Trip To Tokyo (December 2016)

It’s been 3 years since my last trip to Japan in December 2013 to attend a concert in Osaka. This time I was going to Tokyo. Was hoping to see snow since Tokyo was reported to have snow around the end of November but unfortunately it did not snow when we were there. The temperature hovered around 4-10 degrees C. It was manageable except for the day when we went to Lake Kawaguchiko and it dropped to 3 degrees. Guess we were not dressed warmly enough and we were freezing despite the sunny weather. 
This being a brief trip, I had not planned on visiting many places except for the Mitaka Ghibli Museum and Lake Kawaguchiko. Ghibli Museum had been on my itinerary list for some time but it was not easy to get tickets. Booking was previously done through the self-service machines at Lawson but with booking being opened a month in advance, chances of getting tickets were slim. Fortunately online booking through Lawson is now available for foreign visitors and with payment by credit card, it’s so much easier to get tickets.
Shortly before departure I was tempted to sign up for a day trip to see the snow monkeys but since it would be too rushed to shop for suitable footwear, I’ll keep it for my future Japan itinerary list.

Akihabara, the place to go for anime related stuff
I had booked a one room apartment under AirBnB. Though a bit small, it was quite adequate with the necessary amenities and a comfortable bed. It’s also conveniently located a short walk from the train station and there was a supermarket, convenience store and eateries nearby. The apartment owner was very accommodating and agreed to my request to deposit our luggage before check-in.

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Life size Gundam outside the Gundam Cafe in Akihabara.
Bought the BB8 collectible from another store.
Crowded Takeshita Street, Harajuku.
The crepes with its large selection of filling and flavor is a popular snack here.
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Intrigued by this sign along Takeshita street, we decided to check out the Owl’s Forest at the basement.
The place is quite small with 10 different species of owls displayed along its narrow walking path. Visitors are allowed to gently pat the owls, only on its head and back and take photos without using flash. I could not help feeling sorry for the owls as it must be rather stressful for them to be confined to a small space and being subjected to constant physical contact with visitors.

‘Harry Potter’ snowy owl


Queuing to enter Ghibli Museum
Tickets are not available on site so advance booking has to be made for the admission time slots of 10am, 12 noon, 2 pm and 4pm. There is no time limit after entry.
From Mitaka Station, we took the bus which goes to the museum. It is possible to walk but we were not very sure of the route and did not want to be late for our admission time slot. We can always walk back later. I had my confirmation email which contained a scan bar code but had forgotten to bring along my passport for verification. Fortunately the staff was accommodating when I explained that I had left it at the hotel. No inside photography allowed so I could only take some pics of its exterior.
For more info on Ghibli Museum
http://www.ghibli-museum.jp/en/

A colorful place with interesting features and exhibits within.
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Lovely fresco painting on the ceiling of the reception area where we received our entry tickets in the form of a movie reel negative. I had forgotten about the ‘no photography’ rule when I took this shot so felt rather guilty when a staff politely reminded me of it.
Visitors can watch a short anime film at its ground level Saturn theater. The film of the day titled ‘The Day I Harvested A Planet’ had a unique story line about a boy who received a gem from a mole and a toad in exchange for his vegetables. When planted in a pot, the gem grew into a mini revolving planet and as he tended to it, it developed its own atmosphere with weather and life (bugs). In the end the boy released it into the galaxy where it joined other planets.

ghibli-museum-5Shot of the museum entrance, taken from the top level.
The ground level exhibit room which showcases the history and science of animation had an interesting 3 dimensional zoetrope with models of characters from Tortoro. As it spins around, the characters seem to come alive. On another level, the exhibit rooms were packed with books and toys, with tables filled with an artist’s paraphernalia, sketches and storyboard illustrations on walls ….. it was like visiting a live-in film production studio. A large glass jar filled with used pencil stubs caught my eye, representative of the many sketches produced using these.
There was a giant Catbus in the playroom for kids and in another Catbus chamber, there were comfy lounge seats for tired visitors to take a break. Love the illustration on the wall of the latter which gives one the feeling of looking at beautiful scenery outside the window. It’s obvious a great deal of effort has been put into the setting up of this place and it’s definitely worth a visit.


