A Map of all the S.A.M locations in Singapore

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I was trying to find a map to see all the S.A.M (Self-service Automated Machines) locations in Singapore but for some reason all the information from Singpost could only be found in the form of a flattened PDF which was generated from a XLS file and a very limited map searching function. I could not simply “see” all the locations of the S.A.M at once.

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GRRRR! Why only allow one to see a few spots in one area at a time?
And whose idea was it to distribute it as a flattened PDF?
So I attempted to spend one pomodoro rectifying this by making the quickest possible map of all the locations.

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Copied the ridiculous PDF table over to Google Docs using Adobe Acrobat Pro’s “copy as table” function (if you do not specifically select “copy as table”, it will copy it over as data on a single field, causing pain and agony to anyone hoping to use the information in a useful manner.) After more than one pomodoro of hair-pulling, I cleaned up the data and used a “batch geocode” script to get the lat/lon of each point. Dropped it into cartodb and DONE! A map showing ALL the S.A.M locations in Singapore at once. Couldn’t even be bothered to change the map from its default mapbox styling. Never been easier. Anyone could make a map like this.

So, now we know… there is even a S.A.M in Sentosa?

See also:

S.A.M Locations spreadsheet on Google Docs (cleaned up version)
S.A.M Locations JSON for the above data

Pulau Ubin – Chek Jawa Boardwalk


Chek Jawa

A few weeks ago, on the spur of a moment I decided to join a tour to Chek Jawa organized by Naked Hermit Crabs, mostly because I wanted to see the intertidal area. The guided portion of the tour was to start at around 9:30, so I figured that gave me plenty time in the morning to walk there on foot from Ubin Jetty.


This fantastically designed sign greets you at the Changi Point Ferry Terminal

It was real easy to get there. I left the house early to go to Tanah Merah, took bus 2 to Changi Village and had a leisurely breakfast there, and then I got on a boat to Ubin at 8am, almost immediately. It was a good thing I went so early, because if you are slow like me then you might take more than the 45 minutes it apparently takes to walk from the Jetty to Chek Jawa, as proscribed by sources on the internet. In the end it took me over an hour to walk there…



A short boat ride away


Approaching Ubin Jetty

After this point, I started walking to Chek Jawa on foot. I could not see ANY other people walking. It seems that everyone else was on a bike or traveling there in a van. One van even kindly stopped to ask me if i needed a ride (probably with the assumption that I must be suffering from having to walk so far to Chek Jawa BUT I TOLD THEM NO! I WAS HAVING A DECIDEDLY GOOD TIME WALKING ON MY OWN!!!). The best way to travel around Ubin has to be by foot. Whenever I hire a bike on Ubin, I end up “exercising” rather than “exploring”, and I really hate anything that resembles “organized exercise”. Also if you are cycling you will have to stop to catch your breath and a billion mosquitoes will take advantage of your being still and bite you. This does not happen when one is constantly moving and walking. HA! TAKE THAT, ALL YOU NON-WALKERS!


A Guide to Pulau Ubin Tree Trail

NParks has marked out a tree walk along the way to Chek Jawa, however, I am slightly disappointed to say that it only points out the most recognizable trees in their latin names. I was already familiar with most of the trees on this list and could identify them on my own without having to look at this signboard, so if you had asked me it might have been better to go one step further in identifying more of these exciting tropical plants instead of superficially identifying the common trees. (I believe there is never such a thing as “too much information”, I always enjoy reading more information on these signboards…)


Jackfruit Tree


Banana Tree


Durian Tree


Oho, I recognize the sign of JKFoo






A series of bucolic shots of life on Ubin…


Finally, some sign pointing to Chek Jawa.


Along the way I saw many sticks with tiny saplings sticking out of the ground. They all had some ribbon tied to them.


Turns out that the ribbon has the name of the plant species next to it.


I was freaked out when I saw what appeared to be a GIANT ARACHNID crawling back into one of these mounds. Later I realized they were only mangrove lobsters. Somehow, on learning that, I was less alarmed, knowing they were simply lobsters. I wonder why are spiders this bit more shocking than lobsters?


