CNA explores Singapore on foot (Day 5): An unexpected guide and finally, the big finish
Friday (Oct 16) was the final day of CNA's long walk around Singapore, with journalists Matthew Mohan and Gaya Chandramohan venturing out once again to discover the delights on their doorstep when overseas travel is more or less off limits.
SINGAPORE: My eyes had just about adjusted to the sunlight filtering through the curtains at my resort room in Lim Chu Kang when the phone started buzzing.
"No Caller ID" read the screen - surely this was too early in the morning for a scammer pretending to be an official from China.
"Hi Matthew, this is Zoe Tay. Have you guys started your walk today yet?" came a familiar voice. "I'm here outside. Hope I haven't missed you guys yet!"
It was the morning of the fifth and final day of our expedition and actress Zoe Tay was surprising us with bread and the offer to be our walking companion to start the day.
She had already spent a morning with us earlier in the walk, after reaching out on Instagram. That was strange enough.
But just as we had started to become addicted to our long exploration of Singapore, so it seemed that Zoe also wanted more of this experience. Hence, the unexpected early morning call.
I had to pinch myself to make sure this was real.
FUN IN THE COUNTRYSIDE
We had mixed feelings before the start of the last day of our marathon walk around Singapore.
On the one hand, we were looking forward to completing the journey and enjoying a long rest. On the other, the route for the day would take us through Lim Chu Kang road and Jalan Bahar, areas which my colleague Gaya Chandrmohan and I only knew to contain cemeteries and army camps.
There would be hardly any pedestrianised walkways, and with trucks hurtling up and down along the two-lane road weaving through the Kranji countryside, we would have to keep our eyes wide open.
So Zoe's arrival gave us a welcome boost. Having grown up in Lim Chu Kang, this was an area she was more than familiar with. She proved to be the perfect guide.
And so, what would have probably seemed like overgrown jungle to us took on so much more significance as she patiently pointed to areas she was familiar with from her childhood and how they used to look.
There was the shop in which she permed her hair for the first time and then regretted how it turned out. There was the community centre where she was given her BCG injection and the nurse was so rough that it led to her fear of needles. There was one of the first HDB blocks in the area, where she played on the playground slide and got too tanned.
The countryside had come alive.
Instead of long stretches of anonymous undergrowth and bland roads, Gaya and I were now seeing into Singapore's past. For sure, this area has changed - like so much of the country - and learning a little of its history was a joy.
En route to the area of Zoe's old home, we visited Bollywood Veggies, a sprawling farm nestled in the Kranji countryside. We had the pleasure of a short guided tour in the one of the compound's gardens and I even had a go at harvesting rice - thoroughly enjoyable.
Despite the farm's far-flung location, it was already seeing excited guests come through its gates as early as 9am in the morning, eager to explore the compound or enjoy breakfast at the farm's bistro.
Leaving the farm with a belly full of banana bread, I made a mental note to return. Now if only there were a public bus service plying this route rather than the sole shuttle service!
With Zoe bidding farewell to us after about three hours on the road, it was left for us to conquer the remaining kilometres - ending our journey just as we started off.
This proved to be easier said than done under the fierce heat of the midday sun. We'd foolishly neglected to purchase water when we'd set off and the back of our throats were beginning to dry up.
When a petrol station finally materialised in the distance, we couldn't get there fast enough.
A FINAL FLOURISH
After some resting, drinking and stretching, we were once again back on the road, with all eyes on the finish line.
This was the moment that we had been thinking of for some time now, and as the signboard for Taman Jurong Market and Food Centre came into view, we couldn't help but break into smiles under our sweat soaked face masks.
It had been a journey that had seen us clock a distance we wouldn't otherwise have walked (140km instead of the originally planned 110km), seen us explore parts of Singapore that we'd otherwise never had chanced upon and meet people that we'd never otherwise have met.
The island had proven to offer so much and then some more. From the swaying lalang fields of Jurong Lake Gardens to the waterlogged mangroves of Sungei Buloh, we'd had an adventure that we and our aching bodies wouldn't be forgetting any time soon.
We'd done it. But there was one more task left unfinished.
I trudged up the escalator with my backpack in search of that elusive bowl of lor mee that I had wanted for breakfast on the first day. And just as I had made my way to the stall in question, I noticed the hawkers packing up for the day.
My lor mee would have to wait - perhaps until the next round island trek.