Our first month in Amsterdam

Can’t believe an entire month has gone by since the Hubs and I arrived in Amsterdam! Of course, it has all been about moving into our apartment, setting up things, formalities and other mundane details that needed to be taken care of, before we can actually start enjoying the city. But despite the fact that it has turned out to be such a busy month, we did have some interesting times.

For starters, we’ve had to learn the life-saving skill of dodging cyclists. Doesn’t help that I keep forgetting about the cycling lane! Cyclists have the right of way here and they RULE the road (sometimes even the pavement!). Several misadventures on this front but I’m not complaining. I love how great cycling is for the environment!

Here are some of our memorable ‘firsts’ in Amsterdam……

The first Dutch snack we tried

I like to call them ‘little balls of heaven’ but they are known here as bitterballen (plural). Always served with a side of mustard.

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These usually get gobbled up before I can even think of taking a picture! 🙂

This savoury bar snack has a crispy fried outer coating that perfectly complements the mushy beef filling inside. I’m told that back in the day Dutch housewives created this snack as a way to use up leftover meat. Pure genius!

The filling inside is a mixture of puréed beef, butter, flour, beef stock, herbs and seasonings, but it’s the subtle hint of nutmeg that really takes this snack over the top. And be extra careful when you bite into a bitterbal coz the filling tends to be piping hot. Lesson learnt the hard way 😦

Even for someone like me who doesn’t enjoy meat, this crispy delight is hard to resist. As the Dutch say, ‘lekker’ (yummy)!

First time eating out of a hole in the wall

Well, not really a ‘hole’, more like a vending box.

We had heard so much about the legendary ‘Wall of Fried Food’ before we even got to Amsterdam, so we were looking forward to finding one. This is basically a vending machine but for hot snacks like krokets (croquettes), frinkandel (a deep fried sausage), kaassoufflé (a deep fried hot pocket with a cheese filling)….. you get the drift. Burgers too.

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Spoilt for choice!

FEBO and Smullers are the two brands that offer this service. So if you’re feeling peckish anywhere in the city, just find the outlet nearest to you, drop your coins in the slot and grab your hot snack! I promise, you won’t be disappointed.

First bird I photographed in Amsterdam

Having lived in Asia for most of my life (India & Singapore), I know nothing about European birds. So every new bird species I see and photograph here is exciting. I’ve photographed several birds over the past few weeks (helps to be living in the vicinity of Vondelpark) but the first bird I photographed here, the Eurasian Magpie, will always be special. For my post on birdwatching in Amsterdam, click here.

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The highly intelligent Eurasian Magpie (Pica pica)

The Dutch take birdwatching very seriously and the record holder for the 2016 Global Big Year, Arjan Dwarshuis, lives in Amsterdam. Arjan traveled to 40 different countries and observed a staggering 6,852 bird species over a span of 366 days.

First day trip out of Amsterdam

This past weekend, our itchy feet led us to make an impromptu day trip out of Amsterdam. A short train ride and we were transported back in time to the Dutch town of Zaanse Schans, which showcases Dutch life in the mid-19th century. We went for the windmills but were pleasantly surprised to observe a variety of birds in the grasslands.

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Windmills everywhere you look!

Coming soon an entire blog post dedicated to this charming town.

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There have been so many other wonderful experiences – the onset of Spring, exploring my neighbourhood, going for walks at Vondelpark, receiving my museumkaart, my first visit to the Rijksmuseum with my museumkaart, seeing the 2 stolen Van Gogh paintings back on display at the Van Gogh Museum……I’ve lost count.

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A serene morning at Vondelpark

As our seemingly unending list of ‘Things to Do’ gets a bit shorter by the day, we can’t wait to explore Amsterdam, Netherlands and the rest of Europe. Stay tuned!

For now, tot straks! (See you later!)

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A Himalayan Retreat in NYC – The Rubin Museum

Like most seekers, and artist of every kind, I’ve been drawn to the Himalayas for as long as I can remember. Thanks to my recent relocation to Amsterdam, it’ll be a while before I can even think of undertaking a trip to this wonderous part of the world.