Common Pulai Tree


Boars have been sighted in this location


The gates of Chek Jawa open at 8.30am


We met up with our friendly tour guide, and were joined by a bunch of older people who had randomly come to Ubin for a leisurely morning walk. They decided to join us on our boardwalk tour of Chek Jawa…



The view from Jejawi Tower


Jejawi Tower is named after the Jejawi or Malayan Banyan tree. (See, this is precisely why I think that for a Tree walk we should always be told the Malay/local names of plants rather than only the Latin names)


This is the Nipah plant, a common mangrove plant from which the Attap Chee fruit comes from.


Closeup of Nipah Plant.


On the boardwalk…


Pneumatophores (Aerial Roots)


Fruit of the Mengkudu tree (Morinda citrifolia, aka Cheese Fruit)

If this fruit looks a bit familiar, it might be because there is also a Mengkudu tree at the Armenian Church which frequently sheds its excitingly squishy and stinky fruit on the pavement opposite the Substation. I always walk past the tree and find its horrifying fruit rolling about everywhere…


Mangrove tree with stilt roots


Pneumatophores (Aerial Roots)


Intertidal Mudflats


Coastal Boardwalk


Clear skies and waters


Intertidal Zone. The white spots in this photo are oysters.
It looks like someone or something has eaten all the oysters! Hrmm…


Information board about intertidal crustaceans


Seagrass Meadows


Information board about Seagrass Meadows


Map of Chek Jawa


Our guide explaining something to us on the boardwalk.

I think she was telling us about Pulau Sekudu (of which I don’t have a clear photo) which is a brocoli shaped islet in visible sight from Chek Jawa. The legend goes that a pig, elephant and frog were trying to swim from Singapore to Johor. All 3 animals had problems swimming the entire length and the pig and elephant turned into the rock that formed Pulau Ubin, whereas the frog turned into Pulau Sekudu (Frog Island). As the tiny island of Sekudu was previously badly polluted by people/sailors who stopped by the island and littered all over it, access to the island is now restricted so as to allow it to exist as a nature reserve.


Low tide at the intertidal zone


Our guide pointing out a TONGKAT ALI plant to us. Guys, wink wink, you should know what this plant is for…


As we retreated into the forested parts, we were being shown a man-made birdhouse. Whilst looking at the birdhouse, we also saw this strange tombstone-like structure in the undergrowth. A bit of concrete, like a tombstone for something…


But in reality it was a marker for something very urban.


I haven’t figured out what this is yet but surely I will eventually figure it out.


(It was flanked by a 1/750 marker)


Finally we got to the final section of the boardwalk…


Picture of the Perepat Tree


The Actual Perepat Tree


House no. 1


Information on House No. 1


At the end of our tour the guides asked us to draw our impressions of Chek Jawa for them, so I obliged…



BUT WAIT. The adventure to Ubin did not end there. After a lunch at the jetty, me and my friend Alex decided that since there was a bit of time (I just wanted to go home to work before the sun set), that we should try to find The Artists Village house on Ubin. Neither of us had seen it before. Unfortunately, we got completely lost cycling about and found something else instead…



Rented some el cheapo bike…


After too much cycling – this mostly consisted of Alex cycling a few miles down the road while I slowly pushed my bike up a small hill and then rolled slowly down the small hill, and then Alex cycling back to find me still having not progressing very far, repeated many times, because oh my god I apparently have zero stamina for any prolonged sort of cycling activity – well after what seemed like far too much cycling for me, eventually based on a map found online, we got to an old house with a sign that was almost falling off.


Behold, it looked like a sign for The Artists Village???

It looked like it COULD be the place, so I texted Mike to ask him if this was the place but he was like “NO!!!!!” Haha. Alright, I get the picture, it was the wrong house. Sadly, I suppose its like one of those things that always seems to happens in Singapore. You end up having two statues of Raffles and then wonder WHY it is that everytime you tell someone to meet you at the Raffles Statue, you or the other person always ends up at the wrong one. And never the twain shall meet…


Yeah, it looked like it could be the house for The Artists Village, but apparently it was not the house that was currently in use. Which was a great relief since it looked quite unused and I was worried about termites. Oh and for the curious who like opening up closed boxes and closed containers (that you knew you should NEVER have attempted to open), get ready for lots of SURPRISE INSECTS BURSTING OUT OF EVERYTHING! Endless horror and abjection (in the Kristevan sense) for hapless city slickers.