Of course I had to get some souvenirs from the museum gift shop located at the top level. I intend to frame up a set of postcards with the same lovely drawing of the museum at different times of the day. The admission ticket in the form of a film negative makes another unique souvenir. Think I’ll add it to the photo frame as well.

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The 5 meters tall robot soldier on the rooftop garden, a favorite photo taking spot for visitors.
Glad we had decided to walk back to Mitaka station and did not miss the giant Tortoro in the window at another entrance.


Collecting tickets which I had booked online for the express bus to Lake Kawaguchiko.
The express bus booking counters and departure area are located on the 2nd level of the building opposite Shinjuku Station.
Online booking @ http://highway-buses.jp/fuji/

The bus journey to our stop at Lake Kawaguchiko station took around 2 hours. Along the way I had kept a look out for Mt Fuji and was certainly excited when I finally spotted it in the distance. As we drew nearer to our destination and it came into full view, I was in awe of its majestic appearance. We were fortunate that the weather was good with clear skies and we had a wonderful view of its snow capped peak.

Another lovely view of the majestic Mt Fuji at the Kawaguchiko Natural Living Center stop of the sight seeing bus around Lake Kawaguchiko.
More on the retro sight-seeing bus @ http://www.jreast.co.jp/e/fuji/course/fuji_sample01.html
For those who intend to stay overnight at Lake Kawaguchiko or enjoy unlimited stops at the various places of interests around the lake, it would be more economical to get the 2 day pass for the retro sight-seeing bus. Since it was a day trip for us and I had booked for the late afternoon return trip to Shinjuku, we were unable to visit all the places.
I had intended to alight at the stop for the Kachi Kachi ropeway that goes up to the observation deck on Mt Tenjo as one would be able to get a panoramic view of the lake and Mt Fuji. Unfortunately the ropeway was closed for maintenance that week and also due to time constraints, we had to skip it. The observation deck could still be accessed by walking up but it was much too cold for us. Since we would have a good view of Mt Fuji at the Kawaguchiko stop, we might as well alight there instead.
The sight of Mt Fuji looming in the near distance filled me with wonder. How fortunate for those who stay around this area to have such a beautiful view everyday. We were freezing despite the blazing sun and the chilly wind wasn’t helping so we had to escape into a cafe for a hot drink. Not content with the photos I had taken earlier, I went out to take more shots of Mt Fuji. The clouds around its peak were constantly shifting so each shot seemed different. If not for the cold and having to catch the bus for the return trip to Shinjuku, I could have stayed there all day. I would certainly like to come back again and stay overnight on my next Japan trip.
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Evolution Garden @Singapore Botanic Gardens

After my previous visit to the western part of the Singapore Botanic Garden in August 2015, I had intended to return to explore the remaining half. I did not realize my next visit in August 2016 would be a year apart. How time flies. On my first visit I had entered through the Tanglin gate and visited the Orchid Garden. This time I went in through the Bukit Timah gate which is conveniently located just next to the Botanic Garden MRT station.
I did not plan the exact route to take but the direction signage makes it easy to get around. I suppose it’s possible to go around the whole Botanic Garden within a day but I would rather take my time to enjoy each area. From the Bukit Timah gate, the trail go past the Eco Lake before reaching the Evolution Garden. As its name suggests, this garden is designed to give visitors the feel of walking through the ages of evolution on Earth. I was fascinated by the alien looking trees which I found out later to be replicas of the giant clubmoss (Lepidodendrons). For the correct timeline sequence, one should start the walk from the section with the trees of stone which are preserved fossilized remains of real ancient trees.

