It was raining when I woke up. Since I knew that it would be hours before the students got up, I sat on the “veranda” watching the rain and reading Becky’s copy of Mockingjay. The students did finally get up in time to catch the tail-end of breakfast at 10:30. We ultimately decided to go ahead with our day’s plans and hope that the rain would stop. It was closing in on noon and still sprinkling as we walked to Outram Park MRT station but, by the time we emerged at the Botanic Gardens stop, the sun was shining and the clouds had disappeared. In the interest of science, we found ourselves headed toward the Evolution Garden almost as soon after we had passed through the gates. Starting 460 million years ago, the garden begins with barren volcanic rocks and a mud pool and progressively introduces different types of plants as the visitor walks through the garden. I am not a botanist by any stretch of the imagination, but walking through their arrangement of bryophytes, ferns, cycads, and gymnosperms lent more excitement to these plants than usual by making me feel like a dinosaur could jump out at any moment. After reaching modern times, we circled back to see a garden filled with plants that have medical applications. After our foray into botanotherapy, we were quite hungry- so we made our way to Café Verde, a restaurant located at the Botanic Gardens’ main visitor center. In America, most botanical gardens, zoos, and museums have an overpriced concession area which serves crappy food to people who find themselves stuck at these attractions during meal times. Café Verde, while still overpriced, actually served food that was on par with some of the better restaurants in Singapore. We all ordered personal-sized pizzas and ate within earshot of a large waterfall that was located nearby.
The best-known attraction at the Botanic Gardens is likely the National Orchid Garden. As we made our way there after lunch, we passed by Symphony Lake, which features an acoustical shell located on a large island to one side of the water. Live performers were tuning up and getting ready for a concert and we were particularly tickled that they were blasting Eminem’s “Lose Yourself” over the sound system as we walked by. The orchids were truly amazing. Around 600 species and hybrids were on display in the 3-hectare garden, I found myself wishing that I could take a picture of all of them. In the end, I settled for photos of a mere 3% of them. As in the case of the Botanic Gardens as a whole, we consulted a map and systematically tried to see every part of the Orchid Garden. In this case, our final stop was at the Cool House, an air-conditioned greenhouse complete with misters that kept the humidity at a maximum. There, orchid species which normally grow in tropical highland areas were featured.
Before leaving the Botanic Gardens, we still had to fit in the Ginger Garden, the Bonsai Garden as well as Swan Lake. We made a game of our final hour in the gardens by trying to find the eight different statues that were interspersed throughout the southernmost quarter of the park. As we finally reached the south gate, the prospect of retracing our steps through the gardens that had taken us nearly four hours to cover in order to get back to our MRT stop was not very appealing. We decided to find a bus that would return us to Chinatown, instead. This ended up not being hard to do- Singapore has the best maps that I have even seen at their bus stops detailing each bus line and where it goes. The double-decker one that we got on headed down Orchard Road, one of the major shopping areas in Singapore, before turning towards Chinatown. The girls had talked about doing some shopping on Orchard Road if we had time, but as we rode past stores like Gucci, Dolce & Gabanna, and Louis Vuitton, they realized that shopping there probably wasn’t in their budget after all.
When we arrived back at the hostel, I had a short time there before leaving again to meet with one of the school’s alums. Tatsushi Komatsu, or just “Tats” for short, had graduated from Monmouth College in 1983 with a degree in business. He had met with the previous SIRT contingent that had done research in Singapore and was happy to make contact with representatives of his alma mater once again. Tats picked me up and took me to Clarke Quay (pronounced “key”) for some drinks and appetizers. The riverwalk and restaurants dotted along the Singapore River seemed to be the place to be on a Saturday evening- people were everywhere and all the restaurants seemed full. Tats reminisced about his days at MC, recalling his college days with very fond memories. It turns out that Tats was good friends with my cousin, Steve, who also attended the college in the 80s. Upon hearing of my never ending quest for spicy food in Asia, Tats suggested that we go for Sichuan food in a restaurant that he knew of farther up the river. There, I was treated to some very spicy food, indeed. Previously, I had reminisced about having mabu dofu, or spicy tofu, while living in Japan, so we ordered some of that. We also had some Sichuan chicken that was spicier than any I had ever eaten in America. By the time Tats dropped me off at the hostel once again, I was so stuffed that I couldn’t have eaten another bite even if I had wanted to.