STEP­PING OUT IN SIN­GA­PORE

A WALK­ING TOUR OF THE LIT­TLE RED DOT’S COASTAL PERIME­TER RE­VEALS A DIF­FER­ENT SIDE OF THE IS­LAND.

DestinAsian - - FEATURES - By Michael Meyer

A walk­ing tour of the Lit­tle Red Dot’s coastal perime­ter shows a dif­fer­ent side of the is­land.

I WAS REST­LESS, SO I WALKED AROUND SIN­GA­PORE. I don’t mean I win­dow-shopped Or­chard Road or strolled through the Botanic Gar­dens. I mean I walked around Sin­ga­pore—a 160-kilo­me­ter loop that took me clock­wise along the di­a­mond-shaped is­land’s perime­ter.

As coun­tries go, Sin­ga­pore is small; it could fit eight times into Bali. For­mer In­done­sian pres­i­dent B.J. Habi­bie is at­trib­uted with first call­ing the city-state a “lit­tle red dot,” a gibe that Sin­ga­pore­ans have proudly come to own. Yet how­ever minis­cule it looks on a largescale map, when mea­sured in foot­falls, Sin­ga­pore can start to seem bound­less, es­pe­cially thanks to an equa­to­rial cli­mate that wraps the walker in what can feel like steamed tow­els.

In my two years of liv­ing here, no Sin­ga­porean I asked had ever heard of any­one walk­ing around the en­tire is­land. Too hot, they’d say, and in such a small coun­try, what was there to see? As it turns out, another side to Sin­ga­pore, hid­ing in plain sight.

I choose a cer­e­mo­nial start­ing point: Changi Air­port, lo­cated on the is­land’s north­east cor­ner. Af­ter step­ping out the door marked Ar­rivals, a man asks me for di­rec­tions. He’s in town from the Philip­pines to raise money to build a lux­ury cruise ship named Mag­el­lan, af­ter the 16th-cen­tury Por­tuguese ex­plorer. Kis­met, I think, pic­tur­ing my fel­low cir­cum­nav­i­ga­tor; what an aus­pi­cious way to be­gin. Then the man re­minds me that Mag­el­lan was killed shortly af­ter ar­riv­ing in the Philip­pines in 1521. So much for good omens.

It turns out to be harder to walk away from the air­port than to board a flight. The side­walk ends at an ex­press­way, and I have to skirt rush­ing traf­fic to reach the calm empti­ness of East Coast Park. Here, un­der susurrous stands of sea al­mond trees, an as­phalt path runs as flat and straight as a ruler along­side man­i­cured beaches.

Much of Sin­ga­pore’s shore­line is a man­u­fac­tured land­scape. Since in­de­pen­dence from Malaysia in 1965, the coun­try’s area has grown by more than a quar­ter via land recla­ma­tion; Changi Air­port, like this en­tire coastal park, sits on in­fill. As does the trail­side Belly View Café, whose name I puz­zle over un­til the white un­der­side of a de­part­ing 747 roars over­head. To my left, con­tainer ships dot the Sin­ga­pore Strait, with the In­done­sian is­land of Batam ris­ing in the dis­tance. Some 1,400 cargo ves­sels squeeze through this 16-kilo­me­ter-wide cor­ri­dor of wa­ter ev­ery day, mak­ing it the world’s busiest ship­ping lane.

The walk­ing path dead-ends at a naval base. A young pri­vate man­ning the gate asks if I am here to visit its mu­seum. I didn’t know there was one. “You’re walk­ing around Sin­ga­pore?” he says with a laugh. “At the end of ba­sic train­ing, we were forced to march 20 kilo­me­ters along the coast. That was tor­ture enough.”

At the Navy Mu­seum, we stand in air con­di­tion­ing so cold that my sweat-soaked T-shirt quickly turns clammy. The pri­vate hands me a drink box of chrysan­the­mum tea. I feel like a child on a field trip, sip­ping through the tiny straw as I walk a 1,300-year time­line of Sin­ga­porean his­tory. Other ex­hibits un­der­score the coun­try’s de­pen­dence on the sea. The port fa­cil­i­ties here un­load 60,000 con­tain­ers each day, whose con­tents in­clude 90 per­cent of Sin­ga­pore’s food.

Most of the is­land’s drink­ing wa­ter, too, is im­ported, via pipe­lines from Malaysia. Eleven swel­ter­ing kilo­me­ters west of the naval base, I stop at a wa­ter recla­ma­tion plant equipped with a maze of big pipes and valves. Sin­ga­pore aims to be wa­ter in­de­pen­dent by 2060, when its im­port agree­ments ex­pire; two-thirds of its land area is laced with catch­ment reser­voirs, drainage canals, and de­sali­na­tion plants. Parched, I gulp down a bot­tle of the plant’s com­pli­men­tary “new wa­ter,” as it calls re­cy­cled waste­water strained through mem­brane fibers 1/100th the width of a hu­man hair. The taste be­trays noth­ing of its ori­gin as sewage, but I make a men­tal note to start car­ry­ing my own bot­tle of H2O.

For the next 16 kilo­me­ters, I walk past lit­ter-free beaches filled only with palm trees and the oc­ca­sional sand­cas­tle. One of the lat­ter is marked with a tiny Sin­ga­pore flag and the mes­sage: FROM NOTH­ING

TO SOME­THING. The ris­ing tide takes gen­tle bites from its base. I can see the day’s end­point ahead: the down­town sky­line, punc­tu­ated by the 42-story-tall Fer­ris wheel of the Sin­ga­pore Flyer and the un­mis­tak­able pro­file of Ma­rina Bay Sands, its three glassy tow­ers linked by a rooftop pool and ob­ser­va­tion deck. Along the trail there is no ad­ver­tis­ing or graf­fiti; Sin­ga­pore is the rare South­east Asian city that looks bet­ter in the day­time than in the mask­ing, neon-lit night.

The path leaves the coast at Gar­dens by the Bay, an oa­sis of green­ery built on sand dredged from the sea. The bay it over­looks was trans­formed into a fresh­wa­ter reser­voir a decade ago with the damming of the chan­nel that once con­nected it to the Sin­ga­pore Strait. Walk­ing the path atop the Ma­rina Bar­rage, as the dam is called, brings cool­ing blasts of sea breeze and—sur­pris­ingly—snip­pets of the Frozen an­them “Let It Go” waft­ing in from the chil­dren’s wa­ter park at Gar­dens by the Bay.

I limp into the Ma­rina Bay Sands casino and thread my way through a labyrinth of 5,000 slot ma­chines to the free soda foun­tain. Nearby, a roulette ta­ble sits empty. Af­ter a quick Google search on my phone I place small wa­gers on 4, 21, 15, and 21—the month, day, and year that Fer­di­nand Mag­el­lan met his end on a Philip­pine beach. The croupier spins the wheel, whizzing the ivory ball in the other di­rec­tion. It rat­tles into the pocket marked zero. Which is as much en­ergy as I have left at the end of this day’s 30 kilo­me­ters.

Sleep is a re­set but­ton; af­ter a rest­ful night at home, I restart my cir­cum­am­bu­la­tion from the casino’s front door. Across the bay, wa­ter spills from the

mouth of a three-story Mer­lion statue, mist­ing the selfie sticks an­gled to­ward its lion head and fish body. But I’m less in­ter­ested in Sin­ga­pore’s mas­cot than I am in the smaller fig­ure of Sir Thomas Stam­ford Raf­fles that stands a short walk away on the north bank of the Sin­ga­pore River. The statue’s plinth marks the spot where, in 1819, Raf­fles landed and “with ge­nius and per­cep­tion”—the plaque reads—“changed the des­tiny of Sin­ga­pore from an ob­scure fishing vil­lage to a great sea­port and mod­ern me­trop­o­lis.” The long­est pe­riod Raf­fles spent on the is­land was only eight months, but in that time he laid the ground­work for the fu­ture Bri­tish colony. No tourists snap pho­tos of his statue to­day; the man is most fa­mil­iar as the name­sake of the nearby Raf­fles ho­tel, where, in 1915, a bar­tender in­vented the Sin­ga­pore Sling.

It’s too early for a glass of gin-in­fused fruit punch, so I cross Cave­nagh Bridge—a cast-iron span shipped in pieces from Glas­gow and erected here in 1870—and walk along Boat Quay’s stretch of re­pur­posed 19th-cen­tury shop­houses. Turn­ing away from the river, I en­joy the com­par­a­tive cool­ness of the sky­scraper-shaded fi­nan­cial dis­trict be­fore ar­riv­ing at the for­mer Tanjong Pa­gar train sta­tion.

A hole in the perime­ter fence lets me into the echo­ing, Art Deco build­ing. Shut­tered since 2011 when the rail­way’s ter­mi­nus was moved 25 kilo­me­ters north to the Malaysian bor­der, its track bed is now a dirt trail called the Green Cor­ri­dor. Ten times longer than Man­hat­tan’s cel­e­brated High Line, this un­man­i­cured park­land is my fa­vorite spot in Sin­ga­pore, lead­ing hik­ers and bik­ers through lush ter­rain be­hind re­stored colo­nial-era vil­las. There are more but­ter­flies here than peo­ple. I’ve never paid much at­ten­tion to but­ter­flies be­fore, but soli­tary walks sharpen the eyes, and now I stop mid-stride to dif­fer­en­ti­ate be­tween a spot­ted leop­ard lacewing, a red painted Jezebel, and a tan co­conut skip­per.

Need­ing to get back to the coast, I climb a bank thick with sedge that con­ceals a bright green grass snake. The crea­ture seems just as star­tled as me. Grass snakes aren’t ven­omous, but I re­mind my­self to stick to the beaten path in the fu­ture; Sin­ga­pore has its share of kraits, co­bras, and vipers too.

The only dan­ger I face on the 10-kilo­me­ter South­ern Ridges trail be­tween Mount Faber and Kent Ridge Park lurks above—a sign shows a plum­met­ing spiky fruit and warns BE­WARE OF FALL­ING

DURI­ANS. The zigzag­ging route takes me across the sin­u­ous, 12story-high Hen­der­son Waves pedes­trian bridge, down a se­ries of iron walk­ways through a ci­cada-filled meadow, and then up again to Bukit Chandu (Opium Hill). It was on this spot in Fe­bru­ary 1942 that 13,000 Ja­panese sol­diers over­ran the last line of Sin­ga­pore’s de­fense. The Bri­tish sur­ren­dered the fol­low­ing day, and for the next three years the is­land went by the Ja­panese name Sy­onan-to: “Light of the South.”

Re­minders of Sin­ga­pore’s bru­tal wartime oc­cu­pa­tion dot the coast, from for­mer pris­oner-of-war camps to memo­ri­als hon­or­ing the thou­sands of civil­ians killed at the wa­ter’s edge. I’d read up on this his­tory, but un­til I walked its routes and faced its sites, I had not ap­pre­ci­ated how hope­less res­i­dents must have felt against the Ja­panese on­slaught. The is­land, then dubbed “Fortress Sin­ga­pore,” was in fact lightly de­fended by the Bri­tish, who woe­fully un­der­rated Ja­pan’s ca­pa­bil­i­ties.

Walk­ing west on Pasir Pan­jang Road, I pass a group of mi­grant Sri Lankan con­struc­tion work­ers lunch­ing in the shade of an old Bri­tish ma­chine-gun pill­box. A quar­ter of Sin­ga­pore’s 5.6 mil­lion peo­ple are for­eign la­bor­ers, here on tem­po­rary passes to per­form grunt work and pro­vide child­care.

Mi­grants have long shaped Sin­ga­pore’s de­vel­op­ment. Take, for ex­am­ple, the Burma-born Aw broth­ers, who in 1937 fun­neled some of their fam­ily’s Tiger Balm for­tune to build a park that re­calls a Cal­i­for­nia beach re­sort—only this one is themed around hell. The grounds of Haw Par Villa are filled with sculp­tures that il­lus­trate Chi­nese and Bud­dhist moral­ity tales. I have the place to my­self; these days, Sin­ga­pore­ans pre­fer an air-con­di­tioned mall to grue­some dio­ra­mas de­pict­ing the Ten Courts of Hell.

For the next nine kilo­me­ters, I feel like I’m the one who’s on trial. Jurong Port’s tar-scented air mixes with the mos­quito re­pel­lant, sun­screen, and sweat va­por­iz­ing off me. I plod past plants churn­ing out the raw ma­te­ri­als upon which moder­nity is made: ce­ment fac­to­ries, chem­i­cal tankers, and pe­tro­leum re­finer­ies. There is no place to sit and rest, but up ahead, a sliver of sil­ver sea urges me on. To a walker, the ocean is four-di­men­sional, an un­du­lat­ing body of sparkling light, cool­ing mist, salty taste, and ssh­hing sound.

The road, alas, turns in­land, and I leave the shade of can­non­ball trees to face a for­est of 13-story apartment build­ings. More than 80 per­cent of Sin­ga­pore­ans live in HDB (Hous­ing & De­vel­op­ment Board) pub­lic hous­ing blocks such as these. Most of them own their own flats, giv­ing Sin­ga­pore one of the high­est rates of home own­er­ship in the world. HDBs are a marked up­grade from the wooden kam­pong houses that were preva­lent here as re­cently as two gen­er­a­tions ago. Yet from the out­side, their func­tion-over-form de­sign looks in­con­gru­ent against the land­scape. I limp through an of­fice park filled with their glassy, up­scale cousins—one build­ing is named The Strat­egy; another, The Syn­ergy—and end the day at an MRT sta­tion flanked by three shop­ping malls. Stuck be­hind a plod­ding throng of bag-tot­ing shoppers, I re­al­ize that to­day, across 30 me­an­der­ing and of­ten soli­tary kilo­me­ters, I have spent no money. Walk­ing is free.

The next morn­ing,

I dodge com­muters and step out of the same sta­tion—Jurong East—happy to be head­ing away from the worka­day crowd. The next 16 kilo­me­ters take me farther west, along for­mer man­grove swamp­land that was once the do­main of Malay set­tle­ments and, later, plan­ta­tions where Chi­nese mi­grants grew pep­per and rub­ber trees. In the 1960s, the Sin­ga­pore gov­ern­ment en­ticed peo­ple to move here to work at fac­to­ries churn­ing out ev­ery­thing from sugar to steel to ships.

These “pi­o­neer” vil­lages are now HDB es­tates, but their le­gacy lives on in streets named for for­mer plan­ta­tions and in schools such as Fron­tier Pri­mary, whose posted motto could also be Sin­ga­pore’s:

FRU­GAL­ITY AND HON­ESTY. Nearby, the Khong Guan Bis­cuit Fac­tory scents the neigh­bor­hood with the smell of cookie dough. The morn­ing sun al­ready feels hot enough to bake them on the side­walk.

I turn off Cor­po­ra­tion Road and fol­low a drainage canal to the Pi­o­neer MRT sta­tion. Be­yond this, the horizon shows only clouds; at last I’m turn­ing north to walk Sin­ga­pore’s least-pop­u­lated fringe.

A tile-roofed Chi­nese arch­way stands ma­rooned amid a swath of green lawn. It once marked the en­trance of Nanyang Univer­sity, South­east Asia’s first Chi­nese-lan­guage col­lege. The school was sub­sumed by the Na­tional Univer­sity of Sin­ga­pore in 1980, dur­ing an era when the state be­gan pro­mot­ing English as the is­land’s lin­gua franca. To­day, the for­mer cam­pus is part of Nanyang Tech­no­log­i­cal Univer­sity, a col­lec­tion of curv­ing, mod­ern build­ings with plant- laden walls and rooftops. Af­ter stop­ping in the shaded court­yard of one called The Hive—its shape evokes that of a bees’ nest—for an iced cof­fee, I fall in be­hind a row of young men in fa­tigues who are be­gin­ning ba­sic train­ing for the two years of mil­i­tary ser­vice all male Sin­ga­pore­ans must serve af­ter high school. We march to­gether for a cou­ple of kilo­me­ters be­fore they peel off to­ward their camp, and I soon find my­self fac­ing a land­scape of tomb­stones.

