Sunday, 17 December 2006

Under The Shade Of The Pong Pong Tree

There are two large trees beside our apartment block in Oxley Road which have smallish white flowers and large green fruit, not dissimilar in size and shape to a mango.

My interest in them is that once the fruit falls and rots away (which it does very quickly in the tropics) the fibrous pith has a most attractive texture.

When my university colleagues and I had lunch at the St Margaret's Drive Hawker Centre the other day I noticed two more of these trees which the local black crows were perching upon. They used this platform to eye the left-overs on the the dinner plates and made opportunist forays to retrieve the scraps.

I was told by my fellow diners that these trees are called 'Pong Pong'. (Maybe the fruits are too large and of the non -bouncing variety to be called 'Ping Pong'). It transpires that the seed of the Pon Pong is toxic and the fruit inedible. So toxic is it that it is used as the base ingredient of rat poison.

This news was received with more than a little concern, as two weeks previously I handled several of these fruit with my bare hands while setting them up on a nearby wall to photograph. Don't think I will be doing that again in a hurry!

Another fact about the Pong Pong tree is that until recently, no bird nor animal had been recorded actually eating any part of the tree. How sensible I hear you say.

More recently however it has been observed that an introduced parrot, the Tanimbar corella, munches away on the flesh with great gusto. It is either a very stupid bird and a dying species or it's digestive system has evolved to make it impervious to the toxic pulp. I suspect it is the latter as I haven't found any mounds of dead parrots recently.

The title of this posting suggests the need for shade. Usually this is a must for Singapore especially at midday, when it is my habit to wander down to the local Tai Hong Canteen on Alexandra Road for a bite to eat.

Several umbrellas in the last three months have succumbed to the rigours of the tropical climate. Skeletal umbrellas are of very little use and I have yet to find one that fits in my brief case and is robust enough to literally weather the storms.

It is not sun however that we have been escaping from this past week. The rainy season has hit us with a vengeance and the rain has been both constant and torrential. It has 'bucketed down' to such a degree that pilots have aborted landings at Changi and trees have been uprooted.

This morning's paper reports that the rainfall is the third biggest in the past 75 years with a month's rain descending in just 20 hours.

I actually don't mind the rain as it is at least warm unlike the Christmas rains one used to invariably experience in Auckland which are often wind-driven and cool.

Even the rats are attempting to escape the wet weather by seeking higher ground away from the drains and into the trees - I think I have just found a use for the Pong Pong tree after all!

Rain Limited Edition Print Roger Smith 12/2006

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