Monday, 25 January 2016

NSS Kids’ Fun with Pulau Ubin’s Natural & Cultural Heritage (Singapore)

By Ryan Liew (aged 9) & Alastair Liew (aged 11)

The Liew brothers standing in front of the mandible of a wild pig strung up on a coconut tree near the Pulau Ubin jetty.
Pulau Ubin, an island off the northeastern coast of Singapore, is one of the country's last kampongs (villages). On 28 February 2015, a group of die-hard NSS Kids and their families made their way to this charming island, accessible by a $2.50 bumboat ride from Changi Village.

According to Uncle Tim, Pulau Ubin was originally a hub for granite mining. Today, these abandoned granite quarries form attractive water bodies teeming with wildlife. Uncle Tim showed us the village’s Tua Pek Kong Taoist temple and its wayang (Chinese opera) stage. He pointed out that the temple was constructed with a concrete base and a wooden superstructure built atop it. This allows the building to better withstand contact with rain water. Such architecture is typical of the many kampong homes that dot the island.

We encountered several tropical fruit trees including the fragrant jackfruit, banana and starfruit. Auntie Lena then unfurled a rolled-up banana leaf, and we were surprised to find a small whitish Banana Skipper caterpillar nestled within. Out of place amongst these Asian fruit trees is the invasive Hairy Clidemia originally from South America. It produces a delicious fruit which we immediately nicknamed the ‘Furry Blueberry’ as it reminded us of real blueberries when we tasted them!

We were surprised to find a tiny Banana Skipper caterpillar nestling in a rolled-up banana leaf.

As we strolled along Ubin’s leafy avenue, Auntie Gloria pointed out giant termite mounds scattered amidst swaying coconut trees. A mound consists of a community of nymphs, workers, soldiers and a few egg-laying queen termites, living in an elaborate system of tunnels. Termites are an intelligent society, responsible for wood and plant breakdown, which is important for ecosystem recycling. We learnt that bracket fungus also serves the same purpose by feeding off rotting logs.

Ubin’s termite mounds are tall and can house millions of termites.
We turned around at the blue-and-white wooden house with a zinc roof of the late Mr Lim Chye Joo, the former Chinese village headman. In fact, Uncle Tim said that Ubin was previously run by one Chinese and one Malay headman. We took a quick peep inside and saw old-fashioned metal grills, bare cement floors, plastic chairs and dim lighting. A man surfing on his smartphone contrasted with this timeless tableau.        

The Kampong home of Ubin’s former Chinese headman.
The walk also produced many Golden Orb Web spiders. They weave massive webs to catch prey such as flies, beetles and grasshoppers. Even birds are unintentionally caught in these elaborate webs. We then visited ponds covered by lotus and lily plants. Uncle Tim taught us how to differentiate the two. Lotus leaves are completely round, while lily pads have notches on otherwise round leaves. The flowers are pink and purple respectively. We were fortunate to spot dragonflies and a friendly ladybird, and catch sight of a magnificent Olive-Backed Sunbird resting on a pole. At the end of the trip, we were dog-tired from all that walking in the hot sun. The kampong dogs were equally sluggish from the heat, lying flat out at the jetty as we waited for our return ferry.

No comments: