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Friday, June 29, 2007

"Transformers"

Transformers
That tears it. Michael Bay has officially destroyed the "Transformers" franchise. He calls himself the "greatest (Transformers) fan in the world". I say he's a two-bit wannabe who should just slink into whatever hole he came from and never emerge again. Because after watching this so-called movie, I wish that Megatron would become real and blast Bay to smithreens.

This post is going to be full of spoilers on purpose. Consider it my public service to ensure that you don't waste two-and-a-half hours of your life on this piece of crap. So many things went wrong. I've already complained about the bad robot designs and Optimus Prime's lips, so I won't repeat those. Where should I begin? I suppose going chronologically would help. So here goes.
  • Time passes quickly when you're under attack. Bright sunshine suddenly gave way to the darkness of night in Qatar. Surely the sun doesn't set that fast in the Middle East! This would be a repeated problem throughout the movie.
  • Another repeated problem: poor editing. Scenes were suddenly cut off and moved to the next frame. It's as if the editor just attacked the film reel with a pair of shears and tacked everything together haphazardly. I doubt this was the work of our local censors.
  • Josh Duhamel's character calls his wife and sees his baby girl. In spite of all of his love for them and their apparent importance to him, you will never see his family again. It's not that they died. It's just clear that the writers didn't know what to do with them beyond that one scene.
  • The protagonist is named "Sam Witwicky", but the cartoon version's was "Spike Witwicky". I don't know why the name was changed. But this is a minor gripe anyway.
  • But he was hawking his grandfather's belongings in the middle of class. His teacher should have just failed him for bad taste. Instead, he got an "A". His father was so proud that he promptly set off to buy Sam his first car. If I sold my grandparents' belongings so indicriminately, my parents would punish the living daylights out of me!
  • I still don't understand why Bumbleebee was changed into a Camaro from his original Volkswagen Beetle form. Michael Bay said that he didn't want the audience to confuse the robot with Herbie, the Love Bug. I think Bay is full of s**t. If his audience could sit through two hours of gore and violence, I'm sure they would be able to distinguish a family-friendly car from a soldier robot.
  • Sam somehow manages to catch up with a car on a bicycle! He must have some strong leg muscles!
  • The policeman is so lame. What's the point of that scene again? To show that American police really are brutes?
  • The next day, Sam somehow manages to outcycle his car again! Though I'd give Bumblebee the benefit of the doubt since he was following Sam from behind.
  • Day inexplicably becomes night quickly again during the chase between Bumblebee and Barricade. I guess Transformers have an unlimited supply of fuel.
  • It's difficult to understand Bumblebee. You really need to catch every single word from his radio.
  • The Autobots arrive... and America's satellite system, which supposedly can see the tiniest speck in space, fails to detect them and alert the military. This is just the start to show how incapable the U.S. military is in this movie.
  • The Transformers get their alternate form by scanning vehicles and taking their form. And they can switch forms easily. Like Frenzy, who started as a stereo and became a handphone. Those robots must clearly be made with a million billion different parts to take on any shape or form.
  • Optimus Prime transforms... and he doesn't have the classic cartoon transforming sound! In fact, the only character who has it is the Decepticon, Blackout, and it happens once in the entire film. Nooooo!!!
  • The Autobots learned English from the World Wide Web, as opposed to the radio signals that we've been beaming into space all of these years. Fortunately, they didn't learn the language from blogs written by Singaporean kids.
  • And the Autobots all sound the same! It sounded as if Peter Cullen provided all of their voices. With their indistinguishable designs, it made identifying the robots more difficult.
  • For some reason, Sam trusts the Autobots, even though they and the Decepticons want the same thing from him. Come on, even a teenager can't be that trusting! And even after the Autobots trash his house, he still trusts them!
  • Maybe he gets it from his mother. Ironhide should really have just "silenced" her.
  • You know, for some reason, the Decepticons didn't trash the Witwicky house earlier. Frenzy had already discovered the Witwicky connection and went on to learn Sam's eBay identity. But wouldn't it have been more sensible to go through phone records and find the house itself? And why go after Sam, not his father? Oh, I guess the filmmakers needed to target the teen demographic.
  • Bumblebee took a leak on the Sector Seven leader. Okay, that's not a complaint. That was genuinely funny! Probably the only gem in this ill-begotten movie.
  • Oh, by the way, amidst all of this, the American soldiers were fighting Scorponok, who knew how to travel in sand but didn't know how to hide there too when under heavy fire.
  • Meanwhile, the Secretary of Defense had called up every intelligent mind in America to unravel the secret of the Decepticons' tone. For some reason, a teenage girl figured it out before every other top notch intelligence agent and soldier. Maybe she was there to appeal to the teen demographic too. But wait, isn't that what Sam and Mikaela were for? Does that mean Mikaela wasn't hot enough that the filmmakers needed a brainy, blonde British babe as well?
  • For some reason, while expounding on the need to fight the good fight, Optimus Prime says the magic line, "Freedom is the right of all sentient beings." In the context of his dialogue, that came totally from left field. It's like the scriptwriters needed to add it somewhere, so they just dropped it there.
