Tuesday 13 January 2004

Honeymoon - Day 5 - Bird Park and Oriental Gardens

Since Sunday wasn't a very "productive" day, we decided to make Monday a big day by visiting the Jurong Bird Park and the Chinese and Japanese Gardens.

Unlike getting to the zoo, we got to the bird park with no problem and were inside the gates by 11:30. It is built on pretty much the same principle as the zoo, only with more cages since birds are substantially more mobile than most other animals, but usually even the "cages" were large enclosed areas several tens or hundreds of feet tall. They also had trained falconers on hand to help exercise the large birds of prey, of which they had numerous species, ranging from the smallest kites and miniature hawks to bald eagles. But still, many birds were allowed mostly free range of the park including most of the pelicans, ducks, flamingos, herons, and storks. The flamingo pond was home to some 1000 birds! A huge stink, but really interesting to see a flock that large interact.

They also had this amazing Waterfall area housing the largest man-made waterfall, cascading some 100 feet high, with the net probably another 50-100 feet above that. It housed numerous birds, mostly tropicals. There was construction being done on the upper pathways, so we could only go so high among the trees, but it was enough to get a lovely view, and see quite a few birds.

Looping back around, we had lunch overlooking the flamingo pond (inside looking through glass to keep our appetite from the smell), and then took in the rest of the park.

They had a miniature Rain forest set up to emulate the environment of East Asian rain forests, where, again lots of birds roamed/flew free. You had to be pretty careful here, as these birds were substantially more land based than in the waterfall area, and were prone to darting out of the bushes behind or in front of you, and then squawking loudly if you got too close (dumb birds). One of the crowned pigeons evidently found Stephen on the offensive side, as it came up and bit him on the foot as he was standing there watching me take pictures of other birds in the wooded area. The next thing I knew he yelled and was doing a dance that was him halfway trying not to kick the offending bird and yet keep a safe distance. So we made a bee-line for the exit, as two of them now chased us. Fortunately our legs were longer, and they didn't try to fly so we made it out in one piece. Unfortunately, this experience has not done much to cure his habit of booting pigeons, and had this particular variety not been labelled endangered and there been many cameras around, that one would have gotten kicked as well. Stupid bird.

Moving on we came to a huge hummingbird exhibit (including their own enclosed large tentish thing), pelicans, toucans and horn bills. I didn't realize the latter two got so big!! Even with cages some 25-30 feet wide and 60-70 tall, they didn't have enough room to fly more than a few seconds worth. When they flapped their wings, it sounded like a helicopter getting started up. They had wingspans easily 6-8 feet wide. Beautiful birds, and the only ones that it really pained me to see caged up as all the others (including the largest of the birds of prey) got plenty of room to exercise at least once a day.

The last two exhibits were probably my favorites of all though: the parrots and the owls! The parrots were in a completely open area, and were awaiting their own netted tent to fly around in. As it was, they were free to roam the park during the day (for the most part), and then were caged at night. Very lively birds, it was fun to watch them play, and see all the normal items they turned into toys. In many ways, parrots seem to be the monkeys of the birds: highly intelligent and playful.

The owl exhibit was really neat, as it was almost completely dark, except for a very dim light in the color range that particular species of owl could not see. They had 10-12 different species of owl, including a Siberian variety more adapted to seeing and hunting during the day, since the Siberian summers experience almost 24 hours of light for several weeks on end. Beautiful, beautiful birds. They had other nocturnal birds as well, but they weren't nearly as impressive as the owls.

Then, still having a good bit of energy left (and daylight) in us (must have been the good sleep of the night before), we headed to the Oriental Gardens. Just a short walk from the metro, they had a sign announcing that the Japanese section of the gardens was under renovations, and thus closed. Stephen was pretty disappointed, but the Chinese gardens turned out to be plenty to explore on their own. First we came to the 7 story pagoda, that from afar looked decorated with many colored lanterns; however, when we got close they turned out to be umbrellas!! The whole park was decorated in colored lanterns and umbrellas and various paper figurines to celebrate the Chinese New Year. So, a very good time for us to visit!!

We also found an extremely large bonsai garden, and got to watch one of the bonsai masters at work trimming some of the trees. Fascinating!! The large trees out front were over 250 years old, and many inside the garden of various sizes were aged near or older than 100 years. It's amazing to look at those works of art, and realize that it has taken numerous generations of masters to achieve the present state of beauty. Awe inspiring to say the least. Unfortunately, by the time we got to the Bonsai I had already filled up two picture cards and was on the third (yes, that's nearly 400 pictures in one day), so not many pictures of the gardens could be taken, but I have a feeling

Stephen is planning on going back while I'm at the spa on Wednesday morning.

So after exhausting our picture capacity, and staying right up until their closing time, we wandered through the rest of the gardens enjoying the festive decorations and holiday spirit. Then we hopped back on the MRT, and headed to Newton Circus for dinner.

Newton Circus is what is known has a "hawker" center, or a large open air food court with dozens upon dozens of vendors selling everything from the scarily familiar to the completely alien--all for really good prices. They are fantastic ways to sample the local cuisine without spending a fortune Since the day had been a hot, sticky one, even by Singapore standards (I will never complain about the humidity in Houston again), I opted for an Indian vegetarian dish that was part omelet, part fritter, and with lots of vegetables, foreign and familiar, served with this amazingly tasty spicy orange soupy sauce. Hit the spot! Stephen ordered beef satay and chomped his way through two portions. We both had two large glasses of lime juice topped off with kiwi and papaya for dessert. Now that's what I call a stellar meal, and all for less than S$30 I think hawker centers are going to be the staple of our dining from now on. Too good to pass up.