An Afternoon in Bishan

There are all sorts of neighborhoods and old housing estates in Singapore, but few are as well known as the satellite town of Bishan. No one seems to mind that the whole area has been built on Peck San Teng, the “pavilions on the jade hills,” which was once the largest Chinese cemetery in all of Singapore. In the early 1980s, over 100,000 graves were exhumed and the bodies relocated to make room for what has become a thriving suburb.

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This area now houses thousands of HDBs (Housing and Development Board apartments).

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Prescott and I went to Bishan to explore the handful of condo options there (in anticipation of a possible move). One of these, SkyHabitat, is among my favorite buildings in Singapore (but I am only a fan of the architecture as seen from below — the apartment we viewed wasn’t appealing at all):

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I loved the pool and water features at Bishan Loft condo, which include spitting turtles, snails, fish, and frogs …

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… an lovely spouts of falling water:

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The other great thing about this condo was the vending machine that sells bread!

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We have since learned that this is a thing in Singapore — lots of condos have bread vending machines — but to us, it seemed both magical and bizarre.

As we meandered through Bishan, we paid a visit to the Clock Playground, one of Singapore’s few remaining historical mosaic playgrounds.

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Built in 1988 when Singaporeans still designed their own playground equipment out of thousands of tiny tiles, this small play area features a cuckoo clock …

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… whose stairs lead up to a short terazzo slide:

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Terazzo is a terrible slide material — it’s very abrasive — but I had a great time going down nonetheless.

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You can go inside of the main clock and turn the hands with a sort-of captain’s wheel …

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… or just hide behind the bars and peek out.

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Several blocks west, we found ourselves at Clover Way Playground, where we explored the tiny lending library (which, Prescott noted, contained almost as many geckos as books).

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Just across the street stood a row of mango trees — and we saw a beautiful parrot feasting on the nearly-ripe fruit:

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I have identified this (perhaps incorrectly) as a female blue-crowned hanging parrot, a rarity in urban areas. We also came across another rare sight: a tree covered in limes, each lime stapled into its own individual plastic bag:

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Two bus stops to the north of all of this is the superstar of the area: Bishan-Ang Mo Kio Park. One of the largest urban parks on the island, this long, thin swath of greenery features wide lawns, scattered ponds, and a lazy river (not the kind you float in — that would be a bad idea in this untreated water).

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A river with semi-wild banks is a tremendous rarity in Singapore, which has corralled pretty much all of its rivers into long, straight, concreted-lined canals. In fact, the river through Bishan-Ang Mo Kio Park used to be one of these concrete canals, but it has been “de-concretised” — and the concrete has been recycled into a set of rugged steps:

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At the top of the steps sits An Enclosure for a Swing, a giant sculpture by artist Kelvin Lim Fun Kit:

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We had a great time playing in the sculpture’s metal loops.

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You can take a walk across the river in several places:

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This park is a great place to get your nature fix. The eastern end of the park features “dragonfly ponds” …

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… which play host to all sort of wildlife, including turtles, fish, water lilies …

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… pink pods of golden apple snail eggs …

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… and, if the signs are to be believed, otters! (Sadly, we didn’t see any — but if I encountered one, I would make it my friend.)

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We also found a sizable community garden not far from the park’s edge. Unlike community gardens in the US, which are notable for their tidy rows of vegetables, these plots contained a surprising number of banana trees …

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… and flower-bearing shrubs:

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We only made our way through about a quarter of the park (maybe less). Given more time, we would love to visit the western section or sit and have a cup of tea in one of the restaurants that are tucked here and there amidst the trees and the lawns. I’m sure we’ll be back sometime!

 

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