With 300,000 graves, Choa Chu Kang is Sin­ga­pore’s largest ceme­tery, and the only one still ac­cept­ing buri­als. In a place that of­ten feels like a vir­tual city made not of bricks and mor­tar but of an ev­er­puls­ing net­work of global trade routes, it’s oddly re­as­sur­ing to watch peo­ple lay­ing roses and light­ing in­cense in remembrance of the gen­er­a­tions that came be­fore. Yet even the af­ter­life is tran­sient in Sin­ga­pore. Due to space con­straints, burial here is lim­ited to 15 years, af­ter which re­mains are ex­humed and cre­mated.

And then the weather turns. Dark clouds sweep over­head, light­ning bolts stab the horizon, and claps of thun­der roll over the low green hills of the West­ern Wa­ter Catch­ment dis­trict. I dodge sharp pen­cils of rain be­fore duck­ing through a hole in a hedgerow, Peter Rab­bit–style, onto a road lined with egg farms, where I shel­ter against the wall of a cluck­ing barn.

The next 10 kilo­me­ters run straight along wide, empty Lim Chu Kang Road to the is­land’s north­ern­most point. A de­tour down a dirt lane de­liv­ers me to the small in­let of Sarim­bun Beach; this is where Ja­panese sol­diers first landed in Sin­ga­pore on Fe­bru­ary 8, 1942. (The Bri­tish were caught un­awares; they had ex­pected the at­tack to come from the op­po­site side of the is­land.) A pair of stray dogs bark fe­ro­ciously at my ap­proach. Beat­ing a re­treat back to the road, I fol­low the as­phalt un­til it dead-ends at the Jo­hor Strait. Just be­yond, a ram­shackle jetty re­veals the wa­ter through the gaps in its planks. The Malaysian coast looks a leisurely swim away. A sign on the dock warns: DAN­GER CROC­O­DILES.

This scup­pers my plan to thread through the mud­flats and man­groves to reach the re­mains of a rub­ber-plan­ta­tion bun­ga­low. So I take the long way around by road. Orig­i­nally built in the 1920s and aban­doned for the past decade, Cashin House is a shell of moldy ceil­ings and ex­posed wiring perched on stilts over the strait. De­spite its de­crepi­tude, it’s still a beau­ti­ful spot, with wooden shut­ters fil­ter­ing sun­light and the sound of wa­ter lap­ping gen­tly be­low. In a land­scaped coun­try where the most com­mon bill­board reads LET’S

MAKE SIN­GA­PORE OUR GAR­DEN, it’s rare to see a spot of coast­line where na­ture is al­lowed to take its course.

The next few kilo­me­ters take me past farms rais­ing frogs, dairy cows, koi, wheat­grass, and goats be­fore de­posit­ing me at the Sungei Bu­loh Wet­land Re­serve, a 200-hectare sanc­tu­ary for birds, ot­ters, wild boar, and more than two dozen man­grove species. I wind through the park on a wooden board­walk, ap­pre­cia­tive of the shaded tree

I DODGE SHARP PEN­CILS OF RAIN BE­FORE DUCK­ING THROUGH A HOLE IN A HEDGEROW, PETER RAB­BIT– STYLE, ONTO A ROAD LINED WITH EGG FARMS, WHERE I SHEL­TER AGAINST THE WALL OF A CLUCK­ING BARN.

canopy and the in­for­ma­tive signs that tally the cost of Sin­ga­pore’s break­neck mod­ern­iza­tion. Only five per­cent of the is­land’s orig­i­nal for­est re­mains; 89 per­cent of its na­tive plant species are ex­tinct, or threat­ened by ex­tinc­tion.

By the end of this day’s 27 kilo­me­ters I’m wish­ing I had some Tiger Balm to soothe my aching feet as I shuf­fle across the Kranji Reser­voir dam and past shop­y­ards piled with gears and cogs. The jum­ble re­sem­bles a heap of di­nosaur ver­te­brae—fos­sils of Sin­ga­pore’s man­u­fac­tur­ing in­dus­try.

