SINGAPORE: The school holidays have ended. I know this, not because I have a brood of school-going kids of my own, but because I see fewer kids everywhere this week than the weeks before that.
My Facebook feed have been filled with selfies of parents posing with their offspring in front of Jewel Changi Airport’s waterfall. This is typically followed up with close-up photographs of a Shake Shack burger or A&W root beer float and curly fries, their victorious spoils after braving long queues to get this nosh.
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At some of the malls which I pass through frequently, like Takashimaya Shopping Centre, I am certain there’s more people milling around these past couple weeks - a mix of bargain hunters trying to snag good deals at the Great Singapore Sale as well as parents with their little ones in tow.
But do you know where I’m not noticing significantly more people? Singapore’s great outdoors.
Sure, our natural spaces are limited compared to the sprawling landscapes in many other countries, but we do have plenty of charming nooks and crannies to explore.
Since the beginning of the year, I have been spending more time outdoors as part of a resolution to train for a marathon. While I am nowhere near achieving my goal yet, my jogs have taken me to pockets of greenery including the Southern Ridges, Hort Park and Gardens by the Bay.
On my evening and weekend runs, I typically see lots of joggers, cyclists as well as pet owners walking their dogs.
Understandably, tourists throng Gardens by the Bay but I have also been tickled to observe red-faced foreigners braving the heat to stroll around the not-so-typical tourist hotspots like the Southern Ridges and Hort Park. It is a lot harder to spot locals taking the time for a leisurely amble or a picnic in the park.
It is common knowledge that the hot, humid weather is a huge deterrent for locals who much prefer air conditioned comfort where they won’t have to break a sweat or risk getting bitten by mozzies and other bugs.
In Singapore, where there are climate-controlled versions of just about every outdoor activity imaginable, from adventure parks for children to gyms and exercise studios for adults and even gardens and waterfalls enclosed in domes, there is really very little reason to step out into the open.
But these past few months of small forays into my local parks have been enlightening in many ways.
For one, compared to trudging away miserably on a treadmill, I have discovered I much prefer running outdoors where there is fresh air to breathe, flora, fauna and passers-by to observe and Singapore’s modern cityscape to admire.
There is also something magical about being surrounded by nature. It is surprisingly calming and soothing to huff and puff along paths that are lined with lush tropical greenery, and the shade provided by tree foliage overhead helps lower temperatures to a bearable range.
At the end of the run, instead of feeling flat-out drained, I am almost recharged, as if my time spent outdoors has replenished my energy stores.
Oh, what a difference this is from the days when shopping was my cardio and I lived for the rush of purchasing something new and shiny, only to have that euphoria dissipate almost as soon as I step out of a boutique.
Research has shown that there are multiple benefits to spending time in nature. Studies are increasingly linking common modern day ailments such as myopia, vitamin D deficiency and a prevalence of allergies to a lack of outdoor exposure.
To get more people moving, the NParks has been working on conserving and strengthening a slew of green spaces around the island to make them more accessible to the public. The latest is the 36km Coast-to-Coast trail that traverses the island.
Someday, I might just be able to run its entire length but in the meantime, I’ll keep up with my regimen of exploring just a little bit more of the outdoors each time I go on a run.
For now, I’m enjoying the relatively generous amounts of personal space I get at the parks but it would certainly be nice to see more people enjoying the subtle delights that nature offers.
After all, if as a nation, we have enough stamina to queue up for limited edition curry sauce bottles or the latest burgers from a newly opened American fast food chain, we certainly can afford to expend a little bit of energy to walk off those calories.
Just don’t forget to slap on the sunscreen and use an (eco-friendly) insect repellent.
Karen Tee is a freelance travel and lifestyle writer. Six years ago, people thought she was crazy to leave the security of her full-time job. Today, most want to know how she does it.