 

petrified-tree
I had to touch this petrified trunk to see if it’s really turned into stone
The alien looking trees (lepidodendrons) with their scaly bark (below)

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Lifeless Earth which represents the beginning of Earth 4600 million years ago.

Similar hexagonal rock columns I’ve seen along the Jusangjeolli Cliffs on Jeju Island which were formed by the cooling of molten volcanic lava flowing into the sea.
Area representing the beginning of life, with colonies of bacteria and replicas of stromatolites
Beginning of plant life forms – mosses and liverworts

Crocodile fern which resembles crocodile skin
Age of Cycads
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King sago palm
Small pond with water lilies, representing the first flowering plants in the late Cretaceous period

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Timor black bamboo

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Resident swan at the Eco Lake

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Singapore Night Festival 2016

This year the Singapore Night Festival was held in the Bras Basah area, along Armenian Street, at the Arts Museum and National Museum. I managed to catch 2 interesting performances on the 2nd weekend of 26th and 27th August, both by the street theatre group Close-Act from the Netherlands. 
The first act ‘Let’s Celebrate’ in front of the Peranakan Museum was a rousing performance with silver suited ladies and drummers on stilts. As they moved back and forth among the crowd, we could see them up close. The pulsating drum beat and music together with fire and smoke certainly makes it an immersive experience for the spectators.
Light up of the Peranakan Museum facade

I then made my way to the National Museum where their next act ‘Invasion’ would be performed on the open lawn. The 2nd performance was even more exciting as there were tall dinosaur-like creatures and other strange beings roaming around in our midst. As they moved around rapidly on stilts, it’s a wonder no one got trampled on. Another immersive act that makes one feel a part of their mythical world.
National museumSaw this pretty light installation on the way to the Museum
Keyframes @ the National Museum – LED figures which were programmed to give the effect that they are running across and leaping up and down the facade.

The invasion begins with a figure singing atop a large orb as it glides across the museum lawn.
These dinosaur-like creatures towering above the spectators certainly reminds me of Jurassic Park.
It couldn’t have been easy for the performers to bring them to life but they moved about effortlessly.

The dinosaurs had passed right in front of me just seconds ago.
Not easy to get a clear shot as they were constantly on the move.

Another awesome sight – a large prehistoric bird with its rider ‘flying’ in over our heads

2 thumbs up …. exciting music and a class act that takes us to another fantasy world
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Visit To Fort Canning Park

Some weeks ago when I passed by Fort Canning Park while on the way to look for the wall murals at Waterloo Street, I had made a mental note to visit the place on another day. It was pleasantly quiet when I was there on a weekday. If not for the humid weather, it would have been the perfect place to spend a leisurely afternoon. I did not complete the full circuit though but intend to return to explore the remaining half of the park.
Fort Canning Park is another historical landmark with a rich history but which I had been unaware of until I read up on it. Before the arrival of Sir Stamford Raffles, this hill was previously known as Bukit Larangan (Forbidden Hill) as it was believed to be where the royal palace of the ancient Malay rulers were sited. Another interesting discovery for me was the fact that Sir Stamford Raffles had built a house and lived here in 1822.  As I walked around Fort Canning Park, I could imagine stepping back into the 19th century.

Entrance to the park from Hill Street
Pedestal stand
Lovely engraving on the plant stand pillar
Wall engraving depicting past trading activities

With few visitors on a weekday, it’s certainly very peaceful.
Farquhar terrace 2

I love old trees …… beautiful and imposing.
If they can talk, what interesting tales from the past they can tell us.
Archaeological excavation site with artifacts from the 14th century.