  • Prime is willing to sacrifice his life to destroy the Allspark. When Prime opened his chest, I expected to see the Matrix of Leadership there, but I really should've known better. Here's how you destroy the Source of Transformers Life: you shove it into the chest of a Transformer.
  • And why would Prime want to leave his Autobots leaderless and the rest of the universe at the mercy of the malevolent Megatron? Even when watching the cartoons, I always thought that Prime was a silly excuse for a leader. But here, he was just being hare-brained. Clearly, he hadn't thought through his strategy.
  • And Prime says, "Autobots, roll out!", not "Autobots, transform and roll out!" Okay, minor quibble there.
  • The imprisoned Megatron is apparently the source of all of humans' technological discoveries, including the automobile and electronic chips. In "Men in Black", I could believe that things like the microwave oven came from alien technology, but in this movie, it just sounded silly. I was willing to suspend my disbelief, but so far, the movie had given me little reason to suspend that much disbelief.
  • We get our first glimpse of the power of the Allspark. By the way, was that the best name that the writers could come up with? Anyway, it apparently can make any inanimate object possess the ability to transform. Oh, and make them Decepticons too. So here's my understanding: the Source of Transformers Life bestows evil on its creations. Okay, right, got it. There are apparently no benevolent gods in robot land.
  • Oh, and a Nokia N93, after given the Allspark life, can suddenly shoot bullets. I don't know what goes into an N93, but I didn't know bullets were in the specifications!
  • By the way, this film is filled with product placements. From the obvious General Motors vehicles to the Nokia phones to the HP computers. And I thought the myriad of Sony devices in "Casino Royale" was bad.
  • Bumblebee approaches the Allspark like it's an everyday item. This is the Source of its Life! If I met my Source of Life, I'd be trembling in my knees and be reverent and everything! Or maybe these robots don't have religion, even for something that mystically gives them life.
  • Starscream finally appears, as do the rest of the Decepticons. About time!
  • When Starscream tells Megatron where the Autobots are headed to, Megatron says that the former has failed him again. I chuckled because, in the cartoon, Megatron always belittled Starscream. But a split second later, I thought, "Wow, there is just no way to please the big guy!" Why would anyone remain loyal to him?
  • At this point, things just degenerate into one big slugfest. Whatever story there was is thrown out of the window. Bay does what he does best: he blows everything up, including the franchise.
  • And the body count just keeps going up. Never mind that children are watching the film. Just kill 'em all!
  • Jazz is unceremoniously torn apart by Megatron. This is the most senseless death in comic book/super-hero movies. Firstly, Jazz didn't have a big role to play, so his death failed to strike a chord with the audience. Secondly, all that happens is that Megatron picks him up and rips him apart, so Jazz dies in an unheroic manner. Finally, Jazz was the only robot who spoke with an African American slang. With his death, did that mean that the token minority character had been written off?
  • The American fighter planes sure take their time in coming to the rescue. So much for air support.
  • Josh Duhamel's character killed Devastator because he identified its weak spot. Okay, score one for the humans who supposedly have inferior technology.
  • Mikaela somehow has all the time in the world to hotwire a tow truck and strap a crippled Bumblebee to it. All this time while the Decepticons are raining hail and hellfire all around.
  • Oh, and apparently it's very difficult to shoot or bomb the Autobots to death. The Decepticons, on the other hand, fall to pieces when shot with human-made rockets and bullets.
  • Before I forget, the Secretary of Defense, the Sector Seven leader, the blonde British babe and her African American sidekick manage to destroy Frenzy. But you know what? Those characters are forgettable. You can remove them from the show and there'd be nothing missing.
  • Prime tells Sam to shove the Allspark into his chest, but Sam being the rebellious teenager pushes it into Megatron's. Which was the sensible, logical thing to do right from the start. Kill two birds with one stone, right? Destroy Megatron and also the very thing that caused the Transformers war. Besides, the irritating Allspark had a tendency to create Decepticons, so it deserved to be erased from existence.
  • Prime gives a one-line eulogy for Jazz, which is really insipid. This guy fought by your side all of this time, and that was the best that you could come up with? The next time an Autobot dies, I hope it's Ratchet who gives the eulogy. He's a better orator.
  • Bumblebee magically restores his voice, yet Prime doesn't seem fazed by it. Perhaps he's witnessed stranger things, like the flame design on his chest.
  • The destroyed robots are sunk in the middle of the ocean, because the extreme ocean pressure and icy cold temperatures will ensure that they remain lifeless. You know, so they'll be there for the sequel.
  • Oh, and the biggest sin of all: there's no Transformers theme music! Not even Mute Math's pathetic version. What's up with that??
And that's the movie. If you've lasted this long and still want to watch it, my advice is to stay for the first 20 minutes or so. That's the enjoyable part. As soon as you reach the scene where Bumblebee takes off into the night on its own, walk out of the hall. Just walk out. There's nothing left to see. Oh, unless you want to see Bumblebee take a leak. Okay, I guess that's worth staying for too. But you'll have to be patient, very patient for the next half hour or so.