On the house next door, there was this disturbing letter.


Close up of letter. What a confusing letter. If even I cannot understand what is going on here, how will Ubin’s residents (some of whom are illiterate) know what is going on? It just sounds like they are wanting to clear the original residents in order to build another obnoxious and unnecessary “adventure park”. Or were they just doing a census? Which is it? There has been lots of debate on this lately and what the letter means.





Images of Ubin Life


I also met a sweet old man who asked me to take his picture.

How did the search for The Artists Village house go in the end? Well soon after that I gave up and we all went home. I guess I’ll have to find it again next time I go to Ubin. Also, I’ve finally run out of writing juice now so ABRUPTLY THIS IS THE END OF THE POST.

(Thanks to Naked Hermit Crabs for organising these free tours to Chek Jawa!)

More pictures of Pulau Ubin on Flickr

Pulau Semakau – Singapore’s First Landfill Island

So the story goes that the other day I happened to be looking at a hydrographic map of Singapore’s waters when I saw Pulau Semakau on the map and thought to myself: “I wonder if I can visit that island…” I simply googled for Semakau, found out that it is apparently possible to visit Pulau Semakau (but only “by joining activities conducted by designated interest groups”). Fortuitously, I found a tour for that very same Sunday, organised by Nature Trekker. A few phone calls later… after rustling up enough people to make a boat-full of visitors, we were all set for Sunday!


We started our journey from West Coast Jetty, where we met up with Ben Lee of Nature Trekker, who was our guide on this journey. Turns out that the West Coast Jetty is literally a stone’s throw from NUS (where I used to live in Eusoff Hall) but if confused on directions, it is just a short taxi ride from the nearest MRT which would be Clementi.

On a brand new super fast powerboat
It took us about 20 minutes to get to Semakau instead of the expected 45 minutes to get over via water taxi because the boat was just so new and fast.

Jurong Island


Pulau Bukom
Smokestacks upon smokestacks. Jurong and Bukom are both LPG processing islands. So how do we tell the islands apart? Well Bukom has a built-up area with apparently “luxury” housing and a bowling alley and food court. Jurong Island does not. Also if you look on a map you will see that Jurong Island is further away so that’s why its much smaller and we do not go as close to it when going on a straight journey from the mainland to Semakau.

Approaching Semakau


Map of Semakau


Chart of Recreational Areas on Semakau


At Semakau Landfill’s Visitor Centre


Explanation of how the incineration plant works at Tuas South. Do note that no rubbish is put into landfill at Semakau, only incinerated ash, which reduces the volume of refuse by 90%.


Grand Opening of Semakau for Recreational Activities in 2005


“Love on the Bund” – apparently a couple took their wedding photos on Semakau some years ago, because it basically looks like a nature reserve – once you get over the idea that its a landfill site for the incinerated ash (and non-incinerable rubbish) of all the rubbish in singapore.


Star-gazing on the Bund
I’ve included the plant in the picture to emphasize its mundane nature. There was something strange about arriving on an isolated island, with display boards and backlit signs which all point to it being an island explicitly made for show and having been renovated for the purpose of welcoming visitors. I suppose that it is actually a rather “Singaporean” thing to create a showpiece room with tons of plastic plants and information boards. But Its just that I hadn’t gone on such a school-tour-style trip in such a long time…

Model of people going Bird Watching. NOTE ALL OF THEM HAVE THE SAME ARM POSE
Sad to say once all the cells are filled up there will not be as much fishing or bird watching going on. Perhaps this is also why the place is not welcoming as many visitors these days, as the island changes rapidly over the decades of use as a landfill site.

Where Semakau is in relation to the Mainland (Pulau Ujong)


The Road to the Tipping Site
Finally, after spending quite some time in the classroom, we finally embarked on a small bus tour of the bund. The sun was shining, the sky was bright blue, and the road was empty except for our bus. There were no other buses. There were no other visitors.

Filled cells
These are actually cells which have been filled in an earlier phase of the project. The landfill was operational since 1999 and has a landfill area of 350 hectares. After the cells are filled they are covered in topsoil so plants can grow on top of them.