A down­pour halts me the next morn­ing, and I wait out the rain in a crowded café by the Turf Club horserac­ing track. I place a pack of tis­sues on a seat to hold my place, the Sin­ga­pore way, and stand in line at the counter to or­der the typ­i­cal is­land break­fast: fish ball noo­dles and kaya toast washed down with strong cof­fee cut with con­densed milk.

De­spite blis­tered feet, sore legs, and a sun­burned neck, I want to keep walk­ing, per­haps be­cause I’ve just ingested so much sugar. Also, my walk’s end is within sight, at least on the hu­mid­ity-tat­tered map spread atop the ta­ble. Trac­ing my progress with a fin­ger, I re­al­ize I am two-thirds done. On the map, Sin­ga­pore’s up­per coast slopes south­east; my route ap­pears to run down­hill from here. Only 60 kilo­me­ters to go.

A path through Wood­lands Wa­ter­front Park steers me around the Jo­hor–Sin­ga­pore Cause­way, the kilo­me­ter-long land bridge that ex­tends to Malaysia. It’s also one of the world’s busiest bor­der cross­ings, car­ry­ing 200,000 ve­hi­cles each day. With traf­fic at a stand­still, I turn east on Ad­mi­ralty Road and pass a mosque, then a church and a prison, be­fore en­ter­ing another in­dus­trial es­tate. It smells of gaso­line (Senoko En­ergy), cig­a­rettes (Bri­tish Amer­i­can To­bacco), and soy sauce (Kikko­man).

Af­ter a row of semi­con­duc­tor plants, the land­scape turns lush and the road signs bear the names of Bri­tish Em­pire out­posts: Malta, Auck­land, Delhi. Once home to a naval base, Sem­bawang is now a quiet bed­room com­mu­nity of re­stored black-and­white bun­ga­lows and trimmed lawns. The only sailors posted here are U.S. Navy per­son­nel as­signed to a duty sta­tion pro­vid­ing sup­port to the Sev­enth Fleet.

On the wa­ter’s edge of Sem­bawang Park, I de­cide for the first time to stop the day early. I set out on this walk to see a new side of Sin­ga­pore, and here is one now: a calm, glas­sine slice of ocean, shaded by tow­er­ing tem­busu trees.

I sit and read The Sin­ga­pore Grip, J.G. Far­rell’s won­der­ful, satir­i­cal novel about a plan­ta­tion-own­ing fam­ily on the eve of the Ja­panese in­va­sion. Its colo­nial nar­ra­tor muses that things that once seemed im­mutable, such as the Bri­tish Em­pire, in fact were re­mark­ably vul­ner­a­ble to change. But just as re­mark­able, es­pe­cially in Asia, is how much of Sin­ga­pore’s past re­mains vis­i­ble. Look­ing away from the wa­ter, I re­al­ize I’m sit­ting next to Beaulieu House, a cen­tury-old bun­ga­low built by a min­ing mag­nate that be­came home to a Bri­tish ad­mi­ral, the Ja­panese mil­i­tary, and Sin­ga­porean naval of­fi­cers. Now, it’s a Chi­nese seafood restau­rant.

I wake be­fore dawn the next morn­ing—a Sun­day—and lace up my sand-pow­dered shoes; in my mind, the penul­ti­mate leg of the walk flashes like a cur­sor in the mid­dle of an un­fin­ished sen­tence. Fif­teen min­utes later, a taxi de­posits me back at Sem­bawang.

In the chan­nel next to the park, Chi­nese women in rub­ber boots scav­enge for mol- lusks at low tide. The still sur­face of the Jo­hor Strait mir­rors the haze-gray navy ship glid­ing by on pa­trol.