--

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Played with a Wii!

Nintendo Wii
A senior colleague bought a Nintendo Wii for his kids today. But thanks to his supreme goodness, we got to play with it first!

Another colleague set it up, while I fiddled with plugging it into the TV set. Another colleague noticed me and remarked that I'd never been as excited about a game console before. Sure, there's already an XBox 360 in the office, but this is the Wii we're talking about!

We only played Wii Sports, preferring to leave Wii Play in its virgin condition. But even the games in Wii Sports were sufficiently entertaining. We started with golf, then moved on to tennis and baseball so that two could play at the same time.

As expected, handling the Wii remote (or 'Wiimote') was a no-brainer. For a moment, I was confused about how to play tennis with it, expecting to press buttons. Then, in a forehead-slapping moment, another colleague told me to just swing the Wiimote like a racquet. Of course! Before long, the few of us were swinging our Wiimotes wildly. I even banged myself against the wall a few times! And one colleague hit another -- with a loud slap!

Soon, everyone who was playing was used to the Wiimote. It's just so easy to take to it. There were no complicated button combinations to remember. Whether it was tennis or baseball, it took us less than a minute to figure out how to play them moderately well.

But there was one thing that irritated me. It was difficult to control the pointer, for example, when pressing a button to quit the game. Perhaps it was how the sensor bar had been positioned, because it was very easy for the pointer to disappear off the screen. It took a lot of wild swinging and wrist flicking to get the pointer back where it should be.

Fortunately, there's a small but very useful feature for managing the pointer. When it moves over a button, the Wiimote vibrates a little, prompting you to stop moving. Nonetheless, it was extremely frustrating. I suspect that there's a way to customise the speed and sensitivity of the Wiimote, but we didn't want to fiddle with those settings.

So, I'd consider my first hands-on experience with the Wii to be a resounding success. And it makes me even more sure that this would be the game console for me. But I'm not going to run out and buy it immediately, tempting as it is. I'll wait for the next electronics fair, which should be in September, to see if I can score any good deals. Yeah, I may like the Wii, but I can be patient too.

--

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

"Transformers" ending may anger fans further

Transformers paperback
I happened to be at Border's this evening and there in the shelves was the paperback novelisation for "Transformers". I couldn't help it, so I flipped to the last few pages.

Gosh, I think a lot of fans are going to be even angrier about the movie, if they aren't already so. Yes, the good guys win in the end. That's a non-spoiler. But it gets worse.

Spoiler (highlight to read): Jazz dies. So does Megatron.

It's "X-Men 3" all over again!

--

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Comparing Apple/AT&T iPhone plans to Singapore's plans

Apple iPhone
Apple and AT&T announced three mobile plans for the iPhone today. These range from US$59.99 to US$99.99. At first glance, I thought, "Wow! That's outrageous!" I was sure that comparable plans in Singapore would be much cheaper.

Alas, how wrong I was.

