I have had enough city, so today I spent walking along the coast and looking at the incredible ship traffic (last night the lights of the ships made the ocean look like a shimmering city). My walk took me to a little wharf, where for a couple of dollars I took a bumboat to the little island of Pulau Ubin, where I rented a bicycle and had a keen time cycling through the amazing rain forest. According to the signs, there is more biological diversity in one square kilometer of this forest that in the whole of the United States! I met a couple of durion hunters, who invited me to pose with one of the durions, and then opened it to share it with me. The durion is a big, tough spiney pod, with a distinctive smell (Rule 1,654,789: it is forbidden to transport durions in the metro or buses). Inside are clumps of things that look like artichoke hearts, that have a creamy texture and a pleasant flavor (but you have to pinch your nose to avoid the smell). And now that I talk of the people, let me state that everyone that I spoke to was very kind and welcoming.
Later I took a walk through the small village of Changi, which again looks like barracks but with all the color and life of a normal Asian village. I decided to try the specialty of the island, Chili Crab, which was delicious but a great mess to eat :)
My final stop was the Singapore zoo, which is more like a tropical garden where the animals live in large patches of rain forest. I enjoyed watching the people as much as the animals, but was feeling pressed for time, so at about 3 pm I left and headed for . . . the greatest traffic jam I have ever seen! The approach to the border took over an hour, and I had another chance to reflect on the ways of the Singapore government: There are big signs alerting the Singapore cars that they have to leave with a full tank of gas, and that the fine for having less than 3/4 of a tank is S$500. Strange, isn’t it? Here is the skinny: All luxury items, such as gas, cigarettes, or liquor are heavily taxed, and the government doesn’t want its citizens to go buy these items in Malaysia and forego the tax! Here are some prices in US dollars: Gas $6 per gallon, cigarettes $9 per pack, cheap wine $20 per bottle, half liter of Johnny Walker $39.
So, after going through the slowest border crossing in the world I finally made it back to Malaysia, and once again felt in a free land! I am now in a cool hotel room in the small town of Mersing, along the east coast of the peninsula, and tomorrow will visit the Endan-Rompin National Park, to look for the elusive Malaysian rhino.