The path turns in­land, trac­ing the edge of a canal. Do­ing as the fish­er­women do, I tie my shoes around my neck and mince bare­foot across the chan­nel’s mossy, mucky bot­tom. The next few kilo­me­ters through the cur­tain-drawn HDB es­tates of Yishun take me over a dam, along­side a mil­i­tary air­port, and onto Pung­gol Barat Is­land. On the bridge con­nect­ing it to the main­land, I pass mid­dle-aged bird­ers chat­ter­ing about chest­nut-winged bab­blers. I sound just as daft to them, point­ing to my own quarry: trape­zoidal mounds of sand, fenced off and guarded by sen­tries.

Amer­ica stock­piles pe­tro­leum; China keeps an emer­gency sup­ply of pork. Sin­ga­pore main­tains a strate­gic re­serve of sand. It’s the key in­gre­di­ent for land recla­ma­tion, and many of Sin­ga­pore’s neigh­bors, in­clud­ing Malaysia and In­done­sia, have banned sand ex­ports in the name of na­tional se­cu­rity. To­day, Myan­mar is a top sup­plier.

Edg­ing along the sand re­serve makes me feel like I’ve stepped into an Ara­bian desert. Sin­ga­pore takes pride in its ab­sorp­tion of dif­fer­ent peo­ples to cre­ate a na­tion, but here I ap­pre­ci­ate, too, how it lit­er­ally has blended other coun­tries—or at least, their sand— and built some­thing new. From noth­ing to some­thing, as that East Coast Park sand­cas­tle put it.

Not ev­ery de­vel­op­ment has worked. Six kilo­me­ters east, I cross a foot­bridge onto Coney Is­land, named af­ter Brook­lyn’s wa­ter­front in 1950. A planned amuse­ment park never ma­te­ri­al­ized here, but the name stuck. Only but­ter­flies, birds, and wild boars call the place home.

I end the day’s 30 kilo­me­ters at the Lorong Halus Wet­land, whose sweet-smelling flora be­lie the fact that, un­til 1999, this was Sin­ga­pore’s garbage dump. Now refuse is sent off­shore, to the land­fill on Se­makau Is­land. To­day, the trail’s lone trash can sits empty; few hik­ers make it out to this tranquil nook along the Seran­goon River. I am be­gin­ning to lament that my walk will soon be over.

The fi­nal day be­gins in Pasir Ris—the name means “white sands” in Malay—a mix of un­spoiled coast­line and semi­con­duc­tor fac­to­ries stand­ing on for­mer plan­ta­tions. Walk­ing east through an area called Pasir Ris Farmway, I even­tu­ally cross the Api Api River to a shore­line that used to be co­conut groves be­fore Bri­tish Royal Air Force of­fi­cers moved in; a two-kilo­me­ter-long board­walk winds around the pretty point past their for­mer chalets.

The morn­ing si­lence is bro­ken by the roar of a jet en­gine. Changi Beach runs north along the air­port’s perime­ter, and I soak my tired feet in warm, calf-deep wa­ter as planes whoosh low over­head. I con­tinue for­ward on Changi Coast Road, keep­ing the run­way to my right. Look at the bright tails: Cathay Pa­cific, Asiana, SilkAir. A sin­gle puffy white cloud shields the sun as I reach the is­land’s east­ern­most point. More planes touch down: Sin­ga­pore Air­lines, Scoot. Turn­ing to­ward the air­port, I cross a canal where a lan­guid cat­fish flicks its tail and leaves be­hind a muddy wake. I look back at the empty path be­hind me and see no ev­i­dence of my pass­ing.

Usu­ally, I find it harder to end a jour­ney than to be­gin one. But this time it could not have been eas­ier. My Sin­ga­pore loop closes 160 kilo­me­ters from where it be­gan, with one step through the door marked Ar­rivals.

Be­low, from far left: Lush fo­liage in the South­ern Ridges; bean­curd with shimeji mush­rooms and tea at Beaulieu House in Sem­bawang Park; the same restau­rant’s cen­tury-old fa­cade; walk­ing across an old iron rail­way bridge found along the Green Cor­ri­dor.

Right, from top: Af­ter­noon fishing at the Changi Board­walk; look­ing down on the court­yard of The Hive build­ing at the NTU cam­pus. Op­po­site: The sin­u­ous Hen­der­son Waves bridge.

In­side the Cloud For­est biodome at Gar­dens by the Bay.

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