During my last trip to New York City (Dec 2015), I was thrilled to hear about a museum dedicated to Himalayan art, right in the heart of the Big Apple. The Rubin Museum of Art focusses on the preservation and promotion of Himalayan artistic traditions, and has a permanent collection of over 2,500 paintings, sculptures and textiles from the Tibetan plateau as well as neighbouring areas in India, Nepal, Bhutan, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Mongolia and China. The private collection of Donald and Shelly Rubin forms the core of the permanent collection but the museum is a non-profit, public one.

One of the highlights of the museum is the recreation of a Tibetan Buddhist Shrine Room. I could have spent hours in this serene haven. If at anytime, you are looking for an oasis of calm in the midst of the NYC chaos, this is the place to visit.

More about the Rubin Museum in my article for the Mar-Apr’17 issue of PASSAGE, the bimonthly magazine of the Friends of the Museums Singapore.

Please click on the image below to view the PDF of this article.

Rubin Museum_NYC

(Reproduced with the permission of the Editor.)

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Memories of Pasir Ris Park, Singapore

I was reminded by a fellow-nature lover that today, March 3rd, is World Wildlife Day. So the timing of this post couldn’t be any better! 🙂

Following my much loved blog post on Pasir Ris Park, I had the opportunity to share some of the pictures once again via a photo feature in the Mar-Apr’17 issue of PASSAGE, the bimonthly magazine of the Friends of the Museums Singapore. Please click on the image below to view the PDF of this article.

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(Reproduced with the permission of the Editor.)

Once again, I’d like to emphasize that when visiting any nature reserve/park, please be extremely respectful of the environment. Loud chatting or music will disturb creatures and ruin any chance of spotting them. Going off-trail to get a picture damages the ecosystem that nurtures these species. As the old saying goes…

Take nothing but pictures. Leave nothing but footprints.

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For my original post on Pasir Ris Park, please click here.

You can read more about the wildlife/natural history of Singapore in the following posts:

MacRitchie Reservoir Park

Bukit Timah Nature Reserve

Birds of Singapore

Wallace Trail

Singapore Botanic Gardens

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My Farewell Tribute to Singapore

After six wonderful years in Singapore, the hubs and I recently moved to Amsterdam. I couldn’t have offered a better farewell tribute to Singapore than this 12-page feature in the Mar’17 issue of Holland Herald, the inflight magazine of KLM airlines.

First published on 21st January 1966, Holland Herald has been around for over half a century and holds the remarkable distinction of being the oldest inflight magazine in the world. There had to be a history angle! 😉

So without further ado, here it is – my article about the city I once called home. Kindly note, that the pictures in the article are not mine.

(Please click on the image below to read the PDF of the article)

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(Reproduced with permission)

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Vasai Fort: Remnants of a Forgotten Empire

A white peacock dances in all its ethereal glory. Sadhus (holy men) in their flowing, orange robes float across the screen. Beyoncé is dressed in resplendent Indian (more like Bollywood) attire. This is the opening sequence of Coldplay’s ‘Hymn for the Weekend’ video, filmed at the imposing Vasai Fort, on the outskirts of Mumbai (Bombay), India.

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Entry to the Gonsalo Garcia Dominican Church, established in 1583. This one of the 7 churches in the Vasai Fort complex.

My fascination with Vasai Fort goes back a long way. I spent my childhood and early adult years, not too far from this magnificent edifice but it is only more recently that I began digging into its history. Here’s my attempt at crunching 500 years of its history into a quick read.

After 11 perilous months at sea, Portuguese explorer Vasco de Gama landed on the shores of Calicut in southwest India on 20th May 1498, thus pioneering the highly sought after sea route to India. But even before this momentous discovery, the city of Vasai (on the west coast of India, to the north of Calicut and Bombay) was a thriving port, frequented by traders from the Middle East and Europe, including the famous Venetian merchant, Marco Polo.

Early navigational maps, like the India Orientalis (1579) by Flemish cartographer Abraham Ortelius, mention Baçaim (the Portuguese name for Vasai). Such was its prominence in those days.

