Sunday, April 29, 2007

Family Fun at the Fort

Do you know that Singapore's founding father Sir Stamford Raffles used to live up on Fort Canning? Or that this used to be called Bukit Larangan or "Forbidden Hill" in Malay?

With about 45 minutes to kill after breakfast and before Ethan's Chinese enrichment classes, my family decided to frolick this hilly green oasis in the middle of our concrete jungle. It was a certainly a pleasant walk in the park even with the warm midday sun beating down upon us.

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Our climb started with a peek at the map of Fort Canning located beside the stairs.

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Ethan and Tina huffing and puffing their way up the hill.

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The reward? A spectacular view of the city framed in idyllic green.

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This newly built fitness corner is just the thing for health nuts like me, who still have to clear my IPPT before my birthday this year!

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A fallen tree trunk becomes home to ferns and other symbiotic floral and faunal species.

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Information panels like this informs us about the park's historical legacies and tales.

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Tina and Ethan taking a walk along the many red brick paths lining the park. These paths encircle the entire circumference of the hill. I believe there are about three different "bands" of ascending heights and degrees of breathlessness!

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We spotted a cat catching a grey squirrel for its lunch near the forested area of the park. This other squirrel here climbed up a tree and squeaked plaintively, as if crying for its mate. I wondered though if its really warning other compatriots of the ferocious feline?

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Old style wooden rails like this add character to the park.

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So does this yellow brick wall with interesting hindu-inspired monstrous faces adorning its facade.

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A view of the now disused River Valley Swimming Pool, where my wife Tina had many fond memories of splashing and swimming in its cool waters during her childhood days.

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On the right side of the defunct pool is this other view, where the old Van Kleef Aquarium and National Theatre used to be. I still remembered fondly those days when I visited the aquarium as a kid and went goggle-eyed over its huge tanks full of exotic fishes.

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Hmmm... what could these colourful slabs of stone resembling surfboards be about?

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Ahh.... I see. They are part of an installation art work commissioned by the National Parks Board.

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Of course, the short trip ended with smiles all around, especially for my little one who is trying to strike a cheeky pose.

PS - Happy 67th Birthday Pop! Will be posting pictures of our dinner at Broth shortly.

Saturday, April 28, 2007

Chilling Out at Cafe del Mar

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View of coconut trees at Siloso Beach

After dinner on Friday, I drove my family over to Sentosa just to check out its night vibes. As usual, there were the tour groups who were just leaving after attending the island's new night attraction Songs of the Sea. We decided to check out the beaches and along the way, decided to hop by the Cafe del Mar, the happening new beach club just outside Siloso Beach Resort.

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Inspired by the original Cafe del Mar at San Antonia, Ibiza, the club played largely chill out and ambient music. To get an idea what this genre of music is like, just tune into Lush 99.5 FM (which is one of my favourite radio stations by the way).

The club has three different zones - an indoor air-conditioned area with TV screens playing music videos, an outdoor poolside area, plus a third zone adjacent to the beach with a view of the sea. It catered to a largely young and yuppie crowd, dressed in their Friday beach partying attire while sipping ice cold drinks under the stars.

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The entire mood of the place was relaxed and casual , with nice funky mood lights in different hues adding splashes of colour. Guests were bantering away, smiles on their face while enjoying the night-time breeze. Most of the service staff seemed attentive to guest needs while not being particularly intrusive. For example, we could walk around without being accosted or asked to leave (kids are usually not allowed in such places).

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The bar counter in the middle of the club is probably its crown jewel. Located alongside the swimming pool, it acted as a beacon of alcoholic delight, decked out in a bedazzling range of colours, hues and shades.

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The place also had comfortable cushioned deck chairs and little pavillions with cushions for people to lounge in. My son Ethan liked the place very much as you can see. He described Cafe del Mar as "that very colourful place with music in Sentosa".

I have a suspicion that when he grows up, he is going to be one party animal!

Friday, April 27, 2007

The Art of Branding

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Spotted this funkily dolled up postbox just outside UE Square along Unity Road recently while waiting for my son and wife. Its a bid to add much needed colour, vibrancy and art to the city. Apparently, this is part of STAMP, a nation-wide competition organised by URA and Singpost which looks at making over 40 postboxes in the city.