Here's a table comparing the plans.
CarrierIncl. SMS300 mins400 mins450 mins680 mins700 mins900 mins1,350 mins1,500 mins2,000 mins
AT&T (US$/S$)200

59.99
(92.26)


79.99
(123.02)
99.99
(153.78)


SingTel360*



105.79

221.81
500**99.75


162.75



M1300*
42.00





105.00
50047.25


81.38



StarHub300


92.40




50047.25


81.38



90050.40







2,000







197.40
All of the local telcos offer free incoming talk time until the end of 2008 at the earliest.
* Based on non-promotional usual price
** Based on first year's subscription rate


At first glance, it seems like there are some local plans that look more affordable than AT&T's. Of course, I'm not comparing apples with apples (pardon the pun), because of variable charges like extra minute charges, registration, etc.

But wait, there's more! AT&T offers unlimited data usage. In contrast, the local telcos offer add-on data plans:
  • M1 - $313.95 maximum (for two of its data plans)
  • StarHub - $105 unlimited
M1's maximum data charges alone far exceed any of AT&T's combined talk and data plans. Meanwhile, StarHub's cheapest mobile plan doesn't look so cheap once you add the extra hundred dollars. (Unfortunately, I couldn't find any prices for SingTel's maximum data charges or unlimited plans, if any.)

So it would seem that the iPhone plans are actually cheaper than what you can get in Singapore! And here, I always thought that mobile plans in the U.S. were a rip-off.

--

Saturday, June 23, 2007

"Nancy Drew"

Nancy Drew
If there was ever a movie for light-hearted, whimsical fun, "Nancy Drew" would be it. It had a simple storyline, attractive actors and actresses, and a general feeling of old school optimism.

I was probably the only single guy above twenty in the entire cinema hall, but that didn't stop me from enjoying the show. It also helped that I didn't have the baggage of reading the old Nancy Drew stories. I never got into them, nor The Hardy Boys ones. So though there was criticism that the movie wasn't true to the books, I didn't feel that anything was amiss.

To sum up: the jokes fell flat (especially the one about "the guy from 'Smallville'"), the mystery was paper thin, characters were flat, and the contrast between River Heights and Los Angeles or Nancy Drew and everyone else couldn't be more apparent if you plastered a big sign in every scene. Fortunately, at 90 minutes, the non-mystery adventure was wrapped up quickly and neatly. So what's there to like?

Probably just this one thing. Emma Roberts as the title character was very enjoyable to watch. She played the perfect, sweet girl without coming across as annoying. And her smile always lit up the screen. Watching her, I could definitely see why girls wanted to be Nancy Drew: she was full of wonder and hope, but also filled with determination to get the job done. I think that she belongs in the same category of "fresh new talent to watch" that includes Anne Hathaway and Kristen Bell.

Unfortunately, the other characters were pretty much useless. Her schoolmates were irritating who were there simply to contrast Nancy Drew's old time chic from modern fashion. Ned, the love of her life, was let down by the wooden portrayal by the actor. The villains were so one-sided that there was no mystery about them. I think even Nancy Drew's hairband played a more vital role than all of the other characters put together!

Still, it was a delight to see some familiar faces show up, like Rachel Leigh Cook, Bruce Willis, Barry Bostwick, and Chris Kattan (from Saturday Night Live). Talk about well-kept secrets.

Alas, none of the above would make this a truly memorable movie. It's definitely targeted at the female teens who don't need to have read the original stories. I'd probably watch this again when I need a break from life.

--

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Re-register my I.C.

ICA I.C. registration hall
At the prime age of 30, every Singapore citizen is obligated to re-register his/her identity card. If the card is not re-registered by the citizen's 31st birthday, then that person is liable to be fined.

As I did not intend to receive a black mark on my record, and because I'd already received the first reminder, I decided to do my citizen-ly duty today. I could've registered online but didn't have a photo available. Besides, I'd still have to collect it personally, so might as well go down and get it over with.

I arrived at the Immigration and Checkpoints Authority (ICA) Building at 11am. From what I'd heard, I expected the whole process to take two hours to complete, so I was half-expecting to come back another day to collect my I.C. Nonetheless, I went ahead as planned.

On this Saturday morning, there were people rushing in and out of the building. Security guards were there to maintain order and also direct people to the correct floors. I don't know what exactly was on the first floor, because I proceeded directly to the escalator.