Manmade Mangrove
These mangrove trees were replanted back into the area after the building of the landfill in order to serve as a kind of bioindicator. THEY REPLANTED A WHOLE MANGROVE FOREST. I read that it did not succeed at first but they tried very very hard to replant the mangrove trees and finally succeeded. Should there be leakage of landfill leachate into the surrounding waters, the mangrove trees will react adversely as they are very sensitive to pollution.

Map of Intertidal Zone


Walking in the forest next to the intertidal zone


To be honest, there was almost no point walking in the forest because there was not enough time in the guided tour to walk through to the other end. I should like to walk all the way to the intertidal zone one day, perhaps on another trip.

Unfilled cell
Each cells can range from 3-20m deep and takes anywhere from 1 to 5 years to fill. Before they are filled they look like lagoons. The bund surrounding these lagoons and cells cost SGD 400 million to build.

“MW” – Monitoring Wells
All around the bund you will see the MW pipes – these are monitoring wells for checking the quality of the water below. Landfill material may have “leachate” or liquid that comes out from the material which may pollute the surrounding waters. Hence the cells are lined with marine clay and an impermeable membrane to keep the leachate out of the surrounding environment.


Notice this characteristic of breakwaters in Singapore? They are always filled in. When I see breakwaters that consist of MASSIVE ROCKS THROWN TOGETHER WITHOUT CONCRETE FILLING (i.e.: all other breakwaters around the world besides Singapore), I don’t know why but it instantly gives me rock vertigo. You know how some people get vertigo from standing on top of tall buildings? I get vertigo just from standing on low-lying rocks that look like they’ve been naturally thrown in a pile but haven’t been meticulously stuck together with cement like this. No matter how I rationalise it in my mind, I cannot shake off the feeling that rocks that have naturally stacked up together must be HORRIBLY UNSTABLE AND THAT IF I STEP WRONGLY IT WILL ALL CRUMBLE! This is why if you take me hiking you will find that I will become stuck to the rock face like a snail or lizard, retardedly unable to walk upright like a normal human being over the stacks of rocks. I blame you, Singapore, for cementing all our breakwaters together; now I have grown up expecting all breakwaters in the world to be glued together.

Tugboat which brings the barges over from Tuas Marine Incineration Plant. (They do not tug the barges, they actually push.)


Clear waters!


Well not so clear. I see a line which seems to be the path that the tug boat and barge have taken.
Funny that the water should appear to have some “memory” of the path taken by boats…


The Blue pipe is for water, the red pipe for diesel.


What it used to be…
Pulau Semakau is actually formed from the amalgamation of Pulau Sakeng and Pulau Semakau.

Pulau Sakeng (also known as Seking, and Pulau Kelapa or Coconut Island) is thought to have been originally named after a woman called Keng (Mak Meleking/Yang Leking) who as legend would have it, helped islanders fight off pirates and healed the sick who were poisoned by water from a poisoned well. Until the 1980s, Pulau Sakeng was home to 400 villagers, some of whom worked at Pulau Bukom on the oil refinery.

Pulau Semakau was said to have been named partly after the mangroves around the island (“bakau”). It was predominantly populated by subsistence fishermen and farmers, but in the 1960s received an influx of islanders being relocated from Bukom where the oil refinery was being built. There was even a primary school and according to NEA’s book on Pulau Semakau, there were about 200 families living on Semakau so it was significantly larger than the population on Sakeng. (I couldn’t find total number of people previously living in Semakau though). However, most of the islanders were relocated to the mainland in 1977, and the “forest” that we walked through was actually the site of the original village. The site of the former village was apparently taken over by mangrove trees as a lot of it had been originally constructed on stilts within the intertidal zone, as many residents were fishermen. By 1987, the Singapore government moved in to relocate all remaining residents on Semakau to HDB flats on the mainland in Bukit Merah and Telok Blangah. Following that, by 1994 all the remaining residents on Sakeng were also relocated to the mainland so that the landfill site could be constructed…

Composition of the “Bund”. Sometimes when you walk along the bund you will see black fabric sticking out of the edge of the road – that’s the geofabric layer.