Nice touch there which helps to rejuvenate the old and weary brand image of snail mail. After all, we do know that it is fighting a losing battle against email and other forms of online communications. These splashes of art certainly gives us more reasons to visit our mailboxes to pay our bills!

Now, if only they would do it for all the 800 postboxes around the island instead of just those in the city. That would definitely add a few notches in rebranding and repositioning Singpost as a creative and fun loving provider of an essential service.

Update: Saw that Sparklette also posted about this, albeit in a series!

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Layering on the Link Love

OK folks, I thought that I should do something wacky, deposit some goodwill in emotional bank accounts and do the meme thing upon the advice of "Da Jie" and good friend eastcoastlife, an A-list blogger. For this I was tagged by environmentalist Pauline. I still owe tags by Oceanskies and Zeezee and will try to work on them soon.

Layer One:On The Outside
===================
Name : Walter Lim (aka coolinsider)
Birth Date : 24 August
Current status : Married
Eye Colour : Brown and sometimes red (guess why)
Hair Colour : Black and some white (while stocks last)
Righty or Lefty : Righty

Layer Two :On The Inside
==================
Your Heritage : Teochew (dad Teochew, mum Shanghainese)
Your Fears : Losing my loved ones and losing myself through overwork
Your Weakness : "Red, red wine makes me feel so fine..."
Your Perfect Pizza : Seafood, with lots of calamari, prawns, scallops, clams, mozarella, a sprinkling of rocket greens and chilli peppers. Sedap!

Layer Three :Yesterday, Today , Tomorrow
===============================
Your Thoughts First Waking Up : "Huhhh....its what already?" with eyes half closed and body half asleep.
Your Bedtime : Ponderous and full of thoughts
Your Most Missed Memory : My childhood days in a house with a garden at Serangoon Garden Way

Layer Four : Your Pick
================
Pepsi or Coke : Neither, as I don't drink soft drinks.
McDonald's or Burger King : Definitely Burger King.
Single or Group Dates : Either was fine. Now of course only with my dearest wife. ;)
Adidas or Nike : Partial towards Nike for their cutting edge designs and better running shoes
Tea or Nestea : Tea for sure. Nestea is too sweet!
Chocolate or Vanilla : Cocoa for me.
Cappucino or Coffee : Coffee

Layer Five : Do You..
================
Smoke : Nope.
Curse: Unfortunately yes especially in stressful situations
Take a shower : Definitely... this is Singapore not Siberia!
Have a crush : The only thing I crush nowadays are fruits in the morning
Think you've been in love: Definitely. The two greatest love in my life is my wife and my son. ;)
Go to school : I wish I can go back to school again and do my masters. That's one of the "must dos" in my life.
Want to get married : I am already married!
Believe in yourself : I sure hope and think so. I also believe that one day I will become an entrepreneur and that day is coming.
Think you're a health freak : I drink blended fruits for breakfast almost every day, love vegetables, try to jog 3 to 4 times a week and drink lots of water in the morning.

Layer Six : In The Past Month
=====================
Drank alcohol : Plenty, especially red wine.
Gone to the mall : Yes, especially Ngee Ann City.
Been on stage : Definitely. Every single day at work and especially in meetings with my boss. :)
Eaten sushi : Certainly, its one of nature's most perfect uncooked food. Slurp!
Dyed your hair : Not much left to begin with!

Layer Seven : Have You Ever..
======================
Played A Stripping Game : Yah, with my son Ethan. If he can change fast enough, we can watch "Power Rangers" on Youtube after that. Always works!
Changed Who You Were To Fit In : Sadly, in my line of work, I have to do it all the time. I am an introverted person by nature who loves a quiet simple life. However, at work, I have to be extroverted, a social butterfly and a diplomat all rolled into one.

