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  Today Online 14 Apr 07
Not a concrete plan
Leave Pulau Ubin and my wild-boar relatives alone
Down Under with Neil Humphreys

CYCLING was a far less complicated task in Singapore. You bought a bike, pedalled, and tried to avoid the karung guni man who always cycled on the wrong side of the road.

In Australia, you must wear a helmet. It's the law. That's not easy when you have an elephantine head like me. I'm now the proud owner of a shiny black headpiece that was designed for a hippo.

You also need a bell to cycle in built-up areas. So when I venture into public parks, I'm usually accompanied by my wife because her bike is equipped with a bell.

There's only one minor drawback. The moment her backside hits the saddle, she turns into Julie Andrews and pretends she's on a day trip with the Von Trapp family. We're no longer in an Australian park. We're in The Sound of Music.

"Hey, if you're going to come out with me, at least keep up," I shout. "Doe, a deer, a female deer/Ray, a drop of golden sun!," she cries.

"Do you have to sing Do Re Mi every bloody time we go out on a bike?"

"Far, a long, long way to run!"

"There are kids staring at you."

"Sew, a needle pulling thread!" This can go on for an hour.

Her other problem is the phantom snake attacks.

Her reasoning is extremely simple. There are snakes in Australia. And snakes can kill people. And my wife lives in Australia. Therefore, a snake will definitely kill her while she's queuing up to buy stamps in the post office.

Or when she's out cycling with me in public parks, where the phantom snakes usually strike during my wife's big finale. "Do Re Mi Fa So La Ti Do," she'll bellow. "Do Ti La Snake! There's a snake!"

"That's not a snake," I reply after a quick glance at the grass. "It's a rolled-up newspaper."

"Oh, is it? Well, it could've been a snake. You can't be too careful." My wife certainly can't.

Newspapers, reeds, leaves, bottles and, most memorably, a cat have all been mistaken for murderous snakes during cycle rides.

Cycling was a less disruptive pastime in Singapore because I usually went out alone. My only concern there was to avoid the uncles who believed it was in keeping with The Highway Code to empty the entire contents of an HDB flat into a bike basket the size of an egg cup before pedalling through Toa Payoh. Oh, and they had to cycle on the wrong side of the road, of course.

So, to escape my wife and twilight collisions with karung guni men, I often headed for one of the world's greatest cycling tracks: Pulau Ubin.

To tell you the truth, I'm often reluctant to mention the island's name for fear of jolting an official from his slumber and into an action that will invariably involve cranes, bulldozers and a 10-year plan.

"Hey, you see this Dumpwee is talking about Pulau Ubin," he'll say to a colleague. " What's it got there ah?" "Er, solitude, greenery, indigenous wildlife, the last remnants of a kampung lifestyle and granite."

"Granite?! Really? Pass me the phone."

Pulau Ubin is an old, agrarian world of plantations, prawn farming and fishing. It's also home to the spirit of my late grandparents.

When I last cycled around the island, I was convinced I heard my nan and granddad arguing in the bushes. They turned out to be a couple of wild boars, but the similarities were startling.

The unspoken grunts, the lack of eye contact, the way the female turned her back on the male it was all there.

But I love Pulau Ubin. There's no greater cycling destination. Any view that doesn't involve a laptop screen can be inspiring and the vistas at Ubin are breathtaking.

When I return to Singapore in a few months, Ubin will be one of the first places I will visit.

I always go for the silence. Granite mining at Kekek Quarry, however, is not a silent activity.

And, children pedal around Ubin to enjoy its unique biodiversity, not its concrete ingredients.

Whatever the final outcome, one of Singapore's biggest lungs must be protected. There should always be a place for my wife to sing Do Re Mi.

links

A jewel that needs to be protected Don't destroy Ubin in the name of development Letter from Maryanne Maes Today Online 11 Apr 07

Singapore looking to reopen Ubin granite quarry
Channel NewsAsia 9 Apr 07

Also discussed on the focus ubin forum

Ubin stories blog has regular updates and full background on the issue.

Stories and photos of a trip to Kekek on the wildfilms blog

On the habitatnews blog Isn't it time we started tightening our belts? and a google map of Kekek Quarry

Beauty Lost? Third world mentality toward nature for first world infrastructure on the colourful clouds blog

Related articles on Pulau Ubin
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