On 23rd December 1534, the city of Vasai was ceded by its then ruler Sultan Bahadur Shah of Gujarat to the Portuguese. The Portuguese went on to build a massive fort, Fortaleza de São Sebastião de Baçaim (Fort of St. Sebastian of Vasai), with an entire town enveloped within the fort walls. Vasai Fort served as the capital of the powerful northern Portuguese province (Corte da Norte) and until it was lost to the Marathas in 1739. After multiple battles between the Marathas and the British for control of the fort and surrounding areas, they came to a mutually convenient arrangement in 1802. The British however, preferred the neighbouring island of Mombaim (Bombay), which became a key centre for the East India Company; and in due course, Vasai lost its significance. Presently, the fort is managed by the Archaeological Survey of India.

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The inside view of one section of Vasai Fort

On our recent visit to Vasai Fort, we only had a couple to hours to spare. This was barely enough time to walk through even one small section of this 110-acre fort complex. But even in this very short span of time, it was not hard to imagine the grandeur of the fort in its hey days.

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An art student sketches a part of the Vasai Fort

So if you happen to be in Mumbai and are looking to do a fun day trip, consider the Vasai Fort. Best visited via a tour company. If you are local, you know how to get here.

I leave you with some of my pictures taken in and around the fort.

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The Church of Our Lady of Life (Nossa Senhora da Vida), established in 1536

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A grazing cow accompanied by a Cattle Egret, walks around the fort

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An uncommon sighting of a Bengal monitor lizard at the fort

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A Rose-ringed Parakeet enjoys the morning sun

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A golawala (‘gola’ means ball, ‘wala’ means seller) readies his cart for business, outside the fort. He sells shaved ice balls, served in a variety of flavours.

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A local friend shares the front seat with the rickshaw driver, on the ride from Vasai Railway Station to the fort

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Salt pans spotted en route to Vasai by train

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A Walk in the Bukit Timah Nature Reserve, Singapore

One of the first forest reserves established in Singapore (1883), the Bukit Timah Nature Reserve, is the largest remaining tract of primary rainforest on the island. It was closed to the public for two years for some much-needed restoration work and reopened on 22nd October ’16.

Overjoyed to be back in this thriving rainforest, I wrote a quick piece for the Jan-Feb’17 issue of PASSAGE, the bi-monthly magazine of the Friends of the Museums Singapore. Presenting my first article in print for 2017…..

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I cannot emphasise this enough – when visiting any nature reserve/park, please be extremely respectful of the environment. Loud chatting or music will disturb creatures and ruin any chance of spotting them. Going off-trail to get a picture damages the very ecosystem that nurtures these species. As the old adage goes…

Take nothing but pictures. Leave nothing but footprints.

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You can read more about the wildlife/natural history of Singapore in the following posts:

MacRitchie Reservoir Park

Pasir Ris Park

Birds of Singapore

The Wallace Trail

Singapore Botanic Gardens

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‘Artist and Empire’ at the National Gallery, Singapore

The word ‘empire’ evokes different reactions from different people, especially among those from the erstwhile colonies. So when I first heard of the ‘Artist and Empire’ exhibition at the National Gallery of Singapore, I had mixed feelings about the concept. However, the exhibition focusses solely on the art that originated from Britain and its colonies (16th century to date), and I’m too much of an art lover to miss the masterpieces that came in via this association with the Tate Britain, London.

My political opinions aside, here are some of my favourites from the exhibition. As you can well imagine, there is some sort of personal link, either to the artist or the subject.

Paintings by Victorian botanical artist, Marianne North

I first heard of Marianne North during my time in the Seychelles this year.

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A trailblazer in her own right, Marianne defied societal norms prevalent in the late 1800s for women, and travelled (mostly alone) to 17 countries in six continents, including the Seychelles, India and Singapore.

A self-taught artist, she painted 848 pieces of flora and fauna between 1871 and 1885; of which 833 are on permanent exhibit at the Marianne North Gallery in Kew Gardens, England. Among the 46/47 paintings Marianne painted in the Seychelles, there are several versions of the fabled Coco de Mer.

Five of her paintings from Asia are currently on display at this exhibition.

‘Remnants of an Army’ by Lady Butler (maiden name Elizabeth Thompson)

A few years ago, while reading about the Afghan Church in Mumbai, I chanced upon this poignant painting.

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This artwork depicts Dr. William Brydon, assistant surgeon in the Bengal Army, arriving at the gates of Jalalabad (in modern day Afghanistan) on a dying horse, in January 1842. At the time, Brydon was believed to be the lone survivor of the First Anglo-Afghan War, which saw the massacre of thousands of British soldiers and the subsequent British retreat from Kabul.