Transfer Point


At the Evacuation Point


Leaving Semakau…


Pulau Jong



Reaching the Port at Pasir Panjang
So what are my thoughts on Pulau Semakau? Well, to me, this picture sums it up:

Potted Plants next to field
There is an undeniable sense that beneath all this, there has been a very concerted effort to make this island very presentable indeed. Everywhere you turn, the island is covered in perfectly manicured potted plants, even far out in the open where no one else is. There are even thoughtfully placed porta-loos, expectantly waiting for users to come by, although we understood that no one else would be visiting the island besides us that day. In a way, this is NEA’s masterpiece, the showpiece they would bring foreign dignitaries to visit – it simply screams “COME LOOK AT OUR BEAUTIFUL AND ECOLOGICALLY SENSITIVE LANDFILL! ISN’T SINGAPORE SO CAREFUL AND THOUGHTFUL?” And I guess I’m proud on their behalf that its possible for such meticulous solutions to be realised in Singapore, although I can’t imagine other countries spending so much time and money inventing such intricate solid waste management systems if they have the luxury of space to make big splashy landfill sites. A phenomenon only to be seen in Singapore then…

As for the future of Semakau – they say that they aim to find uses for the ash as they try to progress towards a zero landfill policy (and surely the bottom ash must already have uses as some sort of aggregate for building materials). I wonder who is currently doing the research on the ash material, or if there is a way to get involved in researching and finding uses for it? I also wonder what will happen to Pulau Semakau after all its cells have been filled up in 2045, assuming the site lasts until its projected date of 2045…

Thanks to Ben and John from Nature Trekker for organising this and taking us there.

More photos of Pulau Semakau on Flickr

Sungei Road Findings

Yesterday night after FORK2 I was walking around Sungei Road where I discovered a few new things.


The number of chairs on Sungei Road has multiplied exponentially. There is literally a chair on every other corner. Years ago there might be a few straggly chairs left on the fences. But now there are dozens of chairs everywhere.








Compare this to my post on 13 April 2012 and 2 May 2012 when I first noticed that the number of chairs had started increasing. Perhaps it is people’s only way of staking their presence on the very road itself, where no other permanent or physical structures have been allowed to remain.



At the corner where Larut Road, Weld Road, and Jalan Besar Road now meet, I also found a block that looked JUST like one of the fragments in the Ethnographic Fragments project (see: Jalan Besar Cement Block). It was exactly the same size, except that it had inscriptions on it. Notably, at the time, I had recorded down that I had picked up that block because there were no other rocks like it in the area and it was strikingly geometric. If that rock could talk I would have said to it, “HEY BABY, YOU LOOK FAMILIAR, HAVE I SEEN YOU AROUND SOMEWHERE BEFORE?” But I probably shouldn’t be talking to rocks cos next thing you know I’d have turned into the Crazy Rock Lady…

Now I have developed this habit where every time I am in the area, I go around and snoop around all the electrical boxes that I know of. So I checked behind the electrical box along the Muslim Cemetery on Victoria Lane (pictured below, still there), and I checked the back of the busstop (long since cleaned away).


On Victoria Lane, facing the Muslim Cemetery (First documented in March 2012)

I probably check every single box every few weeks, unless I am out of the country. Whilst waiting for Bus 7 I decided to use my phone as a torch to examine the back of another electric box near the busstop, one located at a more visible spot by the road, a spot with fairly high human traffic. Two Malay Men were standing there right next to the box, chitchatting, and the entire bus stop was very full as if there had just been a big social event at the Madrassah behind the Muslim cemetery. I expected to find nothing but…





I am thinking that due to the highly visible nature of this box, it must have been cleaned before I got here. However the traces remain! AND IN A HIGHLY VISIBLE SPOT. This wasn’t like previous ones, tucked away in a stairwell, or hidden behind a tight corner where no one would usually see, but facing the main pavement next to a bus stop! Also, coincidentally, this sign also chose to reveal itself to me AT THE VERY MOMENT THE BUS 7 STARTED PULLING UP INTO THE BUS STOP BAY SO I JUST QUICKLY TOOK SOME PHOTOS AND RAN FOR THE BUS. The two men next to the box must have been wondering why someone would be pointing and making unintelligible excited sounds at the box and taking photos of it with a flash and then quickly running off.

So in conclusion, ladies and gentlemen, I think this means the trail of the Yangtze Scribbler is still hot. Whoever he/she is, he/she is probably still alive and active in the area.

