A Tale of Two Cities: Finding Jungle in the Middle of Singapore

February 20, 2019

Bright and early at 8 am, 12 sleepy adventurers and their two fearless leaders headed to the bus stop for Kent Ridge Park, a beautiful tropical paradise situated right between high-rise apartment buildings on the southwestern edge of Singapore. As the trip began, however, dreams of returning to a comfortable bed were replaced by awe and intrigue at the lushness and serenity inside the park.

Kent Ridge Park is a 47 hectare park filled with both indigenous and non-native species of plants and animals. Now a popular location for bird watchers and eco-tourists, it was originally the site of one of the last battles in Singapore during WW2.

Both gardens and skyscrapers can be seen from one of Kent Ridge Park’s many lookout points

The hills that withstood the battle now provide lookout points along the nature trail. During our climb, I couldn’t help but gaze out onto the island and imagine what it must have looked like nearly 80 years ago. It still amazes me that the countryside we saw in black and white photos in the National Museum of Singapore has since evolved into a booming metropolis! 

Kent Ridge is connected to the Mount Faber and Telok Blangah Hill parks through the Southern Ridges, a connection of green open spaces that was created in the early 2000s. Fantastic architecture like sloping arches (Alexandra Arch) and wooden bridges (Henderson Waves) helps shape and frame the greenery. My favorite part of our route through the green connectors was HortPark, a series of themed gardens that showcase indigenous plants, including those that can be used for food. Although we weren’t able to try any edible plants, many looked delicious, including the beautiful scarlet spiral flags.

As we walked along the park, we saw some beautiful flora and fauna, including Tom’s favorite African Rain Trees, introduced into Singapore in the late 1800s. Their arching canopy and thick branches soared gracefully above other trees, providing a home to various critters and shade for us as we walked. We also heard the crowing of the Red Junglefowl, which Dr. Dan was enthused about. However, this ancestor to all domestic chickens stayed hidden as we climbed our way through the forest. High up in the trees, we saw a Nephila spider weaving a large web filled with kleptoparasites, smaller spiders that feed off the pray captured by the Nephila spider’s web.

In a sense, Kent Ridge Park’s animals are citizens in their own city, and it’s amazing to me that we can step out of Singapore’s city landscape to enter a completely different environment. However, learning about how many non-native plants and animals there are in these parks makes me wonder what this same environment will look like even just ten years from now, as the ecosystem becomes more vibrant with life. Will invasive species destroy all the beauty of Singapore’s natural species? Will Singaporeans learn to adapt to sharing their city with other, potentially scalier neighbors, or will conflict arise?

At the end of our long morning hike, we passed by the cable cars, which originate near Arbora in Mount Faber. At the koi pond, the koi mistook a couple of our fingers for food and gave us a nibble. We also rang the Bell of Happiness, a beautiful old bell surrounded with other little bells similar to the locks of love in Paris.


Undergraduates in front of the cable cars on Mount Faber

Because we had the afternoon off, Katie Knotek and I decided to try renting bikes through the Mobike app, which had mixed reviews online. Touted in advertisements as Singapore’s premier bike renting app, we found that most of the bikes surrounding our closest park, West Coast Park, were in need of maintenance. Because of the beauty of the park, spirits remained high as we walked around in circles for twenty minutes before finding two working bikes. The shade of the park was comfortable despite the midday heat, and we managed to meet a Red Junglefowl, hen, and monkey along our ride.


Biking through West Coast Park
Just monkeying around!

Our night finished with dinner at Clementi and a talk with Dr. Dan at the National Institute of Education, part of the Nanyang Technological University. He provided a discussion on marine plastics/leachates, how they originate, and their relationship to his research with marine organisms. I learned that straws from many asian countries are cleaned and reused, a fact that has turned Tom away from using straws. As someone more interested in marine megafauna, marine plastics have always been on the back of my mind but not something I’ve delved into for further research. After this discussion, I’m interested in learning more about how my consumer habits with plastics affect marine life of all sizes. Stay tuned for more updates from Singapore!

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