Painted in 1879, in the midst of the Second Anglo-Afghan War, this artwork is believed to depict Lady Butler’s feelings about the futility of the war in Afghanistan.

About the Afghan Church in Mumbai: Consecrated in 1858, this church was built by the British to commemorate the deceased from the First Anglo-Afghan War, most of whom came from the East India Company’s Bombay Army. This Anglican Church is one of the most beautiful and serene churches in the city.

‘General Gordon’s Last Stand’ by George William Joy (1893)

Another Seychelles connection! Even today, the Vallee de Mai on Praslin island in the Seychelles, is rumoured to be the site of the biblical Garden of Eden and this myth originates from General Gordon’s remarks during his visit to the valley in 1881.

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This painting depicts General Gordon as the quintessential hero, defending the city of Khartoum against its invaders. In reality, this would have been the scene, moments before his death and subsequent beheading.

‘The Jester’ by Sir Gerald Kelly (1911)

A portrait of British playwright, novelist and short story writer, Somerset Maugham, the title of the painting refers to the writer’s famous wit. Maugham is not forgotten here in Singapore, thanks to a suite named after him at the legendary Raffles Hotel.

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Maugham made three visits to Singapore between 1921 and 1925 and gathered material for his short stories collection, ‘The Casurina Tree’, set in 1920s Malaya. A regular guest of the Raffles Hotel, the suite named after him at the hotel, is the one in which he stayed during his last visit in 1960.

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Among the 211 exhibits on display, there are also a significant number of artworks from the former colonies, from South Asia to the Oceania region.

So if you are visiting Singapore before 26th March 2017, I highly recommend a dekko*

from the Hindi word ‘dekho’ meaning to look 😉 

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Wildlife in an urban jungle – Pasir Ris Park, Singapore

Don’t let Singapore’s glitzy urban appearance fool you. The city is teeming with incredible wildlife, if one knows where to look. With over 300 parks and 4 nature reserves, there are several places where Singapore’s native wildlife thrives.

This weekend, hubby and I decided to check out the Pasir Ris Park, in the northeastern part of Singapore. In addition to many family friendly facilities, this beach park also includes a 15-acre mangrove forest. A short boardwalk enables visitors to explore the various sections of this mangrove forest.

Just as we were entering the park via the Pasir Ris Park Connector, a family of noisy otters jumped into the waters of the adjacent Sungei Tampines – right before our eyes! Such a pity I didn’t have my camera ready but it was definitely a sign of things to come.

We spent the entire morning at Pasir Ris Park, enthralled by the rich biodiversity of the place. Here are some of the creatures I did manage to photograph….

(Please click on the image to see an enlarged version.)

Lunch time at Pasir Ris Park!

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A lizard lunch for this Paradise Tree Snake

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Almost halfway done….

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Spot the lizard in the snake’s belly!

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Headed up the tree for a post-lunch siesta

The Sleepy Hornbill

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After much looking, we managed to spot an Oriental Pied Hornbill hidden in the foliage

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Here it is, dozing off….

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Seems like a full blown nap now! 😉

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Water Monitor Lizards everywhere!

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Here’s one basking high up on a tree…

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Another monitor lizard enjoys its afternoon swim. Notice how the limbs of the monitor are drawn close to its body while swimming. It navigates the waters using its tail.

Other residents of Pasir Ris Park

(includes pictures from subsequent visits)

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The striking Black Baza is a small sized bird of prey and is known to perch for long durations on the bare branches of tall trees.

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After much debate by experts about the exact species of this bird, the verdict is that it is a Square-tailed Drongo-Cuckoo, meaning it is a cuckoo that resembles a drongo

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Notice the keyhole-shaped pupils of the Oriental Whip Snake, which enables snakes of this genus to have binocular vision

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A Yellow-lipped Water Snake in search of newly moulted crabs

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One of the most vocal residents of Pasir Ris Park, the Red Junglefowl, the wild ancestor of the domesticated chicken.

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A Black-crowned Night Heron out and about during low tide

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A Little Egret walks around the dry channel of Sungei Tampines

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It’s yoga time for this Grey Heron!