Upon arriving at the second floor, I had a weird feeling, like I'd been thrown back into the past. The eighties, to be more exact. There were people everywhere! Long queues to take photos. People waiting patiently in the halls. Families with small children milling about. It was very surreal, like nothing had changed since the first time I'd applied for a passport... more than 10 years ago!

The third floor was more calm (perhaps as testament to the popularity of the Singapore passport). I wanted to get a queue ticket for the I.C. re-registration, but saw that the estimated waiting time was only five minutes! Meanwhile, the queue for taking a photo seemed longer. So I went to join that queue instead.

It took about 20 minutes to clear the queue (there were about 20 people in front). The process was very smooth: pay $5.25 for four headshots, enter the booth, stare towards the digital camera in front, snap!, come out and watch the attendant digitally manipulate the photo (adjust saturation, clean out blemishes), print and collect the four photos. And all that took less than five minutes! Fast!

I then proceeded to the actual re-registration. The waiting time was indeed about five minutes. But I didn't have a very good experience at the counter. The woman was obviously very used to the process, so her actions came across as very rough. I felt manhandled by her when she pressed my thumbs against the scanner. Also, it was fortunate that I was able to catch every word she said (in spite of the background noise), otherwise I wouldn't have known what to do next, like paying $10 for the new card.

Next step was to collect the card itself. I didn't realise that I had to drop my collection slip in a box, something that the counter lady didn't inform me. But I saw others doing it, and when I went up to check, a kind middle-aged lady asked me if I was collecting my I.C. I said yes, she asked for my slip, then told me to have a seat. The waiting time was supposed to be at least half an hour, but I received my brand spankin' new I.C. in less than 10 minutes.

Total time spent at ICA Building: about an hour. Most of the time was spent queuing for the photo. The rest of the time was spent figuring out what to do next. The process might be smooth, but unless you're a seasoned veteran at such things (and I don't know many people who apply for I.C.'s regularly), it can be very easy to get lost.

--

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Bad "Transformers" theme and Optimus Prime's lips

Transformers: The Album
Oh dear, how can things get any worse? First, there were the horrendous robot designs. Now, it's the music. All of my fond childhood memories are being blasted into smithreens by something more powerful than Megatron's arm-mounted gun. Something called "Michael Bay".

The theme song by Mute Math, which is available on their MySpace site, is so, I don't know, un-"Transformers"-like. "Transformers" is supposed to be a fun, slam-bang action-packed story. The theme, on the other hand, sounds as if the robots decided to inhale something illegal and chill in a trance music bar. This is probably the genre of music that the band plays, in which case I blame the album's producers for picking them. Surely there are better rock bands out there who can compose a kick-ass theme???

Meanwhile, a two-minute song was released towards the end of the week (download the song). It was mistakenly credited to Mute Math, but I suspect that it's by Linkin Park. Now this song has some of the silliest lyrics ever recorded. ("We need them to protect and save our souls." "For the fight of mankind that sets us apart. / We fight our freedom. / We follow our heart.") But it grows on me. And it's more rock, which makes it more upbeat. Which makes it more fitting for such a movie. There's even a fan-made theme music video:

By the way, in the video, fast forward to the 42-second mark to catch a four-second glipse of... Optimus Prime's mouth! Oh my goodness!!! Optimus Prime has lips! The travesty! The horror! My eyes, my eyes!!!

Okay, dramatics aside... Yes, I'll still watch the movie. Why? Because I remain a sucker for such shows. And it's one of those things where it feels so bad that I have to watch it to really understand how bad it is. Which means I'll be adding to the box office takings. But then, a movie's profitability is usually based on its video and DVD sales, so it remains to be seen if I'll be contributing to those coffers.

Oh, and of course, by "watch the movie", I mean I'll be buying a ticket at a cinema to watch it. Don't steal movies, kids. Otherwise, we won't have any more brain-numbing flicks to spend our hard-earned money on.

I'm about ready to crack out my "The Transformers: The Movie" soundtrack and listen to the theme song by Lion. It was everything 1980s, including the kitsch lyrics, but it was also fun and loud. Not to mention very close to the TV theme song. And there are all of the other fun songs, like "Dare", "The Touch", and Weird Al Yankovic's "Dare to be Stupid". Ah, good times...

