Writing about Mum’s care yesterday has made me look back upon some childhood memories of more happy times in Singapore. In my mind’s eye, I can still see my 6-year-old self at the MacRitchie Reservoir on a Sunday afternoon after attending church service, not far from where we lived, feeding the wild monkeys in the park. It was the highlight of the outing when the monkeys surrounded one and waited patiently if greedily for peanuts or kachang puteh to be thrown to them. The best nuts to give them were those still in their shells. I loved to see them so cleverly splitting the shells and eating the nuts quick as a flash!
Dad was alive then too, and we used to go to the reservoir in our Sunday best. The problem with this of course was that we had to make certain we did not dirty our clothes. This was mostly as easily said as done as I do not think that we ever went to the park unless the sun was shining brightly, so there was never mud to contend with. The only time it was a little more difficult was when we took a picnic with us as well. Then, we had to be careful that we never sat on the grass but only on the large rattan mat that accompanied our picnic, which had a peculiar habit of bunching up under our skinny little legs whenever we tried to settle down to eat. Added to this discomfort was the worse one of knobbly prickly rattan making numerous painful patterns on our tender skin. What we would not have given then to be able to lounge on the green grass instead, dusty soil not withstanding!
One day, I heard an exciting piece of news on the radio: a black panther had escaped from Mandai Zoo and there was concern that it might have made its way to MacRitchie Reservoir, with all its lush tropical greenery, water reserves and small animal prey to be had. At that time I was probably no more than 10 years of age, and had become passionately keen on animals.
In my naivete, I even thought that wild animals would love me as much as I loved them. Thus, while the local media was warning against approaching the panther if one saw it, I was hoping that I would not only see it but that it would approach me like a domestic cat would for affection and company. I am, of course, wiser now: I know that I am no animal whisperer.
Schooling in Singapore generally meant a lot of exercise, with PE playing as significant a part in our education as academic study. As my siblings and I grew older, our fascination with local wildlife started to wane, and our parents stopped taking us to MacRitchie Reservoir. However, my relationship with the Reservoir continued on a more energetic note when our Chinese teacher took us for hikes in the ‘jungle’. Whilst it is true to say that our hikes were not strenuous in terms of fording streams or climbing steep inclines, the heat and humidity of Singapore’s weather, just 1 degree north of the Equator, plus the fact that many of us were namby-pamby in nature, made the hikes feel more difficult than they really were. If I remember correctly, the tiredness came more from the heat and the even more difficult mental and physical tricks of evading marauding mosquitoes zoning in on our bare skin for a yummy taste of young blood as well as the vicious red ants that crawled freely about our feet than the actual treks themselves.
The last time I was at MacRitchie Reservoir was when I went with my husband and children to visit this old haunt. This time, we strolled more gently in its grounds and admired the view of the lake created by the reservoir from the boardwalk. Just like me, my kids absolutely loved the monkeys and, being boys, also looked out for large lizards darting about!
However, when I think now of MacRitchie Reservoir, my enduring vision is still that of my young parents standing proudly and happily with us three children, cones of peanuts in hand and wild monkeys eyeing us hopefully for handouts. It is a precious memory, and I hope that I will never lose it.
The views from our guest house, Blenheim Lodge, also overlooks a lake – Lake Windermere – but how very different are the two lakes from each other! MacRitchie Reservoir draws one in with the mysteries of wild tropical species calling and moving in the night: monkeys, chameleons, birds, etc; whereas Lake Windermere beckons with its soft beauty when the sun sparkles, and has a character all its own especially when snow caps its surrounding mountains. Both bodies of water are so very beautiful in their own right, and I count myself blessed indeed to have been given the opportunity to enjoy the stunning landscapes I have seen over the intervening years.
‘Blenheim Lodge . . . panoramic Lake views, peace and tranquillity, nestled against acres of beautiful fields and woodlands, in the heart of the English Lake District National Park.’
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