100 Hours of Humo(u)r – Hour 43: Don’t Visit a Bird Sanctuary Alone
By Art Segal
[Seattle-based writer art Segal recalls a visit to Singapore in 2001 in which he was accosted by an unfriendly local resident of the avian persuasion.]
During my two-week visit to Singapore in April, 2001 I took a local bus to Jurong Bird Park, which sounded like a relaxing, fun diversion from the rigors of pavement-pounding, museum bagging and evading prostitutes on Orchard Road – which is not as easy as one might think, if you’re male. On a busy stretch of the road, two (separate) street ladies grabbed me in a way that wouldn’t take “No” for an answer. I was tempted to check out the infamous 16th floor of a noted hotel, but rationalized that I’d better spend the money on chicken sandwiches that evening. With a serious case of urban fatigue, I headed out on the rickety old bus (the nice air-conditioned ones are reserved for tourist routes, of course.)
Having walked along a rural-type road for perhaps half a mile, I found the sleepy entrance to the Bird Park – no high-priced sandwiches, bottled drinks, glossy timeshare or tropical cruise offers or theater discount coupons – no junk, just a plain admissions table and metal gate. I entered and strolled along the deserted path, marveling at the kaleidoscopic variety of brightly colored birds and other flying creatures. I stopped to read the weather-worn placards until I tired of being educated.
Flashback to downtown, one day earlier: I had boarded a city bus and told the driver, “Rochor Road” hoping to arrive at a landmark museum. He thought I’d said “Orchard Road” so in less than 10 minutes I found myself in one of the world’s busiest shopping districts, perhaps second only to Hong Kong. Since that wasn’t my plan for the day, I corrected the error.
So I’m alone in the famed Jurong Bird Park, staring up at the wire mesh that covers the park about 200 feet above the ground, when a magnificent peacock begins chasing me along the path. I stopped and turned, but the darned bird only rushed at me faster. I began running (well, jogging) along the path, with a huge bird racing behind me. It must have looked ridiculous – a grown man with a backpack and camera, escaping a peacock? Or perhaps I looked like just another clueless tourist, expecting wildlife to be well-behaved. Obviously, I’d spent too much time in shopping malls. I wondered what might be the outcome of this ferocious animal actually catching up with me – would he (she?) tear me to pieces leaving a bloody mess on the pavement? Or merely claw my shirt to ribbons? I didn’t really want to find out.
I must have circled half-way around the path until I had a flash of wisdom: aha! My daypack would become a weapon of choice. I slipped it off my back as quickly as I could and brandished it at the surprised bird: he’d never been challenged by a fed-up backpacker with a 20-lb sack that could inflict some damage. Well, the battle was on. Yep, he charged and I swung. I lunged and retreated, swayed and teased, as the bird made his intentions clear. The Geneva Conventions were out the window, to the winner belong the spoils.
After what seemed an epic struggle, in a flash of brilliance I landed my bag squarely on the astonished bird’s head, and he (she?) collapsed on the ground. Terrified, I gingerly approached to see what my efforts had wrought – if it was still alive – but decided against any attempt at bird first aid, not that I knew any. Then I scanned the perimeter of the park for signs of angry guards or police officers ready to arrest me for harrassing park property and wildlife.
To my relief, no one had witnessed this disgraceful encounter. Had someone seen it, I might have spent two weeks on a cold concrete floor in a bug-and-spider-ridden city jail far from tourist attractions, waiting for a relative 8,000 miles away to transfer thousands of dollars to an uncaring lawyer. Or worse! I might have received a ten lashes of the cane and died of a heart attack. Whew!
The next time you’re attacked by a peacock, stork or any other large tropical bird in a park in Southeast Asia, don’t fight back. Let the damned thing do its worst, then file a complaint with the police and local tourist bureau, threatening to let the whole world know how unfriendly their wildlife is.
Or don’t go alone; take a big, ugly friend with you – like an older brother, or a former Marine would do just fine.