--

Thursday, June 07, 2007

Shelftalker at Redbar

Shelftalker gig
A group of colleagues and I were invited to the first gig by Shelftalker, a local rock band whose lead singer is my colleague, Mikael Teo. It was held at Redbar, which used to be a Chinese karaoke joint, which used to be another bar called Gas Haus. The gig was supposed to start at 8:30pm, but even when we returned from dinner at 8:45pm, we still had to wait for the show.

Now, my music taste comprises mostly of soft rock, and the closest that I get to loud rock music is through bands like Linkin Park. And I'd only been to one other rock gig at a bar, which was about five years ago in Madison. So I sort of knew what to expect: loud music, solo guitar pieces, non-discernible lyrics. Oh yeah, and lots of angst. Someone had brought the lyrics sheet and I scanned through it briefly, deciding to soak in the music instead.

Mikael Teo, lead singer of Shelftalker
Shelftalker gig Shelftalker gig
Meaning no disrespect to Mikael, I suppose I'll never be able to fully appreciate indie rock. Perhaps my brain has soaked in too much mainstream music. And I like listening to songs where the lyrics (a) can be recognised without needing to consult a lyrics sheet, or (b) are catchy enough to make me want to look them up. But I don't think the others felt the same way, going by the loud applause.

My only real complaint was about the sound. I accepted that it must be loud, but why did it always seem like there was a background hum? It's the kind that sounded like a microphone was too close to a speaker. I expected the sound guy to fix it after the first two songs or so, but he never did so. Later, in the second set, I realised that the bass player was strumming between songs, so maybe he was the sound of the hum. Still, it was irritating and I kept wishing it away, to no avail.

The other complaint would be logistical, i.e. the microphone stand. I lost count of how many times Mikael had to kick the stand in order for its three legs to open up properly. Definitely not a worthwhile distraction for the lead singer.

Having said that, the gig was enjoyable because part of the fun came from being with friends. Sure, it was dark and loud, which meant that I had to speak louder with my soft voice (and thus lean closer to the girl's ear?), and there were alcoholic drinks all around that always make me burp uncomfortably. But that's all fun and good.

--

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

How do you say "pro bono"?

Someone asked me for another way of saying "pro bono". Here're my suggestions:
  • "for free" (which is a literal translation, I believe)
  • "almost nothing"
  • "costs peanuts"
And my favourite:
  • "We'll charge you nothing. And if that's too low, we'll double our cost!"
That last one was inspired from the pilot episode of "Everwood".

--

Saturday, June 02, 2007

Pedal Ubin

Ubin Quarry
It was a morning of cycling and exploration at Pulau Ubin. The last time I was there was about 15 years ago, and I was glad to see that not much had changed. The island still retained its rustic feel, resisting most efforts to "modernise" it.

The cycling trip was organised by Pedal Ubin. A friend had come across the group and suggested joining the next trip, which was this morning. We arrived at Changi Jetty at 8am, took the ferry to the island, then put down $10 for a whole-day rental for a bicycle each.

Waiting outside volunteer centreWaiting outside volunteer centre
We nearly missed the rest of the group, because we had mistakenly thought that the meeting point was at the Information Kiosk, when it was actually at the Volunteer Centre. Fortunately, we found out in time. About 40 other people had already congregated there, including some families with young children.

Mangrove swamp at Sungei JelutongSungei Jelutong
We broke up into groups of 10. After a brief orientation session at the ex-basketball court, we proceeded westwards. First stop: Sungei Jelutong, the river that "cuts" Pulau Ubin in two. We were taught about the many uses of mangrove plants, from providing firewood to desalinating water to -- and this had been drummed into our heads three years ago -- acting as a natural breakwater against tidal waves, especially those caused by a tsunami.

We were also told the importance of the sluice gate in managing the height of the river. The current at the gate was so strong that, even though the rest of the river looked calm, we could see little fishes struggling to swim against the flow. A guide recounted how a girl who had been kayaking there was pulled through the gate, hit her head on it, and passed away.

Before leaving for the next stop, we saw a few mudskippers and tiny crabs along the river bed. The crabs could only be noticed when they scurried about, and even those were for brief moments, so it seemed like we were seeing things.

Fig treeAlong the way to Ubin Quarry, the guide pointed out a fig tree. He told us about how the fig is both a flower and a fruit. I personally have never liked eating figs, but that didn't stop me from looking at one that had been split open -- or getting sticky sap on my fingers!

