, which gave me about nine minutes of cool air before the sun started blazing fiercely.

I was heading north, and there were tall apartment buildings on both sides of the street, so I stayed on the right side to maximize shade even though the layout of the neighborhood meant I'd be hitting more traffic lights on that side. I passed restaurants, medical clinics, child-care centers, hairdressers, a temple -- all the essentials of life were on the main road within a few blocks of Lars's place, and the apartment buildings were contained behind all the businesses: a true example of a "15-minute city."

Nearby was the metro station, and every few blocks was a six- or seven-story parking structure. Even these weren't eyesores, as they were hidden by trees, and at least one had a garden on top. Lars had told me a few things about cars in Singapore. Just having a permit to own a car costs SG$80,000 (US$60,000) for ten years -- that's on top of the cost of the car. And Singapore was the first place to adopt a congestion-pricing scheme; they've had it since 1975. Because of those costs, he said, traffic is rarely awful in Singapore.

I walked through the large Choa Chu Kang area, with its large apartment blocks, and then entered Kranji. This was an industrial area; instead of cars, there were forklifts and trucks, and instead of apartments, there were gates leading to dusty plants and building materials. The sidewalk ended abruptly, and for a while the only place to walk was a lane in the roadway occupied by parked construction vehicles.

On the side streets were dormitories with clothing hung out to dry over the entirety of the railings. On the grassy area where there should have been a sidewalk, people were having their hair cut. I saw many workers from these industries; I saw no women. There was a lot of rubbish on the street.

I emerged at Kranji Way, took a short break in front of the Kranji Reservoir, and proceeded across the Kranji Dam. Immediately on the other side was the eastern entrance to the Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve. I saw that I could walk its coastal trail and come out the other side. Its boardwalks led me along mangroves and to views of Kranji Dam, Malaysia, and a swimming crocodile.

The road at the other end took me past koi farms, plant nurseries, and more of the fish ponds like the one at the marina. This was as rural as things got in Singapore; I was as far as I would be from Changi Airport -- almost as far as one could get without leaving the island. A sign warned that I was passing a firing area, but there was no way I could have entered by mistake. There was no sidewalk and there wouldn't be one for a few more kilometers, until I passed the giant Chinese and Muslim cemeteries. Yet there were bus stops. How did they expect people to get to and from them? Who used them?

I linked up with Lim Chu Kang Road, the main road that would take me straight south for over an hour. It was wide and the heat was stifling. The sun was hiding behind the edge of a cloud. Two street lamps' distance in front of me, there was cloud cover; it was an obvious color change on the pavement. The dividing line was moving away from me, but not quite as fast as I was approaching it. When I finally reached it, the relief was instant. I got ahead by two or three lamps' worth, looking behind me to make sure it wasn't catching up, until the clouds betrayed me and broke apart, leaving me in the heat again. A stray dog hurried past.

I was grateful to reach a supermarket (for more yuzu juice) and a hawker center (for Teochew rice with pork, preserved egg, and bitter melon). It was nice to be back in a neighborhood, no longer feeling vulnerable to those long stretches of industry and open road. Once again, I regarded the apartment blocks of government housing. Their giant stature and careful positioning, looking unified but not identical, made them seem like a giant species from a movie. What was going on inside them? Were they plotting against us mere humans? Yet I was comforted by their presence.

I reached the southern coast. I had less than an hour to go, but I needed to pause; my feet were tired. Today would be the last long walking day of this trip. Tomorrow is not much more than two hours, Tuesday less than four. No need to wake up so early tomorrow and therefore no rush to get to tonight's hotel. I took ten minutes at a bus stop. I looked across the Pandan Reservoir at more apartment blocks, lined up like a team of horses, guarding what lay beyond.

I was crossing the bridge over the Pandan River when the rain started. I'd seen the clouds rolling in, but I hadn't had much more than a sprinkle on this trip, and I'd trusted the sky not to open up. Yet soon I was soaked; it was coming down in torrents, and the sidewalk became a large puddle.

A tree provided enough cover for me to see that I could make it to a hawker center a couple minutes ahead. It was closed for the day, but an awning gave me shelter until the rain died down. A few minutes later I could proceed, and I hurried the last 20 minutes to the hotel. The Ibis Budget Singapore West Coast wasn't anything luxurious, but it was nice to be in a proper bed and not on a boat or a plane or a train or someone's couch.

There were casual eateries immediately around the corner from the hotel, and I was tired and not so hungry, so naturally I walked 15 minutes to a Peranakan buffet. Peranakan or Nyonya food combines elements of Chinese and Malay cooking, the result of a Chinese presence on the Malay peninsula. I figured this buffet would give me an opportunity to try a few Peranakan specialties.

The neighborhood looked well-off, with two- and three-story houses. The road to the restaurant had housing for students of the nearby campus of the National University of Singapore. I arrived at the restaurant a half-hour before they were going to remove all the food, but I could stay and finish what I'd taken. That was all right with me -- I wanted just a sampling.

Highlights included blue coconut rice (made blue by butterfly-pea flowers), creamy lemak laksa (a spicy, fragrant noodle soup with prawns and bean sprouts), chilli prawns brought directly from the kitchen, and ayam buah keluak (chicken with tamarind sauce and a kind of nut). When I opened the chicken platter, I wanted to package the aroma.

I knew how much I was prepared to eat; the staff was determined to make sure I had an opportunity to try everything. One asked whether I wanted more prawns, and she's brought out eight more in addition to the original three. Another helped me prepare my laksa by lowering the noodles into hot water with a hopper, adding the toppings, and then pouring on the broth. By the time I got back to my table, someone else had brought over plates with two of each dessert.

I had eight dishes and bowls of main food on the table, along with the dessert plates. There was no way I could eat it all. Not even close. The desserts were colorful, but I hadn't planned to have much of them anyway and now I had several plates I could barely touch. I wondered whether there was any way they could use the leftovers.

They gave me the senior discount -- this was a first for me -- even though I'm nowhere near of age, because they felt bad that I didn't have enough time.

"Next time, try to come earlier!" one of them said. She wasn't scolding; they just clearly had a passion for sharing their food.

"I will, I promise!"

I was glad that the walk back to the Ibis was downhill.

Go on to Singapore day 4