The trees of Singapore

Trees rise outside my window, branches fanning into the air, green leaves soaking up the sunlight streaming into the room. Birds chirrup unseen from the tangle of greenery. Sometimes I hear what sounds like the liquid notes of a cuckoo – a sweet, musical warble repeated over and over that I never tire of hearing, the sweetest birdsong on earth.

I have never seen the birds, but I am happy they are there, and I am grateful to the trees that have brought them.

My thanks should be really going out to former prime minister Lee Kuan Yew. It was he who started the tree-planting campaign for greening Singapore 50 years ago, reminded the Straits Times this morning, showing the old man planting a rain tree at Holland Village Park yesterday.

An  official was quoted as saying, “Mr Lee was famous in being very passionate about the greenery at a time where (sic) perhaps no other city thought about it.”

Well, I don’t know about that, but let me tell you how much I missed Singapore when I was trapped in a concrete jungle last year.

I was in India much of last year, in the city that used to be the capital of the British Raj, a city with golf courses, race courses and an Esplanade like Singapore. But the greenery has shrunk as the city has grown. Once tree-lined avenues are now just rows of apartment blocks. The result is an ugly urban sprawl.  I hated travelling through its congested roads, choked with bumper-to-bumper traffic, flanked by street lights and advertising billboards, with not a glimpse of greenery to refresh the eyes.

It feels so good to be back in Singapore, the trees outside my window, the leaves dancing in the breeze. There’s a park near my home – a big, open space with groves of trees stretching as far as the eye can see.  Joggers and cyclists hit the trails in the evening, burning up the calories, working up a sweat, following the dictates of healthy living. No health fiend myself, I take an occasional walk in the park to watch the MRT trains in the distance and the tower blocks rearing into the sky. And it fills my heart with gladness. I am glad to be in Singapore, amid all the greenery.

Earlier, on my way to work, I used to cross a busy intersection. On one corner rose a bit of empty, high ground topped by a cluster of tall trees.  They looked so peaceful, so regal, in their isolation.

I used to think of the pressure and the politics at the office and compare it with the seeming serenity of the trees.

Of course, the serenity was an illusion. Trees have to fight for survival, too. They have to sink their roots into the soil and have to be cared for by workers, who go around pruning the branches and clearing the fallen leaves. The trees of Singapore are as well-maintained as the rest of the island, they are not wild things. But I love their shade and refuge. They look so at peace, standing stock still, seemingly durable and permanent. That’s what we want of Singapore too – peaceful, here, forever.

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