Singapore is well known as a modern, metropolitan city. The images of Singapore are always ones of a fast paced urban life: city skylines, huge shopping malls, bustling chinatown, modern expressways. The life most people live in this city is the fast paced city life. Very similar to New York or Hong Kong, it's a concrete jungle. Of course, like most world class cities, space has been set aside for people to spend some time away from the traffic and subways.
The Singapore national parks system consists of a number of parks spread all over the island. Some of these park include lakes and wooded areas for hiking. Others are just a nice piece of green space with paths, bbq pits and picnic tables for people to have a Saturday cookout. Like most things in Singapore, the parks are very well managed and kept very clean. There is even an online reservation system for things like gardening classes, the bbq pits and tent camping.
I'd heard that people do go camping in the parks, so I brought the idea up with Jack. Sembawang park is right on the northern coast of Singapore, only about 15 minutes from our house. Jack couldn't wait to give it a try.
I went online a got us a camping permit that night. Jack and I did a short recon trip a few nights before and were happy with the way the park looked. We decide we'd set up right on the beach hoping to get a bit of a breeze. We'd bought a new tent over the summer to use on our annual Cub Scout trip and this would be our first chance to try it out.
Around 3pm on Sunday (Monday was a holiday), Jack and I arrived at the park and began setting up. There were a few other tents already scattered around the park. At the the small restaurant on the top of the hill, it looked like they were getting ready for a small wedding as well. Otherwise, everyone else was there to enjoy the beach (even through the water was filthy), go for a walk or just enjoy the park on a Sunday afternoon.
By 4pm, the tent and the rest of our stuff was all set up, but Jack and I were toast. It was about 90 degrees, sunny and not a breath of wind. At that point, we didn't care how clean the water was in the straight between Singapore and Malaysia...we just walked straight in. Ahhhhh. It felt so good to cool off.
After about 5 minutes in the water, we climbed out and started working through all of the stuff we had brought to keep us busy. We played Frisbee and soccer. We also spent a bunch of time going through Jack's Wolf Scout book. We made sure we'd checked off all of the things he'd accomplished either last year or over the summer. We also picked a few things Jack hadn't tried yet to complete. The best was definitely the treasure map. Jack hid a "treasure" (actually a stick) and then made a map so that I could follow it back to the treasure. It's funny how "60 steps toward the water" can mean two entirely different things when walked by a 7 year old or his 6'4" father.
Around 6:30, we made our way to our grill and started getting ready to cook dinner. We'd brought some charcoal and hotdogs that I started to set up. While getting ready to light the coals, I noticed that it was a lot more crowded now than it was a few hours ago. Tents were popping up left and right and there were huge groups of people all over the place.
Right after we lit the coals, a kid about 20 years old sat down next to us with a folded up tent on the picnic table we were using. I said hello and asked how he was. He said he was just waiting for his friends and did we mind if he just sat here to wait.
"No problem," I said. "When are your friends arriving?"
"Some time after 10:00," he said.
I looked at my watch. 6:40. Alright. Whatever.
"Excuse me," he says about 5 minutes later.
"Do you know how to put up a tent?"
You've got to be kidding me. "Yeah," I say. "Do you need a hand?"
"I don't know how to put up a tent," he says. "Can you help me set mine up?"
"Well, right now I'm tending a 2 foot tall burning tower of charcoal and a 7 year old in a crowded park, but maybe in a little bit, ok?"
"Thanks," he says. He then proceeds to sit next to us and stare into space while Jack and I finish getting our dinner ready.
After the coals had burned down a bit, I told Jack to stay put and walked about 40 yards away (where I could still see Jack) with this guy and his tent. After about 5 minutes, his tent was up and Jack and I were grilling hotdogs.
From this point, the park just continued to get more and more crowded. By the time it was dark, half a dozen college age kids has set themselves up about 5 feet away on one side of us and a huge Chinese family had set themselves up on the other side.
By 11 pm, things hadn't even started to slow down. Jack and I had been sitting outside the tent trying to keep cool but moved inside when the old Chinese lady next to us wouldn't stop staring at me. She's walk over to about 5 feet away from me and just stare. At first it was a bit weird, but then it just became funny. Jack and I would just giggle about it until we'd finally had enough and moved into the tent.
Fortunately, Jack was able to fall asleep shortly after 11. I wasn't as lucky and ended up listening to college kids shout back and forth in Mandarin until about 3am when I finally dozed off. When the sun woke us up at 6:45, our neighbors had made it though the whole night without sleep and were starting to pack up to leave.
After a breakfast of Pop-tarts, Jack and I started cleaning up our stuff around 8:00. By 9:00 the tent was in the car and we turned on the air conditioning. After a night trying to sleep in the humid night air (this is true...I could actually see the humidity in the air in the glow of the lights at night) the blast of cold air in the car felt wonderful.
Overall, it was a learning experience for Jack and I. Next time, we'll go in February when it's a bit less humid. We'll also pick a shady spot for our tent in the back of the park away from the busy beach area.
For a kid who grew up camping in the woods in Hew Hampshire, this was a new experience. This was a lot more like camping on the Boston Common than the Kancamagus.