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Monday September 30, 2013 MYT 6:00:00 AM
Monday September 30, 2013 MYT 8:45:50 AM
by kezia toh
'Outdoor camping' has a modern twist for urban Singaporeans. - The Straits Times/ANN
'Outdoor camping' in urban Singapore means takeaways from food courts, clean toilets and a smartphone app that leads to the nearest supermarket.
THINK camping and images of propping up a canvas home in the wilderness and cooking over a crackling fire come to mind.
But this traditional outdoor adventure has taken on a modern twist for Singapore’s urbanites: Meals come in takeaway containers from nearby food centres; spiffy toilet facilities are within sniffing distance; and everyone has a smartphone app that leads to the nearest supermarket, among other amenities.
This is convenience camping at its best, following closely on the heels of “glamping”, or glamorous camping, in other countries.
Last week, some hotels in New York were reported to have erected tents on their roof terraces so guests can enjoy creature comforts in an outdoor setting.
Meanwhile, some safari camp operators in countries such as Africa and Australia have been modelling their lavish tents after the portable palaces of Ottoman sultans from a bygone era, giving wealthy guests a proper taste of “glamping”.
Now Singaporeans can take a break from the city bustle without actually roughing it out in Singapore, even if it is not as luxurious. Sticking (very) close to civilisation, campers usually set up their tents on sites near toilets, fast-food restaurants and convenience stores.
Some people do not even spend the night, choosing instead to arrive early in the morning to pitch their tents for a taste of the great outdoors then return home to warm beds when night falls. They also lug along assorted aids to enhance comfort, such as portable fans, mosquito nets, foam mats and cushy sleeping bags made of a type of light and fluffy material called hollow fibre.
The activities, though, have not varied much since the old days: canoeing, fishing, swimming and playing frisbee.
As Jason Seah, 37, puts it, Singapore-style camping is an “entirely different lifestyle”.
“It is not really camping in the real sense of the word because we have modern-day reminders and conveniences all around us,” says the operations manager, who was at Changi Beach Park with his wife and two children.
For example, besides a spacious tent that can sleep four adults comfortably, he also set up a pull-out plastic table with attached benches on the sandy beach for dinner. Incidentally, the piping-hot food such as hor fun (rice noodles) came in takeaway containers from nearby Changi Village.
Meanwhile, his children stared skywards, mouths agape, at the planes roaring above as they prepared to land at Changi Airport. His is clearly a prime spot along the 3.3km-long linear beach park, with about 10 other tents dotting the vicinity when Life!Weekend visited.
Toilets are just around the corner, complete with shower stalls and full-length mirrors. There is, however, evidence of some improvisation too: wet swimsuits and towels hang from tree branches, for example.
Lecturer Edgar Macasaquit, 33, who had set up camp next to the Seahs, saw sleeping under the stars as a chance to show his three-year-old son a “taste of the outdoors”.
“I’m not much of a camping person, but I have a child and I want him to experience nature, rather than being cooped up in an apartment all the time,” says the Filipino, who has been working in Singapore for the past three years.
Armed with a guitar and a dozen packs of potato chips – “stuff to munch on and to pass the time” – the first-time camper was there with his son, wife and brother-in-law.
In Singapore, camping is allowed only in certain areas within Changi Beach as well as East Coast, Pasir Ris and West Coast parks. Campers must apply for a free permit online from the National Parks Board, specifying the dates they want. Each applicant is limited to four days a month.
People can also set up camp at Pulau Ubin’s Jelutong, Noordin and Mamam beaches, which do not require a permit.
In February, the National Parks Board launched a free smartphone app that makes camping easier. It tells users, based on their location, where the nearest amenities such as bicycle rental shops, shelters, toilets and barbecue pits are. It also offers walking trail suggestions and weather updates.
This app comes in handy for security officer Kohila Raju, 47, who goes camping with her family of seven at East Coast Park about once a month. But she has a rule: Besides searching for nearby amenities, the gadgets must be set aside.
“I make the children put their mobile phones and iPads in the tent so the family can bond properly,” she says of their huge eight-person tent, which has served them well for the past four years.
After a swim and a game of frisbee, the family usually tucks into a home-cooked dinner of chicken curry and rice that is kept warm in a rice cooker pot. They buy large bottles of soft drinks and a bag of ice from the nearby convenience store. The family packs up and returns home after dinner.
“Just a taste of camping during the day will do. Staying overnight can get quite hot and uncomfortable,” says Kohila.
Befitting the urban character of East Coast Park, fitness junkies whizz past campers in a blur of rollerblades and running shoes. It can make for an odd, if not slightly intimidating, camping experience. But it is a trade-off for the convenience, says fresh graduate Lorine Chai.
The 24-year-old was chatting and reading magazines with three other girl friends in their tent last Saturday evening.
“It gets quieter later at night so we can relax and destress,” says Chai, who camps twice a year, sometimes staying overnight.
Lee Weiling, 27, who runs an outdoor gear shop, also likes East Coast Park, especially when night falls. She camps overnight there about five times a year.
“There is no wilderness in Singapore, so this is it: looking at the stars on a clear night with a telescope and hearing the waves crash against the shore.”
She may be an avid camper, but she is no purist.
“There are two types of campers – those who really love it and do not bother about comfort, and those who just want the experience of camping,” she notes.
Adventure-seeking is clearly not the main goal of those who fall into the second group. Lee, who packs a tent, sleeping bag and an inflatable pillow for her camping trips, also lugs along “creature comforts” such as mosquito repellent and a portable fan.
She says: “After working hard through the week, you simply want to sit back and relax in the great outdoors and not torture yourself by trying to make a fire to cook a meal and sleeping on the hard ground with mosquitoes and other pests buzzing around.” – The Straits Times, Singapore/Asia News Network
Tags / Keywords:
Travel, Lifestyle, Urban Camping, Singapore, City Campers
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