Urban Tropical Ecology in Singapore

Scarred for life followed by spiritual cleansing- February 21st
by -- February 27th, 2010

As tradition dictates much of the culture of Singapore, on Sunday February 21 we went down to an extremely traditional ‘wet market’ in Chinatown.

From spices to fish to whole chickens and ducks hanging from hooks to cow parts and fruits and vegetables, the wet market is a must see sight.  The smell of fish wafted up into the tight streets crammed with morning shoppers, but we pushed forward anxiously.  Rows and rows of freshly caught fish filled the first half of the market. Men and women with cleavers chopped and weighed the fish and then wrapping them tightly in plastic.  Some shoppers bought the whole fish; as Tiff and Allison told us later the eyeballs are coveted pieces.

The back few rows of the fish section had many non-traditional food items, including cages full of live frogs and turtles, as well as eels and snakes.  One of the shop owners assured us that any animals left unsold at the end of the market were released back into the wild, to live and hopefully not be caught the following week.

Just as we were coming around to the last row in the fish section, I had a semi-traumatic experience.  A huge fish, it had to have been at least 40 pounds, was flopping around on the ground behind one of the stands.   Claire, Jasmine and I pointed as the huge fish thrashed around on the ground, but there was little to do as the proprietor of the stand brought a huge club, similar to the Bam Bam club from the Flintstones, down on the fish’s head.  The three of us gasped and turned away quickly, but the sudden lifeless form of the fish is forever burned in my mind.   In need of much retail therapy from the ordeal we beat it out of the market to go look at the jade and silk in the shops outside.

We meet the rest of the group a bit later to explore different temples and learn about different religions in Singapore.  The country has 4 national languages, but many many more religions are practiced. We started our walk at one of the largest Buddhists temples in the city.  We got there just in time, as they were just starting, for lack of a better word, mass.  Monks in orange and brown robes stood at the front of the room chanting and singing.  Slowly a progression of other monks and people progressed forward to give their offering.  The temple was huge and there were many people praying throughout the building.  The top floors included a history of the religion and a garden.

On the rest of our walk we stopped at many temples, each as different from the next.  There was one that was a cross between Buddhism and Taoism, and then another that was solely Taoist.   It was very interesting to see the Taoist temples.  They had huge incense rings that looked like beehives in the courtyard.  Inside, the people could buy papers that each stood for different things they wanted to pray for, that they then burned in huge fires in the courtyard.  The building was so thick with smoke after just a few minutes I had to get back outside and into the fresh air.   Very hungry after our walk, a few of us headed out to the Boat Quay district to eat lunch overlooking the river.  It was a great day!

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