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A Sandpiper by Sungei Tampines

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A Striated Heron waits patiently for a catch, in the mangroves by Sungei Tampines

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The skittish Ashy Tailorbird was by far the hardest to photograph

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A male Flameback Woodpecker in the woods around the mangroves

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The gender of a Laced Woodpecker can be identified by the colour of its crown – the female has a black crown while the male has a red one.

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A Blue-tailed Bee-eater takes a break

 

 

 

 

 

 

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An Oriental Magpie-Robin foraging on the ground

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A female Common Iora, with pollen stuck on her beak after feeding on nectar

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A pair of Yellow-vented Bulbuls pose perfectly for this pic!

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A male (with pink neck) and female Pink-necked Green Pigeon, scan their surroundings

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A White-throated Kingfisher enjoys the surroundings from its prominent perch

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A Collared Kingfisher awaits its meal by Sungei Tampines…

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A Scaly-breasted Munia rests for a brief second

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A Mud Crab steps out of its burrow in the mangroves

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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A Red-eared Slider (also known as Red-eared Terrapin) in the waters of Sungei Tampines

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A Giant Mudskipper in the mangroves of Pasir Ris Park

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Who knew there were jellyfish in the waters of Sungei Tampines???!!!

There are many creatures that I haven’t yet managed to photograph – the otters of course, the Stork billed Kingfisher, the Common Kingfisher, the raptors that fly overhead, the many skittish birds hidden in the foliage. These call for yet another visit to Pasir Ris Park.

I leave you with this Pasir Ris Park Guide I found online. Happy visiting! And don’t forget to let me know what you spotted!

Lastly, I cannot emphasise this enough – when visiting any nature reserve/park, please be extremely respectful of the environment. Loud chatting or music will disturb creatures and ruin any chance of spotting them. Going off-trail to get a picture damages the ecosystem that nurtures these species. As the old saying goes…

Take nothing but pictures. Leave nothing but footprints.

*********************************************************************

For my article on Pasir Ris Park in the Mar-Apr’17 issue of PASSAGE, the bimonthly magazine of the Friends of the Museums Singapore, please click here.

You can read more about the wildlife/natural history of Singapore in the following posts:

MacRitchie Reservoir Park

Bukit Timah Nature Reserve

Birds of Singapore

The Wallace Trail

Singapore Botanic Gardens

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My 2016 Annual Report

Hi there!

As you can tell from the title of my post, my transition out of the corporate world is going really well 😉

2016 is my second year as a full-fledged writer and storyteller. Most of my work this year has been outside of the public realm, so I thought it would be good to share a little bit about all the weird and wonderful projects I’ve worked on over the past 11 months.

Before I bore you with my ramblings, a big ‘Thank You’ to all of you who read my blog. I’ve had very little time to update it regularly but it has managed to garner over 20,000 hits with visitors from nearly 140 countries. Your support is very much appreciated!

Here’s a quick look at what I’ve worked on in 2016…..

  • Spent months writing my first ever grant proposal, to a certain very prestigious society but did not get any love back from them. My thanks (& apologies!) to all who spent their time and expertise guiding me through this process. I’m not going to let this minor setback stop me from taking the idea to others who might be interested. It’s at the top of my 2017 To-Do list.
  • Wrote a key feature story for a leading airline magazine (all very hush hush right now)
  • 4 articles for PASSAGE, the bi-monthly magazine of the Friends of the Museums Singapore, making it a total of 10 pieces printed in this magazine, since end-2014. One more piece in the pipeline for the Jan-Feb 2017 issue. Couldn’t have asked for a more supportive mentor and Editor!
  • Did my first set of submissions to international writing competitions and braced for an onslaught of rejections 😢:
    1. A short story competition (Have never written fiction before, so NOT A CHANCE!)
    2. An anthology call (not selected)
    3. An art essay competition (not shortlisted)
  • Then there have been some other wonderful experiences:
    1. Being accepted as a Fellow by the International League of Conservation Writers – my commitment to do more nature and conservation related writing
    2. Spending a month with the fabulous Seychelles Island Foundation and its wonderful team in Mahe and Vallee de Mai
    3. Finally getting around to photographing birds – in Singapore, Sulawesi and Seychelles
    4. Momentarily overcoming my irrational fear of being underwater and attempting my first scuba lessons (still a long way to go here!)
  • And last but definitely not the least, my roles with the Friends of the Museums Singapore, as Co-Head of Docent Training (2015-16) at the National Museum of Singapore, followed by the Communications Representative responsibility in the 2016 FOM Council. So fortunate to have this community of erudite women around me!