Layer Eight : Age
============
You're Hoping To Be Married : 33 years and already done that. ;)

Layer Nine : In a Girl/Guy
===================
Best Eye Colour : Brown
Best Hair Colour : Makes no difference
Short Hair or Long Hair : Doesn't matter so long as its neat

Layer Ten : What Were You Doing
=========================
1 Min Ago : writing this post
1 Hour Ago : drinking a cup of chamomile tea
4.5 Hours Ago : Working my butt off
1 Month Ago : Panicking and feeling stressed out as a major event was then just a week away.
1 Year Ago: Living a very different life both at work and at home

Layer Eleven : Finish The Sentence
=========================
I Love : My family
I Feel : very exhausted and worn
I Hate : the feeling of helplessness
I Hide : my fears
I Need : a long holiday and thereafter, a chance to stimulate my mind once again

Layer Twelve : Tag five people
=====================
No obligations ok folks though would be nice.
1. Ivan Chew
2. Vanessa Tan
3. Lucian Teo
4. Sivasothi
5. Kevin Lim

OK I am done and it was kinda fun in a way. Perhaps we should customise it for local contexts next time?

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Are We Pigging Out?

Grrr.... I just realise that my home has been downgraded lately - from a HDB flat to a pig sty! Obviously, we need a lot more public education efforts to support the recent Earth Day celebrations and Bring Your Own Bag (BYOB) campaigns.

Our problem of littering isn't fresh news. In fact, it has been happening all this while. The reason why our island still remained clean and green is largely due to the huge army of contract cleaners and waste management workers that we employ. Without them, I shudder to think what state of decay and filth we will end up with.

I took the following photographs a couple of days ago to show you what I mean, and I didn't even have to travel far from my flat.

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The first unsightly piece of rubbish comes in a box, complete with plastic packaging on a ledge.

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When I stepped into the lift, I was greeted by pieces of strewn tissue papers, cigarette butts, and flyers. Believe it or not, this is a DAILY affair.

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At the ground level, I spotted somebody's newspaper on the ledge, together with a bunch of flyers and brochures.

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The situation isn't any better at the letter box area. In fact, this is often the dirtiest zone, with junk mail strewn on the floor by inconsiderate residents.

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Even the carpark area was not spared. Here a crushed plastic cup bore witness to the uncivil acts of man.

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Needless to say, the corridors had a "paper trail" for wannabe detectives keen to track down and hunt their quarry.

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Things got so desperate that some of my neighbours have put up their own posters. Unfortunately, they ended up on the floor as litter themselves!

Is there something that we can do together to stop these selfish acts? How can we preserve our environment when others seem hell bent on destroying it? Any ideas?

Monday, April 23, 2007

Writing to Save Your Life


Image courtesy of DiscoverySchool.com

I came across this post by Kian Ann recently on the need to write well on the Internet. While crafting some suggestions to him on the comments section, I decided that I might as well expand this into a blog post.

How does one write well? Is there a secret formula that you can apply in order to be a wicked wordsmith?

There are a few golden rules which I apply myself. However, they are definitely not prescriptive or exhaustive.

The first is to read and read often. Good writers tend to read widely both in their subject areas as well as other non-related stuff.

Next you should understand your audiences. Who are you writing for? Writing for Ah Sohs and Ah Peks is quite different from writing for tech geeks.

One should also strive to inform rather than impress. Throw out those bombastic high-sounding words which don't ring a bell with the majority of your readers. Of course its a different thing altogether if you are writing for an audience of university professors.

Jot down notes (or at least a mental note) whenever something inspirational hits you. This can be when you are outdoors hiking along a nature trail, having dinner at a restaurant or even shopping.

Use a variety of styles and literary techniques to add spice and colour to your writing. A good way to do this is through employing analogies and metaphors. Personal stories and anecdotes help to further reinforce your points.

A good piece of writing has a certain rhythm and tempo. It has energy and perhaps even electricity. Like an orchestral performance, there will be peaks and troughs. See if you can write with a certain flow.

Write with passion, emotion and conviction. Penning persuasive prose helps you to better engage and connect with your readers.

Develop your own flair and style. This is what bloggers call their natural voice. Your paragraphs and sentences will read more naturally and less stilted when you write the way you speak.

Read and edit your writing at least once or twice - if time permits. Even those with superior penmanship revise their writing to be more smooth and polished.

Finally, as most writers will tell you, good writing only comes after lots of blood, sweat and tears. Perspiration, perseverance and persistence helps to make one a better writer.

Saturday, April 21, 2007

A Tale of Two Birthdays

We celebrated two birthdays by two dear nieces this month. As usual, it was a mixture of family fun and chaos when you have multiple kids in a restaurant. There were some uncanny similarities between the two celebrations, which I thought I should highlight.