Ubin QuarryUbin Quarry
At Ubin Quarry, we were treated to a very... still... lake. Of course, being an old granite quarry, any water that accumulated there, for example, from rainfall, couldn't flow anywhere. Neither was it affected by tides. As a result, the water made for an eerie mirror of the sky and surrounding forest. The authorities had fenced up the area, but adventurous explorers had already made a hole in it. We were, of course, advised to stay away. Years of mining with dynamite had resulted in cracks in the surrounding land, so it didn't exactly provide firm support.

Inside German Girl ShrineGerman Girl Shrine
We cycled on along the road, then turned off at a gravel track. This area had apparently been filled with soil that was extracted during the construction of the underground MRT network. And in the midst of this was a peculiar, yellow shrine called "German Girl Shrine" (that's what the sign called it too!). According to the guide, the story goes like this:

During World War One, the British rounded up any Germans who were living in Singapore. This included a Germany family that lived in Pulau Ubin. Frightened, the young daughter ran away in the middle of the night... and never returned. Villagers found her doll, dress and other accessories (and maybe her body too). These items were placed in an urn, and a shrine constructed for the girl. Since then, though the shrine has moved from place to place in the island, it is still visited by devotees who seek blessings and good fortune.

Fishing huts
That would be one of several stories of the island. We hiked down to the coast, where Pulau Ketam was visible to the left, behind some fishing huts. There, we were treated to another story:

An elephant, a pig, a frog and a crab decided to cross from Singapore to Malaysia. Unfortunately, none of them made it. The elephant became Pulau Tekong, the pig became Pulau Ubin, the frog Pulau Sekudu and the crab turned into Pulau Ketam.

While at the coast, we were also taught the importance of not throwing litter into the sea, especially plastic, because such debris inevitably wind up along beaches and other coastlines. And since plastic takes hundreds of years to decompose, the pollution builds up, which could make the environment toxic.

Bodhi tree and shrine at Thai TempleJalan Wat Siam (Thai Temple Road) signpost
After a short break, we cycled on to the Thai Temple. Apparently, a monk from Chiangmai walked all the way down to Singapore, then decided to set up a temple on Pulau Ubin. And this monk apparently still lived in this temple. Whether the story was true or not, I thought it was pretty remarkable to find such a place there, especially since it had its own postal code!

Monarch butterflyFacing Johor Bahru
We cycled further along a gravel path to arrive at our northernmost destination. From here, we had a good view of Johor Bahru... from behind a metal fence. After the events of 9/11, the authorities had erected this fence to make it difficult for illegal immigrants to enter the island, and then Singapore. The coast guard had also stepped up patrols, though we didn't see any while we were there.

Kekek/HDB Quarry lakeTerrapin in Kekek/HDB Quarry lakeTerrapin in Kekek/HDB Quarry lake
After that, it was on to another quarry lake, Kekek Quarry or HDB Quarry (because most of the granite mined there had been used to construct HDB flats). Again, somebody had made a whole in the triple-lined fence, which allowed us to step onto a small patch of empty ground. The water level had risen much higher, perhaps due to the recent showers, so we couldn't step out to the platform. While we were there, a curious terrapin swam up, and one of my friends lured it further in by feeding it bread. This gave us some good close-up photographic moments. (Yes, we were certainly urban dwellers who oohed-and-aahed over nature!)

Drinks stall sign
This surprisingly brought us to the four-hour point, meaning that our trip had officially ended. Time really flew while we were having fun cycling, exploring and learning. We stopped by the drinks stall at Sungei Jelutong for coconut juice and to cool off. Due to its prominent sign, visitors are more likely to know this stall as "Y u so like that?"

Goddess of Mercy at Ubin QuarryGoddess of Mercy at Ubin QuarryUbin Quarry
Opposite this drink stall was another view of Ubin Quarry. This one was special because we could see a white rock formation that apparently resembled the Goddess of Mercy. So much so that, yes, there was a shrine. The formation was unlikely to have been sculpted purposely. That meant it was formed through mining activities, which meant dynamite explosions. Sheer luck or divine will?

Pulau Ubin from ferry
And that was it for our trip there. All in all, it had been an enjoyable learning experience. There's still so much to see and know at Pulau Ubin. It's probably the last true kampung (village) in Singapore, and I think it'd be a shame if the rest of the 50 villagers left the island. Of course, it'd be an even bigger shame if the island's natural beauty was razed in the name of modernisation.

Now, I just needed to get some rest and go easy on my tired legs.

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