There you have it – my 2016 in a nutshell! And while my life and social media profiles MAY look like a lot of fun and travel, there has also been a ton of work (and agonizing!) in the background. Couldn’t have done all of this without the support of my biggest fan and critic, my husband.

Also couldn’t have done it without a whole host of people around the world who I follow on social media, and who inspire me with their purpose and passion. I’m confident our paths will cross soon.

There will be no dearth of adventures, new experiences, and lessons in 2017. The important thing is to remember to put yourself out there, and the ideas and opportunities will find you.

Thanks for joining me and No Roads Barred on this journey.

Anne

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A day in the Minahasa Highlands, North Sulawesi – 2

After a long morning of sightseeing in the Minahasa Highlands and a much needed pit-stop for lunch in Tomohon, we continued with the rest of our tour.

Woloan Village

Our first stop post-lunch was the world famous village of Woloan, which lies a couple of kilometers to the west of Tomohon. Here, skilled carpenters build traditional wooden houses that can easily be knocked down and reassembled at a different location (IKEA customers – sounds familiar, right?!). These sturdy, prefabricated houses are shipped all over the world and the main street of the village is lined with sample houses for customers to choose from. Despite the knock-down design, these houses are earthquake proof. Says something about the superlative design and expert craftsmanship!

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Prefabricated houses of various designs, line the main street of Woloan village

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A close-up of one of the knock-down houses

By this point in the afternoon, I was wishing one of these show houses had a bed, so I could take a quick nap!

Lake Linow

About 3km west of Tomohon, lies the remarkable Lake Linow. The name ‘Linow’ comes from the Minahasa word ‘Lilinowan’, which means ‘the gathering place of water’. This lake is a water filled, volcanic crater that changes colour over the course of the day, from shades of deep green to bright blue tones.

Of course, there is a logical explanation for this phenomenon. Small vents in the ground surface of the lake (both above and below the water level) emit volcanic gases like sulphur dioxide, hydrogen sulfide etc. The minerals in the water, combined with the reflection-refraction of sunlight, cause the lake to change colour. The volcanic gases also give the area a distinct ‘rotten egg’ smell.

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The colour changing waters of Lake Linow. A couple of active steam vents can be seen in the background

Much to my relief, there was a small café by the lake and the caffeine shot was very welcome! 🙂

Watu Pinawatengan

Refreshed by the caffeine infusion, we headed to a site of great cultural significance to the Minahasa people – the irregularly shaped boulder of ‘Watu Pinawatengan’. The name loosely translates to ‘stone of the discussion about sharing’.

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Outside view of the Watu Pinawatengan

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A closer look at the inscribed stone of Watu Pinawatengan

According to some historians, in 670 CE, the various Minahasa tribes met at this stone to discuss the division of the land among them. The hieroglyphs inscribed on the stone are said to reflect this agreement. This lead to the formation of a community of independent states, which in case of an external enemy attack, would unite to defend the land.

Pulutan, Pottery Village

Our final stop for the day was Pulutan village, famous for its pottery artisans and ceramic wares.

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Home of an artisan at Pulutan, the pottery village

Lake Tondano

Lastly, I must mention Lake Tondano, the largest lake in North Sulawesi, also created by volcanic activity. We passed this lake from a distance, on our journey into the Minahasa Highlands, and back.

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View of Lake Tondano from a distance

Once visited by the great British naturalist, Alfred Russel Wallace, during his time in Sulawesi (Jun -Sep 1859); Lake Tondano is today a popular tourist destination, with several seafood restaurants located around the lake.

At the end of this culturally rich day, I was wishing I had a lot more time to appreciate all the details and nuances. I guess, I’ll just have to read about it or may be I could start planning our return to North Sulawesi 😉

Our thanks to the team at Lembeh Resorts for organizing this fabulous day trip 🙂

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