Pottery and glass artifacts uncovered during excavation
Old tree
An interesting trunk which caught my attention
James Brooke Napier memorial with the Fort Canning Arts Centre behind it.
The latter used to be the barracks for the British army.
The Cupolas which were probably resting places on the hill. This shot was marred by some activities in the background. I should have taken the shot from another angle but I wanted to include the old tree beside it.
Site of Singapore’s first Christian cemetery and used as burial grounds from 1822. Some of the headstones can be seen on the wall. Strangely this particular stretch of steps exudes a very peaceful feeling for me.
Gothic gates in the Christian cemetery
Roots
I was fascinated by these really long roots or are they slim trunks of another parasitic plant
that stretched all the way up to the branches above.
One of the 9 pound canons on Bond Terrace
The second 9 pound canon
Keramat Iskandar Shah, a sacred place dedicated to Iskandar Shah (aka Parameswara) the last ruler of 14th century Singapore.

A replica of the original lighthouse which used to stand on Fort Canning Hill.

A cute sculpture by Casey Chan titled ‘Make Cents’.
Another mental note to self to do a sculpture hunt on my next visit.
Colorful cow titled ‘Incarnation’ by P. Gnana, made with recycled scrap material.
Raffles House, residence of Sir Stamford Raffles in 1822
It’s certainly a lovely spot where Raffles House is sited on top of the hill. We enjoyed the cooling breeze while taking a breather on the swing in its garden. I could have stayed up there all day. 
Time ball
A replica of the Time Ball which was used in the past to signal the correct time to the public.
It was raised and dropped at 1 pm daily and serves as a time keeping device.
Wind chamber
‘Wind Chamber’ by Lim Soo Ngee
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Visit To Baba House @Neil Road

http://www.nus.edu.sg/cfa/museum/about.php
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Baba_House
https://www.facebook.com/nusbabahouse/
Free guided tours to the Baba House is by appointment only and advanced registration is required.
English heritage tours: Mondays – 2 pm, Tuesdays – 2 pm & 6.30 pm, Thursdays – 10 am, Saturdays – 11 am
Due to refurbishment works, the place will be closed from 19th September – 6th November 2016 and re-open on 7th November. Do note that photography of its interior is not allowed.
Our visit to the Baba House at Neil Road last Saturday was interesting and very educational as the beautifully restored Peranakan house still retains most of its original furniture and decorative items from the previous owner, the Wee Family. It was like taking a step back into the past and having the privilege of visiting parts of the house which used to be out of bounds to outsiders. The house is thought to have been built in the 1890s which would make it to be about 120 years old.  
I’m amazed by its many ornately carved antique furniture, certainly a feast for the eyes wherever one looks. There were also Western style items which the Wee family had acquired and portraits of the family on the walls. Due to the presence of an air well in the center of the house, it is well ventilated. There is a cordoned off spiral staircase which went all the way up to the 3rd floor. An interesting feature is the discretely covered holes in the floor boards of the 2nd level bridal chamber room which had served as peep holes into the hall below.
The 3rd floor is now used as a gallery for temporary exhibits. Besides a display of some artifacts found during the restoration, there are photos which show its once dilapidated condition. Thanks to the docent Dawn Marie Lee for the very informative and interesting guided tour.

 

Spottiswoode Park rd (1)The 150 years old facade at 66 Spottiswoode Park Road
I had missed out on this building during my previous visit to find the murals at Everton Road so went over to look for it. Located just next to Neil Road, the facade adjoins the house with yellow walls.

Spottiswoode Park rd (2)

Spottiswoode Park rd (4)

Spottiswoode Park rd (3)
The rectangular panels decorated with traditional bird and flower painting was uncovered
when the surface paintwork was removed during restoration work.

 

Baba house (9)
Baba House @157 Neil Road, repainted with its distinct shade of blue during restoration to follow its original color. The window on the 3rd floor has a different design as that level was later added on by the owner.

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Baba house (10)

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Even the plant holder is unique.
Baba house (4)
The outer doors with their elaborate patterns serve as a screen to preserve privacy and allow ventilation at the same time. These are now covered with glass to protect them.  
Baba house (5)Elaborate designs with the phoenix and other figures, on the external cornice of the 2nd floor.
Fertility symbols such as beans and gourds are a recurrent theme in its wall and furniture carvings.