Making 3d models of everyday things with 123D Catch

123D Catch is a cloud-based app/service that converts still digital photos into 3D models. Its available for iPhone/iPad and as a web app and PC desktop app. This was its description when it was still Project Photofly:

“Capturing the reality as-built for various purposes (renovation, rapid energy analysis, add-on design, historic preservation, game development, visual effects, fun, etc.) is possible using your standard point and shoot digital camera thanks to advanced computer vision technologies made available through Project Photofly.”

I am thinking of using it more for a project so I started off with a few experiments with two things on my table. You might recognize these as the characters from Carpetface… and well, they’re the things that live on my table…

The Excitable Dog
In case you are wondering, the “Excitable Dog” is a $2 water-gun squeeze toy from Daiso…
123D Catch requires you to take about 40 photos around the object, after which you tap on the thumbnail on the iPhone app and wait for a very long while as it processes. After it has uploaded to the cloud, you can tap it again and approve it for sharing with the community. Unfortunately, at this point, if the app is unable to process the images, it will show a big “X” on top and you will have to try again with a new set. For me, items which are shiny or translucent almost always fail…

This was the first successful item to be “caught”.

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The Horrifying Dog (View on 123d)

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The result is that I realised that the bottom and the back of the excitable dog was not evenly lit and thus did not show up at all. So I decided to use an ikea lamp with a flat top as a kind of makeshift lightbox.

And so this is what a broken piece of Aristotle’s head looks like.

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Aristotle’s Head (View on 123d)

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With mesh
Clearly a few improvements still need to be made with regards to how I take the pictures – I need to change the surface on which the items are placed because if both the item and the surface are white then there is no visual contrast. I think I will find a grid or something, and also adhere some random coloured dots on the objects which might help as markers. Another thing I want to build next is a camera and lighting rig.

Needless to say I’m really excited about 123D Catch even though it seems to be its infancy (the cloud-based service is only about a year old now) but I think it will be important because it works on consumer mobile devices and computers, and anyone can use it. As it becomes more and more accurate I can see people taking pictures of everyday things, and museums making use of this technology for educational and archival purposes.

Next steps: I intend to figure out how to build a camera and lighting rig, clean up the models and experiment with Meshmixer, but in the meantime, here are some more of their official tips on how to improve the image quality:

Yuzu Spherification


The other day I had a little time to try out a spherification experiment. Aided with food grade sodium alginate and calcium chloride, and a packet of Yuzu juice, I tried to spherify some Yuzu juice…


Here is a large packet of Food grade Sodium Alginate. I bought this in the UK because I was a bit nervous about getting Sodium Alginate from China which was likely to happen if I tried to buy it in Singapore. Alginate is a naturally occurring substance that comes from brown algae and it is the substance that apparently forms the (slightly crunchy) skeletal component of their cell walls.


Yuzu juice with green food colouring added for visibility, in measuring spoon about to be introduced to Food grade Calcium Chloride Bath. I made the yuzu mixture according to a book I had which suggested about 6 tablespoons fluid + 1/4 teaspoon sodium alginate. I don’t know what equates to in percentage but I think I erred on the side of putting more sodium alginate which I later realised was truly unnecessary as it jellifies very easily.


It touched the bottom and promptly flattened itself. On hindsight, using a deep bowl with round edges might have helped avoid this as well as taking care to drop it more gently and not from a height.

Slightly self-flattened yolk of yuzu juice.


Smaller spheres (caviar style)


Perfect sphere
The last sphere I made (with clear yuzu mix) had been left too long in calcium salt bath though, so it got harder and hard and bouncier, and I could pick it up and bounce it off the other table. Another thing to note is that jellification continues even after rinsing in cold water so no more liquid remains after a while. But throughout all this – it just tastes like Yuzu juice. Although all the liquid within the sphere will become jellified, sodium alginate actually doesn’t add any appreciable change in flavor besides being a kind of thickener. Also, it doesn’t really get harder than this sort of jelly unless you increase the concentrations, so I don’t think there need to be too much concern when washing up, as a highly diluted form of the chemicals wouldn’t hold up against a stream of water.

See another food experiment: Agarification – Bell Pepper Spaghetto