In a two-hour bike ride, we discovered that Singapore’s backroads were in the front lines of the country’s future.
by Dulce Zamora
This weekend, my husband, Noel, and I cycled through Kranji, Singapore’s northwestern enclave of farms, marshes, and historical sites. We set off just before sunrise. We wanted to take advantage of the much cooler predawn air: 26°C (79°F). Lately, daytime temps have hovered around 37°C (98°F).
We shared the narrow, often windy roads with packs of uniformed cyclists, pickup trucks teeming with day workers, and delivery lorries of all shapes and sizes. As usual in this country, we ran into some construction — with striped orange and white plastic dividers marking the borders of the thoroughfare. All of this plus the smothering humidity made for a less than comfortable ride. But, then again, when you’re used to pedaling through New York City streets (where Noel and I earned our cycling stripes), it was all not so bad.
Once the morning rush died down, there was time to stop and take in the scenery. We crossed the Kranji Reservoir via Kranji Way. From there, we looked across the Johor Straits to see the Johor Bahru skyline in Malaysia.
If the place names start to become repetitive, consider it an orientation to the region. Here, it’s common to have the same or similar names within a certain area. Let’s see: There’s Kranji Road, Kranji Loop, Kranji Link, and Kranji Crescent. And let’s not forget Kranji Railway Station, Kranji Bus Depot, Kranji Camp III, Kranji Food Stall, Kranji Medical Clinic, and so on. (Don’t get me started on the names in the Woodlands neighborhood!)
The farms in Kranji looked a bit different from those in other countries. Many crops were grown vertically in towering pallets, and in climate-controlled greenhouses. Many animals and fish were housed in separate compounds. It was all neat and organized, but it did nothing to mask the smell of manure, or to mute the sound of cackling chickens. While biking through sectioned fields and buildings, we could still smell the agriculture.
Space is a commodity in this tiny city state, which is about two-thirds the size of New York City. Because of its small size and lack of natural resources, the Lion City imports more than 90% of its food. The government wants to change that, especially in light of figures that show future food shortages related to global warming. To protect Singapore from supply disruptions, the government has implemented a 30 by 30 campaign. The goal is for the city state to provide 30% of its own produce, fish, and meats to its people by 2030.
On our bike ride, Noel and I saw dozens of farms dedicated to just garden plants, just cows, just chickens, just goats, just aquarium fish, just frogs, just crocodiles, and so forth. There were also accommodations available for people wanting the farm experience.
We also checked out the Kranji Marshes. These wetlands were not an original feature of Singapore. The Kranji River was dammed in the 1970s to develop the Kranji Reservoir. The damming killed the native mangroves at the river mouth, but it also created rare freshwater marshes. These became home to many unique species from worms to birds to otters. Some people reported seeing saltwater crocodiles, although these particular creatures (considered extinct in Singapore) might have come from Malaysian or Indonesian waters.
We had our own wildlife encounter — well, Noel did. He rounded a bend ahead of me, and exclaimed, “A boar! A boar!” I pedaled faster to see it, but, unfortunately, the big pig was not in a socializing mood. It scurried into a dense clump of bushes and trees before I could catch up.
I wished we could explore every nook and cranny of Kranji that morning, but the sun was up, and the rising humidity would soon make our trek a little less pleasant. So we resolved to come back for another cycling trip, and to also bring the kids to a few of the farms.
The Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve was also on our wish list. The last time I was there, in 2008, my oldest daughter, Sienna, was only a one year old. She and I visited the reserve with friends. We mothers applied different natural insect repellants on our babies, but the mosquitoes there proved us frivolous. Sienna and two of her other baby chums were each covered in at least 20 bites. This gave us an idea that Mother Nature still had a stronghold in these parts.
Yet our short cycling adventure convinced me that the Kranji countryside was no backwater. Here, Singapore’s past, present, and future coexist in a tangle of weeds, groomed marshes, and technologically-monitored crops. It’s where we can encounter a wild boar, drink milk straight from a goat, and get eggs from chickens with carefully-measured feed and temperature-controlled houses.
I had a feeling we had just discovered the surface of what was going on at Kranji. We would definitely make a return visit.
© 2019 Windswept Wildflower
April 23, 2019