Baba house (6)

Baba house (7)

Baba house (2)
Reliefs painted with different pictures, above the windows at the ground floor entrance.

Baba house (3)

Baba house (1)

Baba house (4)

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Trip To Desaru

A belated post on my 2 days 1 night weekend trip to Desaru in April 2016.
Our assembly point early Saturday morning was at the car park opposite Clementi MRT station to take the charter bus to Johor via the 2nd causeway link. After breakfast at one of the rest stops, we headed to the Desaru fruit farm before checking in at the Pulai Desaru Beach Resort later that afternoon. Itinerary for the 2nd day was a kampung tour to experience traditional arts such as batik painting, the Malay musical instrument (angklung) and pewter molding, and a bit of shopping at the mall before heading home.
2016-04-23 09.43.20Cute kitty at a nearby coffee shop where we had stopped for lunch after crossing the causeway.
Its white fur provided a nice contrast to the red wall.
2016-04-23 12.48.21Desaru fruit farm.
Unfortunately it was raining when we arrived so we did not get to explore much of the orchard.
2016-04-23 12.57.50Jackfruit (Cempedak)
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Cacao tree with its many cacao pods.
The seeds are used to produce cocoa butter and chocolate.
2016-04-23 13.00.07More cacao pods and a pair of baby pods can be seen growing out on the branch.
2016-04-23 12.56.59Dragon fruit cactus plant
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Juvenile dragon fruit (Pitaya) growing on the vine.
Another dragon fruit in the photo below which bears more resemblance to the mature fruit.

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Dragon fruit and soursop sold at the farm’s fruit shop
2016-04-23 13.08.58Rose apples
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A mini petting zoo in another area of the fruit farm with goats, sheep, chickens, ducks and turkey.

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2016-04-23 12.33.19Goats eagerly poking their heads out from the enclosure, hoping that visitors will feed them.

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2016-04-23 12.42.34Not sure what type of birds are these.
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Checking in at the Pulai Desaru Beach Resort after the farm visit.
2016-04-24 08.54.53View from the swimming pool with the resort building in the background.
The beach is a short distance behind me, from where I took this shot.
2016-04-24 08.55.29Spa next to the swimming pool

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2016-04-23 16.54.32Nice quiet beach which was unfortunately marred by remnants of a recent oil spill. Though there was a small warning sign planted on the beach regarding the oil spill, it did not prohibit anyone from walking on the sand. Since the oily residue beneath was not visible, one would only discover too late after having stepped onto the sand.
Our bare feet and footwear were soon covered with a sticky layer of oil which was difficult to remove when we tried to wash it off at the taps along the beach area. We were not the only unfortunate ones as a few other resort guests were also trying to do the same with some rags and kerosene provided by the resort staff. Fortunately the kerosene worked and we managed to get rid of most of the residue.
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A rocky part of the beach
2016-04-23 19.12.57Buffet dinner at the resort
2016-04-24 11.58.43Kampung visit the next morning ….. a replica of a kampung house in the garden.
2016-04-24 11.37.43Angklung performance by the staff.
A traditional Malay musical instrument made of bamboo tubes attached to a bamboo frame. It’s rather fascinating that the tubes can produce such melodious notes.
2016-04-24 12.00.24Angklung displayed outside the gift shop
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An old rubber sheet press.
2016-04-24 11.50.37Pewter molding demonstration.
After the pewter has melted in the heated wok, the liquid is poured into a mold to set.
2016-04-24 11.53.39Display of a pewter mug in its mold
2016-04-24 11.52.10Small pewter cups for us to sample a cold drink and to demonstrate how well it can retain the chill effect.
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Lesson on batik painting.
The patterns are first outlined with hot wax drawn either with the canting pen (top left) or other tools. The hardened wax serves as a barrier so dye would not spread out of the marked area. The copper block stamp above is used to cover large areas more quickly. After the dye has been applied and the cloth has dried, the wax is removed by boiling or scraping it from the cloth. 
2016-04-24 10.47.52My selected frame above. The designs have already been drawn out with wax so all we had to do was to dab various dyes onto the fabric.
2016-04-24 11.14.51The watery dyes spread easily so the brush should not be too wet. For a lighter shade, just dab the cloth with water before applying the dye. Painting different dyes on the same spot would result in a different shade. 
2016-04-24 11.19.29Our collective artwork left to dry in the sun would be collected by the tour guide and returned to us after lunch.
2016-04-24 13.14.17After a delicious seafood lunch and shopping at a mall, it was time to head for home.
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Exploring Labrador Nature Reserve

