We Otter Get Perfume

So you meet a lot of people while living in hostels, which is why I stay in them. It’s a lot easier to make friends travelling in hostels than if you just stay in one place “establishing roots” as my mother would say. So I met Rei, a Japanese guy studying pharmacy in Thailand, on a short vacation in Singapore. He’s very friendly, and “not shy like most Japanese” or as he says “active”.

So I hung out with a Rei for a couple days, trouncing around SG. His English is very good compared to my Japanese, but I only know 3 Japanese phrases, so it can be difficult to understand him and for him to understand me.

One of Rei’s goals was to buy some perfume for a friend who had helped him learn English back in Japan. So one rainy day, we set off for Orchard Road, a famous ritzy shopping district, looking for Isetan, a Chinese mall franchise (I think).

Now put yourself in shoes of one of the people working at the Orchard Road malls. You’re probably a very professional, polite, well dressed, ethnically Chinese woman. You’re used to catering to upper class personnel, that I’m sure the gross retail company you work for makes you refer to as “clients”. It’s a 11am (which is early in Singapore) and it’s raining so it’s a slow day.

Bursting into your generic, clean, “hygge” inspired Sony store, comes two disheveled foreigners. One, a giant blonde guy in gym shorts and a wet (from sweat? rain? you don’t know) button down shirt with a blue rain-cover backpack. And the other a chatty Japanese guy asking about perfume. This is a Sony store, you don’t sell perfume. So you direct them to a store a few blocks over. Only to receive a quizzical look from the smaller man.

The Norwegian troll translates, by saying what you said, only more slowly and in a neutral American accent. Now it seems the Toe Jam and Earl inspired party understands. They wander out of your open-floor-plan , glancing a low hanging Edison bulb with a wave. On the way out you hear the blonde say “See? They weren’t going to have perfume here. And if they did, it was going to cost more than $30”. You wonder why Singapore has no minimum wage.

I also went to the zoo! Here are some facts I learned:

  • Pygmy Hippos sun burn easily so they stay in the water all day and only come out on land at night.
  • Pygmy Hippos TOO DENSE TO FLOAT in water, so they sort of tip toe along the bottom of rivers to swim.
  • All living White Bengal Tigers have the same ancestor, Mohan (Edit: this appears to be incorrect according to that wikipedia article, but was on a zoo sign).
  • They let the big Orangutans live with Asian Small Clawed Otters, and they let the little Orangutans roam free. All primates scare me. Humans included.
  • Inuka was the first Polar Bear born in the tropics. He passed away earlier this year at 27 years old, very long for a Polar Bear. There was very bittersweet memorial laid out for him at his exhibit.

So smart, building artificial tide pools to maintain the sea walls but also rehome tide-pooling species, and doing experiments to see which design or combination of designs work best, Changi Beach.

But after seeing some animals in captivity, I wanted to see some outside. So the next day, I set a vague destination for north east, and hopped on the train and a bus (and later a boat), to maybe get myself to Palau Ubin. Palau means island in Malay/Singapore/Indonesian. But first I wanted to see Changi Beach.

On the way I stopped to get some food and I tried to practice my Malay at a Malaysian food stall. Unfortunately, this resulted in my ordering two meals. So I had to try to down two huge plates of rice and veggies. Which was very funny to a lot of the other people at the hawker centre. So I guess it worked out. Plus I would need the energy, I had a big day ahead of me.

Which started with OTTERS! I’ve wanted to see some wild otters for a long time, since I had worked with a few at the aquarium. They’re always very good at their job. Showed up on time, acted cute, ate fish. I gave them LinkedIn endorsements.


But I had already had a great day when I ran into an Asian Small Clawed or Smooth Coated Otter (or perhaps a hybrid) romp. That’s what a group of otters are called on land, in the water they’re called a raft. What fun romp they were! One was gnawing on massive fish, a couple doing their poopy dance, many others rolling around in the sand on the beach. They always kept an eye on me, but they didn’t seem to mind me too much either. In fact, when I left, they returned into the water, probably to go manage their extensive shell collection and develop plans of action to get off of their vulnerable conservation status.

Note: Otters can neither manage the calcium carbonate remains of mollusks nor increase their population in the face of habitat destruction by humans. Please do not develop land near sensitive populations of animals.

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