Saturday, 6 February 2016

The most incredible running trail in the world

Photo of MacRitchie from 2011


When i was growing up i had the great privilege of running in the most beautiful running trail in the world. I did not know it then, of course. I was 16 and every week i would head for MacRitchie where i would train with the Cross Country Team and we would do stretches by the Bandstand and Leslie Goh would tell me how short i was and Joanne would show us how to rotate our ankles and wrists. We would do the oyster, pointing our 16 year old toes towards each other as we sat on the ground, forcing our knees flat. And then after that we would train, running alongside the water's edge, the macques swinging around us, the monitor lizards thrashing in the undergrowth and the snakes running from us... well, crawling from us. In those days MacRitchie was super low tech. There were no showers. We washed our feet and our entire selves by the stand pipes near the toilets which could cope with two women at a time, and i remember once, after a run i left my Doc Marts behind. Actually they were my sister's Doc Marts. Sorry Jac.

As i grew older, i did not stop running at MacRitchie. I would go at least once a week. My most favourite thing to do would be to go after work - then as i ran, the sun would set and the entire place would be clothed in darkness, save for the lights of the flat and the orange glow of the lamps. Often i was the only person in MacRitchie. I never went on Sundays or weekends. There were too many people. Sometimes i would meet a lone jogger. Or another Cross Country Team. The smells of the earth and the jungle were sensuous and alive. It was one of the few places in Singapore which i could breathe out. A place i could call home.

All that then changed. The fitness industry took off with a vengeance. Started running when i was 14. Back then no one ran. Except for NS men who were about to fail their annual PT. I was deemed slightly mad for running like that. I would run in the blazing heat of the sun in my JC during lunch time. My running shorts would be hung outside the classroom... i lived for running. However, as time passed, the fitness industry burst open. Now everyone was going to run and be fit. People began to go to MacRitchie all the time now. Try running there and you would be lucky to escape without a black eye. It is not the fitness industry's fault. It is just that Singapore is too damned small to cope with the demand. So they redeveloped the place. They landscaped it. They put in a multistory carpark!!!! (The Singapore solution to everything, the multistory.) They also made huge showers. Huge gathering spaces. They attracted so many people that now i never go running at MacRitchie. The only place suitable for running now are the roads around where my mom lives. It is not ideal, but it is better than taking on a scrum of sweaty runners.

HOWEVER, despite me not running there, life in Singapore without MacRitchie seems incomprehensible. This was first mooted in 2012. Oh we will put an MRT line through here - it'll be ok. It will be underground, you won't notice it, Great. This sort of weasel wording has even been the talk of developers since the time of the American Pioneers. Oh we will out a wee cabin here, you won't even notice us. Sure. Put your wee cabin here...

Why do i have no confidence that MacRitchie probably won't be saved? Because of the ethos of the Singaporean government. It is simply not interested in anything unless there is either money or status attached to it. e.g. Botanic Gardens - actually i was told that they would never have demolished Botanic Gardens because too many Ministers use it to run and walk around in. Otherwise just forget about it. If there is some other kind of intrinsic value e.g. biodiversity, beauty, history, heritage - nope. Get it out of here. If you walk down Singapore's historical heart, you can see how true this statement is. The entire place has been developed beyond recognition. Even Orchard Road is unrecognisable. Pockets in Orchard Road that used to be green spaces - and i mean OLD green spaces are all gone. All the peripheries around Singapore which used to be mangrove have been concreted over - like Punggol Point. And do NOT get me started about Sentosa. Peaceful, tranquil and scenic are no contest to the possibility of profit. So it would THOROUGHLY surprise me if MacRitchie survives intact in the next 20 years. It just cannot withstand the onslaught of Singaporean development.

I wish i was wrong, but i am not. I am not wrong. That is the way the world is going. We will in all probability have a rainforest themed casino or housing development in MacRitchie, where the rich and well heeled get to admire the now non reservoir lake - where they can jet ski and kayak and canoe and congratulate themselves on how well they have done. And the oldest surviving primary rainforest, well, that can be a pleasant memory. And one day, if we wait long enough, it will be forgotten.

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