I realized recently that there are many nearby places worth exploring and have added them to my list of walking trails. One does not need to travel far to enjoy the weekend.
Thanks to NParks for the detailed guides and highlights on the various DIY walks .
https://www.nparks.gov.sg/gardens-parks-and-nature/walks-and-tours/going-on-a-diy-walk
Labrador coastal walkLabrador Nature & Coastal Walk
Map from NParks guide
There are 2 routes for this walk, with the longer route starting from Harbour Front and going through the Southern Ridges. I have previously covered the route from Henderson Waves to Hort Park so decided to take the shorter route this time, beginning from Labrador Park MRT Station. Instead of starting from Berlayer Creek as indicated in the map above, we went up the other direction via Port Road. 

A nice little pond along Port Road where one can enjoy tranquility and quiet moments.


View from the Bukit Chermin boardwalk towards the Berlayer Creek Plaza.
As there was a jogging event the boardwalk was soon filled with participants running towards Keppel Marina and making a loop back to the Plaza.
BC boardwalkView from boardwalk towards Keppel Marina.

A catamaran and private boats moored at the Keppel Marina, lovely area for a stroll.

Reflections @ Keppel Bay, a luxury waterfront residential complex.
I had only seen these striking blocks from afar and could not help but marvel at their unusual design up close. We decided to turn back here and head towards the nature reserve.

The re-created rock (Batu Berlayar) located near the original point of the Dragon’s Teeth Gate which used to be a well-known navigation landmark along the Straits of Singapore. The original rock was blown up by the British in 1848 to widen the channel of the gateway into Keppel Harbour.
batu berlayarslideshare.net/carolinechua/history-of-singapore-before-1819
A painting of the original rock.
The red beacon which had served as an aid for maritime navigation.
Former machine gun bunker a short distance from the beacon, for beach defense to protect the 12-pounder gun further up on the hill behind it.
The 3rd gun emplacement atop the hill of the nature reserve.
4th gun emplacement without the gun.

6 inch quick firing gun at the 3rd gun emplacement. The figures can be seen taking out the ammunition from the hoist area through which the shells were transported from the underground store.

Entrance of the tunnel constructed in 1886, which leads to the underground ammunition store.
It felt a bit eerie as I took a peek into its dim interior.
The 1892 underground store room for ammunition for the 6-pounder gun.
Remains of the wall of the old fort gateway built in 1886.

A delightful encounter with a pair of peacocks and a brood of chickens roaming near the car park. I only noticed the 2nd peacock perched atop the branch of a nearby tree when it started calling out to the other one. We were thrilled to watch it glide down onto the grass patch across the road while the 1st peacock then flew up onto another branch.

View of the creek at the junction of the Berlayer Creek and Bukit Cermin boardwalk. From here, the Berlayer Creek boardwalk ends at the Labrador Park MRT station while the Bukit Cermin boardwalk goes towards Keppel Marina.
Berlayer Creek boardwalk towards the Labrador Park MRT station, with the creek on its right.
Berlayer Creek at high tide.
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