1) Both the girls' names start with A - Ariel & Alycia.

2) Both birthdays occur in April. Ariel's birthday is on 10th April while Alycia's birthday is on 22nd April.

3) Both celebrations are by 7-year olds born in the year of the Dragon.

4) Both grand dads' have birthdays in April, are 67 years of age and also born in the year of the dragon!

5) Both fathers of the girls have very similar names. Ariel's dad is Lim Hun Ming while Alycia's dad is Lim Hun Huat (they are not brothers or cousins)! Both dads are doing sales and marketing managers working in MNCs.

6) Both birthday kids are girls who care about their looks.

7) Both celebrations happened at buffet restaurants.

8) Both parties had birthday cakes with commercially acclaimed cartoon princesses.

9) Both parties had 4 young kids and a lot of chaos.

10) Ethan ended up eating in an errr.... less than tidy fashion in both parties.

Anyway, here are some photos for your viewing pleasure. Happy Birthday Ariel and Alycia! May the two of you grow up to be fine young ladies in the years to come.

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Grandpa Michael, Mandy, Lee Hwa, Ariel, Roger and Isaac at Ariel's 7th birthday at Sakura Restaurant.

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Ariel's birthday cake had a picture of a Disney Princess - Ariel, the Little Mermaid (who else).

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Ethan using all 10 fingers to enjoy the sushi at Ariel's birthday party.

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Chloe, Ethan, Karen, Alycia, Paul and Felicia at Alycia's 7th birthday celebration at Olive Tree.

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Alycia's birthday cake with not one but two princesses from the acclaimed Barbie series.

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Alycia and Ethan digging into the cake with gusto, with Susan in the background looking contented.

Friday, April 20, 2007

An Artistic Giant

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Students from St Margaret's Secondary reciting Swie Hian's poem "A Tribute to Gandhi" in Mandarin.

Recently, we had the privilege of being invited to the launch of the 9-volume Selected Works of Tan Swie Hian and Recital of Tan Swie Hian's Poetry and Songs by the man himself. Happening at the Lee Kong Chian Reference Library, the event was graced by Mr Khaw Boon Wan, Minister for Health and an ardent fan of Chinese art himself.

Put together by Candid Creation Publishing and the National Library Board, the event was certainly well orchestrated. The room was packed with close to 200 friends, students, and supporters of Swie Hian - one of Singapore's foremost multi-disciplinary artist. He was literally mobbed by the hordes of fans, especially students, who clamoured for his autograph! The event was well covered by the press too.

Who is Tan Swie Hian you may ask? Like master potter Iskandar Jalil, he is one of the giants in our local artistic scene and probably the most acclaimed living artist. Few would forget his stunning performance at the Venice Biennale in 2003, where he swooped and swerved wielding a large brush on a huge canvas doing an inspirational Chinese calligraphy piece at San Marco Square.

Swie Hian was recently crowned with the highest accolade for heritage philanthropy at NHB's recent inaugural Patron of Heritage Awards. He certainly deserves all the awards that he was crowned with over the years, including the World Economic Forum's Crystal Award in 2003. They put our tiny red dot on the global artistic map - quite a feat considering how many think that we are a cultural desert.

What's amazing is how he manages to be talented in diverse artistic fields in the visual, literary and performing circles. He is also a highly prolific reader with a huge collection of books which he donated to the National Library.
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Swie Hian's collection of 6,500 donated books, manuscripts and other items at the National Library

In the words of Candid Creation Publishing's Chief Editor Phoon Kwee Hian, "....The sheer breadth and depth of this literary world is possible because of his extraordinary power of imagination, stunning expressions, acute sense of discovery, rich experiences in life and his profound wisdom." Having seen his works and heard his poetry, I certainly couldn't agree more.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Divine Dabbawallas


A dabbawalla doing a balancing act. Steady bro!

Hat tip to Seth Godin for this fascinating food phenomenon in India called the Dabbawalla. These guys deliver food in tiffins (metal containers like the one below which we also use in Singapore) to thousands of offices every day.



According to BBC News, there are about 5,000 of them delivering 200,000 tiffins a day, often balancing them precariously on their heads while using public transport like trains. Quoting from Seth,

"These men deliver thousands of lunches every single day in Mumbai... from the person's home to their office, hot and fresh. The reported error rate is one in six million.

