Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Ishinomaki - Japan

I've always wanted to travel to the "Manga city" in Japan, but being here today is rather heartbreaking

I'm at Ishinomaki, Day 8 after the Tsunami. Streets are being cleared, but damage is still very obvious.

I hope the town rebuilds, so I can come visit another day.

I am with Relief 2.0 to help empower, enable, engage and connect the local. And will share their brave stories of perseverance so others may learn from them.

The brave Japanese does not need pity or donation, they need loans to help rebuild their businesses and come up with creative ways to starting over.

I wish them well, and believe that they are strong people and will succeed.

-- Robin Low

Monday, March 07, 2011

Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve (Singapore) Review

Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve is a 130 ha wetland site, designated as a nature park in 1989. Located near Kranji, it is in the north of Singapore.

Opening Hours: 7.30am to 7.00pm on Monday to Saturday
7.00am to 7.00pm on Sundays & Public Holidays

Admission: Free entry
except on Saturdays, Sundays, Public Holidays and School Holidays.
$1.00 per adult
$0.50 per child / student / senior citizen

Theatrette show screenings: Mondays to Saturdays -
9am, 11am, 1pm, 3pm & 5pm
Sundays and Public Holidays -
Hourly 9am to 5pm


There is much to see at Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve. But much of the beauty and ecological diversity can only be observed by one with an eye for the small details and patterns of nature.

I embarked a trip to Sungei Buloh, at 8am on Sunday, and as recommended, these are a few things that I packed and recommend packing.

1) Water Bottle with plenty of drinking water. (There are no vending machines and water coolers in the middle of the nature reserve.)

2) Good COMFORTABLE walking shoes. (The terrain is rather accessible, paved with gravel most parts, but the distance is HUGE, and you need to be able to walk several kilometers.

3) Camera. (There are a lot of things to see, but you really need a lens which can reach very far. I brought along a DSLR with a 200mm lens, and it is not even close enough to shoot the wildlife.)

4) Mosquito repellent. (lots of mossies out to get you.)

5) Umbrella. (Singapore's weather is unpredictable, and there is not a lot of shade.)

6) Binoculars. Birds are pretty far away.


I took the bus 925 from Khatib MRT Station with several photographers (watch out for the bus stop signs, but will not stop elsewhere.) and upon arrival, we we greeted by the smell of fresh air.

We were initially greeted by some Herons by the water and a few other birds that are hiding in the trees and bushes. The Herons are pretty far away, and pretty much just hanging out.

Then a huge Komodo Dragon walked by and slowly strolled along the path ignoring everyone taking photos of it. It is at least 2m long and is sized of a small crocodile.

Nature is everywhere, there are fist sized spiders in the trees, squirrels on the branches, It does take a good eye to spot them, and your reactions have to be quick to catch the perfect picture.

You can hear crickets and birds in the bushes, but more than often, not see them. If you are a little into nature, and want a safe controlled environment, this is the place.

Like always, there is claims of biodiversity, but after walking for some time on the well kept and concrete gravel path with people pushing strollers along the way, it just did not feel that much like your traditional nature reserve.

Walking around Macritchie reservior, you get to see butterflies, dragonflies and many other insects, and an occasional snake, however, at Sungei Buloh, the only few butterflies I found were small and rather common.

However, finally at one spot, we found flowers and one bee.

The walkways are later nice and made of wood, perfect for photographers with heavy equipment, and perhaps -- even a Trolley! The feeling of sort of in nature, but with a nice walkway is a little strange, but I do like the setup, but I felt that it did probably affect the wildlife, which was very elusive and hard to spot.

As we continued on the nice path, we spotted more spiders, and somehow, it became a lot less interesting.

With the lack of wildlife, spotting a bird became much more interesting. When a bird landed nearby, the photographers all shot hundreds of frames for a bird to land on a branch and then fly off again. Watching photographers may just be as amusing as the birds.

Later, there are bees. Lots of bees. They are not in your face, but rather, high up in the trees!

Walking to the mangrove area, you get to see many things which we took for granted when living in Singapore in the past but have disappeared in our lives. The giant mudskipper for example was common when I used to go fishing at the drains and canals, but they are impossible to find with Singapore getting so built up!

The next thing at the mangrove area was tree crabs. Its amazing to see small crabs climb trees.

Walking out of the mangrove area, we came across a bridge and saw fishes jumping on the surface of the water. It was very challenging to capture the fishes in the photos and again they were pretty far away, and you need far reaching lens.

As noon approaches, the weather was a lot hotter, and a little unbearable. Resting in a shaded area overlooking the water, a jellyfish was spotted, and it was indeed fascinating.

We decided to go home as lunch approaches and the weather was getting darker, and we spotted a large spider hanging out with flies. I'm not sure why the flies did not get stuck to the web, but they seemed to be getting along well.

Getting on the bus, we finally made our way out of the nature reserve. It was rather big, and we took 4 hours to cover only a small part of the park.

Overall, I would say that the Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve just feels like any old park in Singapore. Calling it a Wetland Reserve is rather misleading, and the biodiversity and wildlife is rather limited. Being a reserve, it just means the land will probably not be developed into a golf course, and none of that adventure / danger you may expect in wildlife reserves.

But I would still applaud Singapore to keep such a place and not building more factories, roads, malls and offices which they do all so well.

If you intend to visit, as with any nature parks, do not keep your hope too high, as you may not see any rare birds at all. It is interesting to visit, and rather accessible terrain. Even one in a wheelchair can move about here.

Rating: 7/10

-- Robin Low