Tuesday, September 20, 2011

birds and an unexpected tour

Going through the various tourist guides available, a few attractions seem to come up repeatedly.  There's a zoo.  There are some parks.  A few statues or monuments.  And there's a bird park.  
Jurong Bird Park, to be precise.  It promises untold wonders- thousands of exotic birds, a full spectrum of colors, some endangered or threatened, and a great many birds that I've never seen and will never see again.  I am assured by the people at work that the Bird Park is boring.  It is the kind of place you visit once as a child for school, then never revisit unless you are desperate to show a tourist somewhere to go. OR, I suppose, if you just like birds.  I like birds.

Getting to the Jurong Bird Park is a minor adventure.  There is no close by train station, and it's way too far to walk.  Taking a taxi is a possibility, but it seems like a waste of money.  There's a bus.  I hate the bus, but it's going to have to do.  I get VERY DETAILED instructions on what to do, because I find bus maps thoroughly confusing.  I take the train a full 25 minutes to the almost-last-stop.  It is- shockingly- at a mall.  I manage to find the bus depot, and stand in line for my bus- I am feeling decent because at least one other person in line is clearly a tourist and clearly on the way to the Bird Park.  I shall follow you stranger- discreetly so I don't look like I don't know what I'm doing (I have very detailed instructions, but still think I don't know what I'm doing.  I am surprisingly un-confident when it comes to riding the bus).  

The bus ride is uneventful, and drops us at a stop near the Bird Park.  Just outside the gates is a small pavilion with 4 or 5 blue & yellow parrots.  Or macaws.  Stereotypical jungle exotic birds.  HOORAY!  As they're really the only thing I wanted to see, I consider saving my money and turning around now.  As I have zero other plans for the entire weekend, I decide that's stupid and head in.  

The park is fairly small.  It's essentially a circle route, with various bird areas every so often.  There's the Night Birds- it's in an enclosed hallway, the lights are almost entirely off, and there are rooms made up to look like nighttime areas.  One is a barn, one is a forest, that sort of thing.  Almost all of these birds are owls.  I make a mental note to reread Harry Potter when I get back to the US, because owls are awesome.  
I hear some crowd noise after exiting, and head over to a small arena.  It's fairly packed, especially since the park didn't seem too busy.  It's one of those 'shows', with a host wearing a microphone headset and some assistants with birds.  I stay enough to watch a cockatoo and a parrot race to see which can put some wooden trinket things into a box the fastest.  The parrot wins, the crowd goes crazy, and both birds get a treat.  Big crowds in arenas like that creep me out- these people are WAY too excited about watching this to be sane.  

I continue around, taking the occasional picture.  The birds seem to have enough room, but there's no doubt they're all in enclosed cages.  I see some of them flying from one side to the other, while others are hard to spot as they hide in the branches.  There are indeed some fairly exotic birds- parrots, macaws, toucans- things straight out of PBS specials.  A few are more common but still neat- ostriches, emus, flamingos, pelicans, swans.  

I particularly liked the Birds of Prey section, because part of me is still an 8 year old boy.  They have a bald eagle, and the sign on the cage helpfully points out "the bald eagle is the symbol of the United States of America."  AMERICA.  Wooooo!  I take a picture of that bad boy.  

It is halfway through the tour before I realize that my brain has YET to make a single Angry Birds reference.  I rectify the situation by making Angry Birds references to myself the entire rest of the time I'm there.  I start looking for materials on the ground- twigs and such- to build a little structure in hopes that I can entice a bird to come close enough to sort of knock it over.  I spot a kid with an Angry Birds tshirt (there is a LOT of Angry Birds merchandise in Singapore), and I wonder if that game is the reason he's here.  And then I further wonder if that game will somehow be responsible for a sudden spike in Bird Zoology specialists in 20 years.  Weird.

It's threatening to rain most of the time I'm there, but never does.  All told I made my way around the park and probably finished in an hour.  It wasn't boring, but it's also not the sort of place you're going to go unless you're in Singapore for awhile and looking for things to do.

With nothing else on the agenda, it's time to make my way back to the area where I'm staying.  I make my way back to the bus stop and wait.  There are two possible bus numbers that could come by, and either will get me back to the depot.  What I didn't know was that ONE of them takes a much, much longer route to get there.  That would be the bus I hopped on.  

I realized something was amiss immediately- not a single other tourist got on the bus with me.  PEOPLE did, but none that looked like they'd just spent the day gawking at birds.  Whatever- this bus will get me there.

It is useless knowledge to know that the Jurong Bird Park is right near a fairly industrialized area of Singapore.  I'm on a double decker bus, but aside from a guy asleep in the very back, I'm the only one on the bottom row.  i stayed there when everyone else went upstairs, figuring the trip wouldn't be long.  After 10 minutes and 2 stops, I realize I'm in for the long haul, but it's too awkward to head up.  

The bus winds around and we are in factory land.  Tall buildings of metal pipes, some spewing fire, some steam.  Work is done for the day, and there are MASSES of people in jumpsuits just sitting on the side of the road.  The identical jumpsuits all say things like "Some Name Engineering", but these people look nothing like engineers.  Everyone I see looks vaguely miserable- they are almost exclusively Indian, many of them have oil, grease, or dirt stains on their face and clothing.  Our bus passes multiple pickup trucks crammed full of people.   Every so often we stop and a few more people get on, and eventually our bus is fairly packed.  And here's me jamming away on my iPod trying to look nonchalant.  Don't mind me people- I'm on the right bus, just thought I'd take a tour through your work area!  Make no mistake- nobody seems to pay any attention to me, nobody talks to me, I am apparently totally ignored.  But I certainly feel very much out of place, and I'm starting to worry that maybe I missed the bus depot stop.  It's not like I was really paying attention when I originally left.  I figure at the very least, it'll stop by the Bird Park again though, and I could always get off there.  

So I ride around.  I try to stay out of the way.  I eventually give my seat up to a woman so she can sit next to her mother (karma points I could apparently use).  I get a kind of fascinating view of a side of Singapore I'm positive most people don't see.  The route becomes a little less industrial, and eventually we pull right back into the depot and everyone gets out.  

From there, it's back on the train, another 25 minutes back to the area where I'm staying, and an internal debate about what to do with dinner.  I make a mental note to take at least one more bus ride before I leave.

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