How is this possible? How do you create and run a service with thousand of employees, no technology and a poorly-educated workforce and have better than six sigma quality?

Simple: the dabbawallas know their customers.

If they rotated the people around, it would never work. There's trust, and along with the trust is responsibility. By creating a flat organization and building relationships, the system even survives monsoon season."

This example certainly makes one wonder if man's relentless push towards technology can truly make a big difference in productivity. Often, its the simple things in life which work best.


These guys put our IT inventions to shame!

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Strip 'Em Bare Marketing

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Saw this interesting looking banner outside Strip - a hair removal joint - at Wheelock Place recently while having lunch at nearby Sun & Moon Dining. Apparently, they remove hair from everywhere, including the famous (or infamous) Brazilian waxing (ouch!) treatment. I thought the huge banner outside their shop was pretty eye catching and different from the usual humdrum marketing (cue TV actress or singer) given to beauty treatments.

The use of comic style characters in the tradition of Roy Lichtenstein certainly catches one's attention. This is complemented by the clever use of the WANTED style of advertising, coupled with provocative images and cheeky copy that is different from the oft-preferred option of blah advertising by beauty salons. I had a look at their website and apparently, they have quite a funny TV commercial too. I certainly wished that more companies in Singapore can inject greater humour in their marketing.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Why We Love the Botanic Gardens

My family loves to go to the Singapore Botanic Gardens, one of our island's most well-loved tourist attractions which draw about 3 million visitors annually. Its enticing mix of free admission, beautiful 52 hectare landscape, awe-inspiring greenery and thoughtful touches makes it a must visit for us. We always feel rejuvenated after our trips there.

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Our journey begins near the Visitor's Centre section of the Gardens. Most of the amenities are located near here.

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The implementation of paid parking was a bane to some and a boon to others. For me, I like the idea of more parking spaces being available, even though I have to pay for it.

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On the way in, I spotted this Hippo Bus, which is an innovative topless Hop-On Hop-Off tour service. Its owner James Heng has been known to an envelope-pushing entrepreneur who recently won the tourism awards.

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The Visitor's Centre provides a nice shady spot to rest and prepare for the hike through the garden. Old-world style clocks telling the time of major cities around the world plus photographic exhibitions add a nice touch. Its ample seats are also useful, especially for the numerous parents with tots on prams.

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SBG's family friendliness is extended to its changing/ maternity room (which is very decent and comfortable I might add) as well as water coolers catering to visitors of different heights.

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The rest rooms are almost an attraction in themselves...

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...and of course, we musn't forget that junior needs to wash his hands after his pee pee too!

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Cafe Les Amis has always attracted crowds of all ages despite its relatively pricey (though quality offerings). Foodies will know that its parentage - the Les Amis Group - is one of the top restaurant chains offering pristine fine dining experiences.

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Directional signs are always an important component in any attraction. Try wandering around lost in the tropical heat and you know what I mean.

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The sight and sound of cascading waters amidst the serene surroundings helps soothe the savage beasts instantly.

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For those botanically inclined (like me), you can read information panels telling you about the characteristics of various floral families and species.

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Another breathtaking sight to behold, this time of the Palm Valley. This is our favourite hangout as it gives Ethan lots of room to run wild and play.

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What are Tina and Ethan looking at? And what is he throwing *gasp* into the water?

Fishes
No prizes for guessing. The fishes and terrapins seemed ravenous and attacked every single morsel of bread thrown at them.

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Ethan next had some fun with a new bubble-cum-water-gun. Here he is intent on creating the most number of bubbles in a single chain...

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...followed by "attack the mama and papa" with the water pistol. Help!

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On our way back, Ethan suddenly decided to take a walk up the Rainforest track. Apparently some of the trees here are more than a century old. And of course, please don't introduce damaging alien species that will disturb the balance of its eco-system.

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On our way up, we spotted this intrepid guide (likely a volunteer) who was sharing with the group about the habits of the Cicada, a fascinating insect that spends 10 over years underground as a nymph before emerging for only a couple of weeks as a winged adult. Of course, its shimmering song is unmistakable in any tropical rainforest.

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Somewhere along the jungle track, Ethan decided to take his cap off to the gardens - literally. Hot, sweaty but happy. I guess that's what we all felt.